The one hour train ride from central Munich to Schliersee is disappointingly unspectacular for everything but the last few kilometers, even at fair weather. Not much can be enjoyed of the beautiful prealpine landscape of southern Bavaria that makes this region one of Germany’s favourite holiday destinations, both in summer and winter. Outskirts of Munich, forest, more forest, Autobahn, plain fields only gradually converging into rolling hills with the Alps looming at the horizon.
On this gloomy April day, the Bavarian Oberland was wrapped in additional melancholy by low hanging grey clouds. Ski season over, springtime still hardly noticeable, so no tourists bothered to join me in the train.
And as I arrived at the distillery, it was somehow fitting the mood to learn that master distiller Hans Kemenater who offered my to talk about the distillery had called in sick. And furthermore the remaining staff were unaware of the appointment.
Anyway, I was given free access to stillroom and warehouse, and most of my questions could be answered by the quite knowledgeable staff people, so the journey was not to become a useless trip.
Slyrs was created in 1999 as Florian Stetter from Schliersee distilled his first single malt whisky at Lantenhammer distillery in Schliersee were he worked. Lantenhammer is one of the most prolific distilleries of fruit eau de vies in Bavaria offering their products in local inns as well as in high class restaurants.
Until 2007 the whisky was distilled in the eau de vie stills of Lantenhammer. The commercial success of the first vinatages was quite phenomenal, so Slyrs – a subsidary of Lantenhammer – built their own distillery from scratch nearby to be able to meet the ever rising demand for the “first Upper Bavarian single malt whisky”.
There are no regular guided tours, but groups can make an appointment. For an entrance fee of €5 visitors are shown a film about the distillery and then can walk through the stillroom where the production process as well as the equpiment is explained on presentation boards.
The distillery has 2 wash stills and one spirit stills with a capacity of 1500 litres each. The design of the stills is somewhere in between a Scottish pot still and a traditional European eau de vie still. Notable features are a bulbous head and a very thin Lyne arm.
Slyrs decided to create this still design to “incorporate experiences from distilling eau de vie” as I was told. The stills were specifically designed for long distillation times (6 to 8 hours) and high reflux.
The wash stills are in operation on a daily basis, the spirit still is only used every second day, yielding about 500 l of spirit each turn. For an estimated 150 spirit distillation day per year this would mean a yearly spirit production of 75000 litres, but I guess actual production will be less.
On closer look at the whisky making process at Slyrs, quite a few differences to the Scottish tradition can be noticed. For example, unlike in Scotland, foreshot and feints are not used again but dumped.
Also mashing and fermentation takes place in closed stainless steel vessels. All components are connected by a system of pipes with computer aided operation. Another difference to the process as it is done in Scotland is that the mash is not washed several times but only once.
The stillhouse including the mashing and fermentation tanks is rather small, perhaps 30 by 15 meters.
At the outside of the building, two malt silos are placed. Barley is not malted on the premises but bought from an external source. A part of the malt is smoked with beechwood, but the details of the malt recipe are a well-kept secret.
A short footpath leads to the warehouse and the bar where visitors are served their free dram.
The warehouse has room for 600 casks, stacked in three layers. The building is closed and moderately heated because of the bar on the top level of the warehouse. So there is no weather influence and a relatively warme and dry “climate” that speeds up maturation.
The angel’s share creates a very pleasant vanilla aroma in the warehouse. Slyrs uses fresh toasted 225 l American oak casks made by an US based cooperage specialised on wine casks. The whisky is matured for three years and then bottled. This means that the 3yo Slyrs is basically matured like a bourbon.
In 2015 the distillery will launch its 12yo which is matured in the used casks of the 3yo. So the 12yo will be something like a “first fill bourbon” expression. Maturing the whisky for 12 years in fresh casks would most certainly result in a too strong wood influence on the whisky.
If spirit production stays constant and the practice of re-using the 3yo casks for the 12yo is done consequently, this would mean that half of the whisky will be bottled at 3yo and the other half as 12yo.
So far there seem to be no plans to widen the range of expressions by using other cask types or different proportions of smoked to non-smoked malt.
By the way, the newest cask in he warehouse is from 2008. This indicates that the distillery has another storage place for newer casks. The fact that a lot of casks are from years before 2007 leaves me confident that there will be enough of the 12yo to satisfy the demand which could be tremendous regarding the success of Slyrs in Germany in the past years.
When you keep your eyes open during the distillery visit it becomes obvious that Slyrs want to take their own way. Instead of simply copying Scotch whisky like the Japanese did with great success, they want to establish their own Bavarian whisky tradition based on the long history of distillation of eau de vie in central Europe, but also trying to gain knowledge from other whisky producing nations.
Slyrs will always taste different than a Scotch or a bourbon because you cannot expect that knowing how it is produced. Some feel repelled by the strong wood influence that is present even in the 3yo, some just love it. But at Slyrs they sure know how to distill a fine spirit.
For your convenience, here are my tasting notes for the 2005 Slyrs vintage:
A single malt from Bavaria – 43%
My Tasting Notes
Nose: Strong vanilla, some citrus fruits, a bit pungent
Palate: Vanilla again, caramel, slightly sweet, spicy
Finish: Medium long, dry caramel
Overall: This whisky was aged three years in fresh American oak barrels. It’s a bit of a crossing between a single malt and a bourbon. Not bad for a 3yo, but you have to like the wood influence.
Score: 68/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$
SLYRS Destillerie GmbH & Co. KG
Bayerischzeller Straße 13 · 83727 Schliersee / Neuhaus