For our seventh edition of Makers & Shakers, we recently caught up with Alex Munch, CEO and cofounder of Denmark’s Stauning Whisky, whose whiskies are now available in Singapore.

Yes, Denmark makes whisky. And while West Jutland-based Stauning Whisky may not be Denmark’s first whisky distillery, it gained international prominence by winning a slew of awards and accolades at international spirits competitions for its unique approach to making whisky that combines a traditional Scottish approach with Danish sensibilities and a focus on local provenance.

We first encountered Stauning Whisky at the Royal Danish Embassy here in Singapore back in 2019 when met its mastermind Martin Vesterby who gave us a taste of his whiskies. We’re glad to announce that Stauning is finally available in Singapore! We managed to grab hold Alex Munch, Stauning’s CMO and one of its co-founders, during their launch for a chat about their distinctively Danish whiskies.

Alex Munch, CMO of Stauning

Tell us how Stauning Whisky started.

Our founder Martin Vesterby first had the idea to make whisky in 2005. Basically he was sitting in his car on the way to his summer house, and was listening to a radio programme. Someone on the show said that it’s easy to make whisky, but it’s difficult to make good whisky.

So Martin, who is quite the entrepreneurial kind of guy who likes to start businesses, got excited. So he gathered the five families at the summer house and said, “Hey guys, why don’t we make whisky?”

They told him, “But we don’t know anything about whisky. Why would we want to make Danish whisky?”

“Why not?”

So they decided to ask around, with the hope that there may be someone (within their circle) who may know something about whisky. This is also why we have nine co-founders!

I was studying with Martin’s younger brother Lasse in engineering school, and they asked me if I would like to be part of their project. So I made a PowerPoint presentation about making whisky, and we continued our research on how to make whisky.

We bought some pot stills from Hoga, a Portuguese manufacturer of handmade pot stills, and set up our operations in a butcher shop in Stauning. Martin’s father Mogens was a butcher, and we converted his shop for making whisky.

So how did you finally decide that you really wanted to make whisky?

2006 was our first test. We wanted to make a copy of an 1997 Ardbeg. It was difficult, but we needed someplace to start. We liked the Islay peat smoke. Also in Denmark we have a lot of peat bogs; if you look at a map Denmark is actually on the same latitude as Islay in Scotland.

We grew local grain to make whisky. But we were not good at being farmers, I can tell you that! Yields were very poor, and the quality wasn’t good. So we decided we’re not farmers, so today we have farmers growing the grain for us.

But we made our first batch in August 2006, and it came out as a smoky new make spirit. We had a whisky expert from Scotland visit us and tasted it. He remarked, “This reminds me of an Ardbeg from the late 1970s. This is some of the most amazing stuff I’ve ever tasted, I think you should turn professional.”

He was Jim Murray. We were stunned.

So we bought a farm on the west coast of Denmark, and built the first distillery in Denmark in many years.

Stauning Rye

What makes Stauning Whisky unmistakably Danish?

That’s a very, very interesting question. When you taste Irish whiskey, Scotch whisky, or American bourbon, you recognise the flavours from that part of the world. Then when you taste a New World whisky, or even Japanese whisky, you also recognise that they are similar to Scotch whisky. People tend to make the same recipe as Scottish whisky, because they want to approach the flavours of Scottish whisky. In fact if you taste most Danish, German, and Swedish whisky, they will remind you of Scotch whisky. They use the same grain, the same yeast, because they know they will get a good result from it.

That’s also where we started from. But at some point we realised that making a copy of another product is actually not that interesting. We decided to take a different approach, which is actually based on an old-school way of making a Scotch whisky. Floor malting. Mashing fermentation is the same. Double distillation.

We use open fire for our stills, like they did 60, 70, 80 years ago in Scotland. Now they mostly use steam. We read accounts that when many distilleries in Scotland changed from direct fire to steam, the new make lost flavour. A lot of the fruitiness and complexity disappeared from the new make. So we stuck with direct fire.

If you look at Denmark as a country, especially when you look at the last 10 or 15 years, there is a Nordic food wave. These new Nordic restaurants, like Noma, their essence is using local produce, that is, using the produce from within a few kilometres. So if we want to make a Danish style of whisky, we can’t use German grain, Scottish grain, or Swedish grain. We use what is grown within 15, 20, 50 kilometres from the distillery. We get rye and barley from two local farmers, which is as local as you can get.

So even though it’s easier to buy German grain to make whisky, that won’t be a Nordic approach to things.

But with casks, it’s very different. We don’t really make casks in Denmark, so we need to source casks from around the world. And that is where we can play around.

So where do you see Danish whisky in relation to the rest of the whisky world?

We make rye whisky and single malt whisky, as well as a blend of both the rye and malt. New World whisky has been on the rise for the last five to ten years. We’re also helped by the Nordic food wave that’s spreading across the world. People in other markets want to try new and interesting types of products. They don’t want a Danish whisky to taste like Scotch whisky. Because then they might as well buy a Scotch whisky! They’re actually looking to try get something that’s different.

Stauning Kaos

Share with us about the Stauning Whisky range available in Singapore.

The newest product in the Stauning Whisky range is the Stauning HØST, which translates into harvest. HØST is a vatting of single malt whisky and a rye whisky in one bottle, to celebrate the grain types from the local producers of Denmark. The single malt has been aged in ex-bourbon barrels, while the rye whisky has been aged in new American wine casks and finished in a tawny port cask. Its ABV comes in at 40.5%, the lowest we’ve ever done, targeted at the younger, evolving drinker we see around the world who are interested in trying new stuff.

Then we have the Stauning Rye. This is a core product, and one we are most proud of. It’s the first real product of Stauning Whisky, and because rye is a big part of Danish culture. We eat a lot of rye bread. This has a mash bill of 51% rye and 49% barley. It’s been aged for three and a half years in virgin American white oak with a heavier char. It’s 48% ABV.

Another one is the Stauning Kaos. As its name says, it’s chaotic. Not in terms of flavour, but in our approach of making it. It’s a triple malt – 50% rye, 20% non-smoked single malt, and 30% smoked single malt – using peat and heather – that’s aged separately in ex-bourbon American white oak casks, and then blended together. So it’s a bit smoky, this one.

Speaking of smoke, we also have the Stauning Smoke in our core range. It’s not super smoky like a Laphroaig, Lagavulin or an Octomore. It’s smoky because we use both peat and heather smoke. The heather helps create a sweeter smoke profile compared to just using peat. This is aged for five and a half years in ex-bourbon casks from Maker’s Mark, and then finished in rum and Madeira casks.

Then there’s the Stauning El Clasico, from our limited-edition research series. This is a rye whiskey aged in new American white oak for three years, followed by six to eight months in a Spanish vermut cask. Which gives it a dessert-like flavour, and kind of like a cask-strength Manhattan cocktail in a bottle.

Will Stauning Whisky one day be one of Denmark’s key exports?

No. Because our production is very small. We do 800,000 litres a year. Compared to Scottish distilleries, we would be one of the smallest.

There’s Lego, and Bang & Olufsen. But maybe one day as a brand we’ll be there among them.

Stauning Whisky is distributed in Singapore by Six Eight Distribution

[Photo credits: Spirited Singapore | Joel Lim Photography]

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