St Kilian. Bunker City Warehouses
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Who is St Kilian?
....The famous Irish missionary Saint Kilian celebrated his birthday again.
Distillery Manager Mario Rudolf and his team presented their first three-year-old St Kilian single malt whisky which had been distilled in Rüdenau in Lower Franconia in 2016.
Hundreds of friends and retailers joined the big party in May 2019
to cherish their first St Kilian Signature Edition.
They celebrated the inauguration of Sankt Kilian Signature Edition One. The brand new German single malt whisky appeared in shining amber colours in a specially designed bottle which interpreted the shape and proportions of its pot still where the spirit had been distilled.
The elegant and much acclaimed designer bottle was filled with a young whisky at 45% abv in natural colour. The three year old Sankt Kilian German Single Malt was double-distilled from 100% German malted barley.
„The first edition is not chill-filtered in order to preserve its full aroma and taste for the connoisseurs,“
Mario Rudolf pointed out. The distiller was born in the nearby town of Amorbach, which has strong family-links with Queen Victoria’s mother Victoire of Sachsen-Coburg-Saalfeld.
“It is an incredibly good feeling standing here, three years after we filled the first cask with our whisky which is a result of experimenting with different types of casks and wood.”
The newly born St Kilian whisky was the achievement of a dedicated dynamic young team. Special distillation methods in a state of the art distillery of the finest quality led to spirits which matured in a great variety of different casks on site next to the still house.
Inside the Bunker. Photo Courtesy St Killian Distillers.
St Kilian Distillery
Today St Kilian is the largest whisky distillery in Germany and produces about 300.000 LPA.Countless international gold medals and accolades illustrate their success.
The State of the Art Distillery. Scottish Equipment, Irish Thought, German Craftsmanship
Founded in 2012 by Investment Banker Andreas Thümmler the distillery was planned by the Irishman David Hynes - former director at Cooley and today director at Great Northern Distillery - with equipment from Scotland.
Four wooden Douglas Fir wash backs came from Dufftown and the pair of swan neck pot stills were manufactured by Forsyths in Rothes, Scotland. An Irish speciality is found in the Lyne Arm of the spirit still: a reflux condenser pipe allows different styles of spirits.
St Kilan Releases
By 2022 eleven Signature Editions have been released plus innumerous special casks bottlings. The Bud Spencer Whisky Series was created as well as the Terence Hill Single Malt whisky range. Special single malt releases like Grave Digger and Judas Priest Single Malts joined the shelves.
St Kilian Bunker City. Extraordinary Cask Warehouses
Since January 2019 most of St Kilian's whisky production has been maturing in former U.S. ammunition bunkers which are not far away from the distillery. The Hainhaus site covers 74ha with 120 bunkers which can be rented from the present owner, a local authority The Odenwald Regional Gesellschaft.
Photos Courtesy St Kilian Distillers
Distillery Manager Mario Rudolf explains:
"Before we fill a new bunker with our noble casks, we first invest a lot of time and dedication in cleaning.
All surfaces are cleaned all around with hot water under high pressure. After that, they are dried and well ventilated.
After an intensive cleaning procedure another bunker is available for the storage of approx. 600 casks.
Perfect cleaning with steam is a must. Storage capacity is about 600 casks, depending on their size. Special detailed intensive chemical tests of floor, walls as well as room atmosphere proved the cleanliness of the place for whisky maturation. Photos Courtesy St Kilian Distillers
The bunkers are at least 50 to 100m apart from each other. They are situated at an altitude of 440m in our beautiful Odenwald.
Each bunker is covered with forest soil where shrubs and trees grow. This provides a good microclimate. In addition, there are chimneys in the ceiling which serve the natural ventilation.
The heat in summer and the cold in winter act in the bunker. The maturation processes are thus significantly different in the course of the year.
Photos Courtesy St Kilian Distillers
This change of temperatures causes more intensive maturation than in the very moderate and thus more homogeneous climate in Scotland.
However, the largest peaks and strong swings that we sometimes have are mitigated by the construction method.
The casks are stored a maximum of three high. They resemble to a typical dunnage warehouse in Scotland and provide perfect maturation conditions for our single malt whisky."
Temperature in summer is between 24 and 26 °C, in winter it will not be below 10 to 8 °C. A open ventilation system makes for a constant fresh airflow within the bunkers. Special steel racks allow a steady influx of oxygen into the wood and make for effective maturation of the whiskies. Linear distance of Bunker City to the distillery is only six Km but by road about 17 Km. In winter the transport of whisky casks is often quite dangerous due to heavy snow and icy roads
Bunker City Warehouse Tour Impressions
In late autumn 2022 Distillery Manager Mario Rudolf invited a group of whisky nerds to a unique pre Samhain-Tasting Presentation at St Kilian's warehouses in the Odenwald Bunker City.
Whisky at Night in the Hain-Wood.
Provisional light made for a rather Samhain atmosphere.
Today around 10.000 St. Kilian casks lie in former US and NATO ammunition bunkers which are situated just about 6km from the distillery production site:
On the way to the Bunkers the tour was opened by a dram of St Kilian Signature Edition Ten:
"Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the founding of St. Kilian Distillers the "Signature Edition TEN" was presented on March 19, 2022.
This mild variant focuses mainly on the barley malt, which as one of three permitted ingredients significantly influences the taste result of the whiskey. The malted barley recipe is made of five different malts - Pilsner and Munich malts, Caramünch®, Caraaroma® and Melanoidin malt. The whisky matured in first-fill bourbon barrels as well as in first fill rum casks of different sizes.
"It is very often spoken about the great influence of the cask on the quality or character of the whisky. But far too little, especially from the brewer's point of view, attention is paid to the influence of the raw materials - especially the malt. This time, therefore, we have focused on the special aroma of the special malts used, which we have available at St. Kilian,"
the master distiller says.
A total of 10,000 bottles of the "Signature Edition TEN" were bottled with an alcohol content of 49.5% abv."
After a short walk the party was greeted by Scottish bagpipe tunes...a mild wee dram from a first fill Bourbon Old Forester barrel introduced them to the impressive US Bunker area which is nowadays largely covered by solar panels.
The firts Old Forrester Casks arrive at the St Kilian Distillery
The Cask Line-up
The whiskies offered during the five hour evening were between three and almost six old years old. The first distilling started at St Kilian in 2016. The St Kilan single malts had an alcohol concentration of around 50 up to 62% abv.
Master Blender and Master Distiller Mario Rudolf offered the following drams drawn directly from the cask:
a full maturation whisky from a first fill red wine barrique of Château Margaux in Bordeaux (225l, French oak)
a light beech smoked malted St Kilian maturing in a small 100l Virgin Hungarian oak
a peated dram taken from a previous beer barrel (190 l) in which the local brewery Faust matured its special brewer's reserve beer with 10.9% abv.
Some impressions of the evening
Surprise: a wee tipple of a strong Faust stout which had matured in oak casks beforehand went along with Mario's peated whisky interpretation.
The Faust Stout
The Faust brewery was originally founded in Miltenberg in 1654. Its first name was Löwenbrauerei. By the end of the 19th century the name was changed to Brauhaus Faust
"Brewer's Reserve is a reddish-brown, opalescent beer with cream-colored foam. It is characterized by fruity aromas of raspberry, melon, plum as well as tones of rum pot and bourbon whiskey. It is pleasantly mousse-like and has a complex soft body with plum, sherry and strawberry notes.
The well-balanced acidity and sweetness is followed by a round barrel aroma along the finish.
Original wort gravity: 26.0%, 10.9% abv.
BE: 24 Eurobottle 0.33 l, best drinking temperature: 12-16°C."
Source Faust Brewery
Faust stout and peaty St Kilian single malt...a rather strange culinary pairing, however, very delicious indeed. The piper Lothar and the whisky maker Mario.
The pairing of peat smoke and malty sweetness
was a highly delightful culinary surprise.
The stout reminded myself of a Traquair House ale which I used to drink at Bennet's Bar when a student at Edinburgh University - just excellent...
The tour continued at the distillery warehouse next to the still house.
While on the road Mario Rudolf offered another peated dram which had matured a Virgin Hungarian Oak. The peated malt with 51ppm came from Glenesk Maltings near Montrose, south of Aberdeen.
Excurses: A St Kilian Speciality
A special hand filled St Kilian Single Malt: Tokay Oak, 62,2% abv., the cask had been filled with Tokaji Aszú, a sweet wine, before. These casks can be found in the St Kilian Bunker City.
St Kilian obtains these cask which are made of Tokay oak from the premium Oremus winery - Bodegas y Vinedos Tokaj-Oremus - in the village of Tolcsva of the Tokaj wine region in Hungary.
The oak forests are in the nearby Carpathian hills along the Polish border.
In 1993 the winery was founded as a cooperation by the Hungarian State and the world famous Spanish Bodega Vega Sicilia of the Ribera del Duero Region. The vinologo David Álvarez trained Hungarian wine makers to produce a sweet wine in the ancient tradition: a wine for kings, Vinum regum, rex vinorum.
Mario Rudolf explains the making of the sweet wine of Tokaji Aszú:
"Special late-ripening white grape varieties are left to ripen on the vine until later in autumn.
The botrytis mold settles on the grape due to the special local climatic conditions, allowing water to escape from the grape.
The grape is virtually rosinized on the vine. In addition, aromatically important transformation processes take place in the grape.
A mixture of raisined grapes and fermented grape juice are mixed for maceration and then pressed. The higher the percentage of raisined grapes, the more complex, sweeter and better is the quality the wine.
The raisined grapes are harvested by hand, as only a few grapes of the whole bunch are ripened.
The juice is fermented in fresh Hungarian oak casks for ten days and then further aged in older casks for another two years.
Maturation takes place in a three-story cellar system deep underground at a constant twelve degrees Celsius."
The renowned Hungarian Oremus Winery.
Their most rare version is the Oremus Eszencia sweet wine. Photos Courtesy St. Kilian Distillers.
The Hungarian oak casks are set up traditionally by hand. The oak wood comes either from the Tokay Region north of Budapest or from the woods in eastern Hungary (near the Romanian and Ukrainian borders). The Dolium Cooperage has produced storage, wine and beer cask since 1871. The DOLIUM First Hungarian Barrel Manufacturing Ltd. is one supplier of casks for St Kilian. Photos Courtesy St Kilian Distillers.
The Ending Session...
...Down in the valley in Rüdenau the Kilian whisky maker gave us a final mild mouth watering dram...a very rare handfilled double maturation...first period spent was in casks set up with Palatinate oak 50 to 100l (sessile oak of Johanniskreuz) and then after leaking transferred to a first fill Moscatel Sherry butt (500 l, American oak). Maturation age was in total five and a half year.
My favourite was the peated St Kilan version matured
in a Faust beer cask and the dram from the Margaux barrique...
In a former warehouse Master Distiller Mario Rudolf illustrated his wood variety. An impressive didactic display of various cask types - size, wood, use - made for a better understanding of his very special approach of whisky making at St. Kilian.
The five hour Warehouse Tasting Tour has been an excellent an absolutely rare experience which you will hardly find on offer in any other German Distillery.
St. Kilian's full maturation approach is unique. About 350 different cask and wood types give St Kilian spirits a decent place to mature...the climate in the hills, the constant temperature and the fresh air make in the bunkers for ideal maturation of St Kilian whiskies.
About 10.000 casks have found their sleeping area in Bunker City so far...more cask will certainly follow in the future.
The St Kilian Bunker Tasting event was more than unique...along with Scottish tunes, the highly informative and most interesting talk about maturation by Master Blender Mario Rudolf was an extraordinary and very tutorial experience. Many helping hands of a highly motivated St Kilian team made this excursion into the realm of sleeping Kilian whisky casks possible.
Congrats...to the management of St Kilian offering such wonderful and educational tour into the philosophy of making St Kilian single malt whiskies.
NB: All samples drawn directly from the casks were alcohol tax paid.
NB: Special Hand Fill at the Distillery only
It is a non-peated mild single malt whisky with double maturation. The whisky matured for a first period of three years in casks set up with Palatinate oak (Johanniskreuz Wood, sessile oak), then it had to be transferred to a first fill-Moscatel sherry cask for another 2.5 years. The whisky comes straight from the cask without any filtration and artificial colouring.
Cask number: #5163
Age: 5 years
Alcohol content: 60.2% abv
Filled on: April 5, 2017
Price: 69,90 € (0,5 l)
"Enjoy a sherry-sweet, full-bodied fruity, nutty and cask strength St. Kilian single malt..."
Official Tasting Notes:
"Aroma: A beguiling sweetness with dried fruits, plums, overripe peaches and raisins, in perfect interplay with ripe walnut, subtle oak spice and floral tones.
Taste: An intense, syrupy sweetness with dried fruit, raisins, oranges and ripe bananas, with a rich, warming mouthfeel and superbly integrated alcohol.
Finish: Long lasting, pleasantly warming and creamy sweet with candied oranges, ripe walnuts and a hint of dry cocoa and subtle spicy oak."
You find St Kilian Distillery near the scenic medieval market town of Miltenberg in Lower Frankonia near the Main river, only a 60 minute drive from Frankfurt.
About the author
Ernie - Ernst J. Scheiner is the editor of the portal The Gateway to Distilleries www.whisky-distilleries.net
He documents over 150 distilleries photographically from the inside and describes the production of the whiskies in detail. Since his studies at the University of
Edinburgh, he has been involved with the subject of whisky and has published in specialist magazines such as The Ireland Journal, Kleinbrennerei, Whisky Passion and The Highland Herold. Features and stories have appeared in blogs like whiskyexperts, whiskyfanbl, SHMKR (closed) and whiskyintelligence. As head of the VHS Ingelheim, and now as a whisk(e)y ambassador, he teaches distilling, organizes study tours and tours to the sources of whisky.