When it comes to whisky production, most people immediately link their thoughts to Scotland and Japan. These two countries are possibly the most popular whisky-producing regions in the world. However, do you know that there is whisky produced in Switzerland?
If you have not heard, let WhiskyGeeks show you Säntis Malt – the Swiss Alpine Whisky!
History of Locher Family and Brauerei Locher AG
The legend of the Locher family and their beer-crafting skills began in 1886. The family took over a brewery in Appenzell, Oberegg in that year, and started a family-operated brewery named Brauerei Locher AG (BLAG), producing good-quality beer for the region. Years passed, and BLAG grew in production. As their fame soared, people from far and wide began sourcing for the Appenzeller beer produced by BLAG in their local bars and taverns.
The brewery began transporting their beer in casks that sealed with pitch. As popularity grew further, these casks became a vital transportation tool for the precious ale. As a result, some of these casks did not have the chance to get repaired regularly, and the pitch used in the casks cracked over time. Beer soaked the barrel staves. Due to the high demand, the brewery did not replace these casks immediately, but instead, reapplied the pitch to the staves. The casks continued to transport Appenzeller beer all over the country. Thus, the beer extract and flavour was locked efficiently into the staves for years.
History of Säntis Malt
Säntis Malt was the brainchild of Master Brewer, Mr Karl Locher, the fifth generation of the Locher family to manage the brewery. In 1999, the authorities lifted the ban on the distillation of spirits from grains in Europe, and Mr Locher began to think how he could make use of this newly amended law to create new products for his brewery.
The old beer casks used for beer transportation before the 1970s were still around, and Mr Locher began to think if he could make use of these matured aromas and beer extracts to make whisky. With creativity and innovation in mind, Mr Locher started to repair the casks. The BLAG team expertly removed the pitch, and experts examined the casks for their suitability as whisky casks. Upon investigation, it became apparent that the beer-soaked casks were perfect for whisky maturation!
Mr Locher began to distil barley in his brewery using spring water from the Alpstein and poured the new-make spirit into the old beer casks for maturation. That is the birth of Säntis Malt – the unique beer-aged whisky from the Swiss Alpine.
The coming-0f-age for Säntis Malt
In Scottish laws, spirits need to mature in a cask for at least three years before it is “whisky”. The BLAG Distillery followed this rule and released the first Säntis Malt in 2002. Säntis Malt, therefore, entered the history books as the first Swiss whisky ever produced.
BLAG further strengthens its whisky production procedures by growing barley locally at high altitude. The barley is subjected to harsh weather conditions in the Alps and emerged with vitality and strength. These qualities help to make excellent new-make for Säntis Malt whisky production.
Säntis Malt Range of Whisky
Over the years, BLAG produced a range of Säntis Malt that is available in selected parts of the world. Each whisky is unique on its own. Currently, there are a few whiskies which are in the core range and many others which are limited releases by the distillery. Let’s take a look at some of them.
The four whiskies that we have above are all award-winning whiskies from Säntis Malt. Each of these beautiful expressions is given recognition at IWSC, and some are praised and awarded by Jim Murray as well.
The Dreifaltigkeit is a slightly peated whisky. BLAG distillery used peat taken from the Appenzell high moor to dry the barley during the whisky production. The gentle peat translates into a smoky, earthly mixture that is slightly oily on the palate. Fruitness is coupled with mild spices to tingle the tongue and leaves you wanting more.
Alpstein is a series of single cask, limited whisky by Säntis Malt. While it is not a discontinued product, each batch of Alpstein is different as each series matured in a different cask finish. The finish can be in a port cask, wine cask (red/white), bourbon or sherry cask. Other special casks are also possible. The Alpstein is an ever-changing series and one which promises to surprise whisky lovers around the world with each limited release.
Edition Sigel is a light and sweet whisky which promotes the purity of the barley used in Säntis Malt. The distillery simply matured the whisky in old beer casks before bottling. The pure malty taste, sweet vanilla, and juicy fruitiness make the Sigel as a popular choice for the ladies.
The Himmelberg is matured in beer casks before being finished in various unknown wine barrels. The result is a light and fruity whisky that opens into woody spice on the tongue. The aromas from the Himmelberg is unique and different from the Sigel as the spiciness of the liquid lends a high complexity to the whisky.
Säntis Malt Special Winter Release
We mentioned Säntis Malt Winter Edition – Snow White briefly in our article on WhiskyFair TAKAO. Snow White is Säntis Malt’s best expression in our option, as each edition matures in old beer casks before finishing in different fruit brandy casks. Launched for the first time in 2013, Snow White has received such overwhelming fame that the distillery is releasing an edition every year.
The Snow White No. 5 Marille is the latest edition and one which we fell in love with immediately. That sweet apricot taste is heavenly indeed!
Säntis Malt Non-Whisky Products
The distillery also produced some non-whisky products using the Säntis Malt brand. Three of these prominent products are the Säntis Cream (or Edition Marwees), Apricot Malt Liqueur and Plum Malt Liqueur. All three products are well received by the market as well and form part of the Säntis Malt range of products today.
Distillery Visit and WhiskyTrek
Lastly, let us talk a little about visiting the distillery in Appenzell if you are keen to do so. The actual brewery and distillery are closed to the public but there is a huge visitor centre at Appenzell that you have to visit if you are keen to learn more about Säntis Malt. You will have an experienced guide to share in-depth knowledge with you and after that, a chance to taste both the beer and Säntis Malt whisky. Find out more about the distillery here.
The WhiskyTrek is another interesting activity that you can do. Trek to 27 mountain inns deep in the mountains of the Alpstein and collect 27 different Säntis Malt expression in a beautiful collector’s box. The whisky must be purchased with vouchers so make sure you buy at least one booklet at the distillery or the Appenzellerland Tourist Office. If you forget, you can still purchase these booklets at the mountain inns.
Such an experience is only available at Appenzell, so if you are visiting, be sure to contact the distillery to find out more about the trek!