In August 2014, long before I even started thinking about a Whisky blog, I visited a distillery in Slovakia with my best friend Peter. I wasn’t aware of a Slovakian distillery till a few months back, when I got as a birthday present a bottle of the „Blended Northern Spis Country Whisky“ and an oak wood cask (approximate 1 litre volume). The cask was intended to be used to „finish“ Whisky but I put it to other use, I’ll probably write about this in another article. But I was interested how Whisky is made in Slovakia.
To make it short, this distillery has as much to do with a Scottish distillery as petrol with diesel. There are things they have in common but it’s different. The distillery is located in the north-east of Slovakia right in the High Tatras not far away from the Polish border. The whole region is known as „Spis“, so that’s where the name comes from. After passing lots of small villages in which the time seemed to have stopped around 1950 or so (do they know WWII is over?), you could easily see the big storage facility of the distillery. It could house around 18.000 tons of barley intended to produce alcohol to be used for medical and technical applications. They started producing Whisky around 2007. We didn’t call ahead, so the tour was in Slovakian, but as Peter is from there, he could easily translate. In addition, the tour guide understood English, which was enough for my few questions.
As the tour has started just a few minutes upon our arrival, we had to see the first exhibits on our own. There were some dioramas showing what a cooper and a blacksmith does, as well as how barley is grown. Nothing new to me, so we tried to catch up. We met our group at the „Malt House“. Here the barley is malted, as the name suggests. But if the distillery does it here for their Whisky, our tour guide was unable to tell. They had even a kiln floor with real smoke, but I guess they do all the malting and fermenting at the „Fermenter House“, our next step. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the big mash tunes (nearly 10.000 litres each), but I was controlled over PC anyways, not much to see.
Next station – again, no pictures! – were the (really really) big patent stills. Again, controlled by one man in the office, there wasn’t much to see either. But here the fermented wort, now not unlikely a beer but without hops, is distilled five (technical) or even seven (medical) times. I guess they just take this spirit, dilute it with water and fill it into the casks. But that information again our very nice tour guide couldn’t provide. But he was very proud that they produce alcohol with 99,98% abv, which isn’t easy as any chemist might know. Everything above 96% is very hard to get. It’s lots to do with physcal chemistry and azeotropes an stuff and it’s complicated to do. But they managed to get it done. Not bad at all! They produce around 35.000 litres a day. How much of this is intended to Whisky was another information I wasn’t able to get. But I do know they have around 1 million litres (calculated as pure?) alcohol in their four warehouses.
This was also our next stop. Right next to one of the warehouses, to be precisely divided only by a glass window, they had the so called „Schnitzerraum“. There you can see, next to the casks, the biggest carved wood picture in Europe. Very beautiful! I would have been disappointed if there wasn’t a tasting. Luckily there was some sort of tasting. They had some tumblers(!) with their Whisky at the bar, waiting for us. At least they didn’t put in the ice, it was sitting next to the tumblers. On our way out we had to pass the gift shop where we could buy lots of merchandise from T-Shirts and Caps to pencils and Whisky. Since I own their Blended Whisky already, I decided to buy a (quite cheap) 5 year old “Single barrel”, as they call it. And I got the last bottle of a “Special Edition” which was distilled 2008 and bottled 2014. One of their earliest Whiskys and only 400 Bottles available. I got the last one.
My resume: This distillery has nothing to do with a traditional Scottish distillery, as I mentioned in the beginning. For someone interested in Whisky it is quite okay, but it’s more a museum than a working distillery. For technically interested people (like me) it’s quite interesting, as you get a good look behind the scenes of an alcohol producing industry, which isn’t that easy these days. To the three Whiskys: Both are still not opened and I’m not sure if I should ever open them. At least after I retasted the “Blended Northern Spis Country Whisky” and got some headache (after just 2cl) which lasted a whole day. Click here for the devastating tasting notes.