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Slyrs Revisited

by Oliver Klimek on June 23, 2014

Last weekend I invited my fellow Malt Manaics to a barbecue on the Munich Rubble Plain. Unfortunately not many were able to attend, so there were only five of us, but still it was a very enjoyable couple of days. We were also invited by Slyrs to a special tour of their distillery in Schliersee which is about 60 kilometres away from my place.

I had been to Slyrs a few times before – see my 2010 report for basic information about the distillery – because it is the whisky distillery closest to where I live, and the setting in the Bavarian Alps is just beautiful. It is a perfect place to take guests to who have an interest in whisky. While acknowledging that they have been among the top German whisky distillers for quite some years now, I never was a real fan of Slyrs. In the early years it suffered a bit from inconsistent wood management as there was a bit of experimentation going on, and also the spirit itself had a rubbery quality that I was not particularly excited with. But the last vintage I tried (2005/2008) already showed some progress.

It has to be said, though, that so far I had never tasted their whisky that was made in the proper new distillery which was built in 2007. In the years before Slyrs was distilled at nearby Lantenhammer distillery who specialise in fruit eau de vie. So I was especially curious to find out how the new distillate compares to the old one.

slyrs_mm2Our tour guide was Thomas Dahlem, a former professional ice hockey player who after working with Erdinger brewery joined Lantenhammer/Slyrs as a sales representative in 2012. He is a nice “all-Bavarian” guy and already quite knowledgeable about whisky and other spirits despite the short time he has been working for the company.

One thing I did not mention in the 2010 report even though I should have is the extremely long fermentation time at Slyrs. Using regular top-fermenting creamed brewer’s yeast, the wort is fermented for 10 days cooled down to 12°C in closed stainless steel tanks. The effect of this is that the wash tastes much more like proper beer (weissbier in fact) than in Scottish distilleries. This special method of fermentation is used to avoid any “contamination” by wild yeasts and other micro-organisms which is possible and actually desired in the traditional Scotch whisky making process.

The Slyrs spirit is of a very high quality but despite its long fermentation it has significantly less fruity flavours than your usual Scotch newmake. The grain is very obvious here, but still it is far from being a “korn” or let alone vodka. It is richly flavoured and reminds more of toasted bread and in fact beer than of the porridge aromas commonly associated with newmake.

I am glad to report that this DNA is also visible in the current 3 year old standard bottling whose quality has indeed risen even more since I last tasted it. The whisky has a clean, almost crisp, character and the infamous rubbery notes seem to be a thing of the past. The cask strength version of Slyrs confirms this. Unfortunately the setup of our tasting did not allow to take proper tasting notes or even score the whiskies.

Since a few years Slyrs has been collaborating with renowned sherry producer Bodegas Tradición to offer sherry finishes for their whisky. Other than the custom-built sherry seasoned casks usually used by the Scotch whisky distillers, Slyrs uses retired solera butts that the bodega needs to replace because of leakage or other flaws. The good staves of several casks are then combined into the cask used for the finish. Old solera casks are pretty much useless for actual whisky maturation because their wood is essentially dead. But this makes them even more interesting for finishing purposes because then no additional wood influence interferes with the sherry flavours transfered to the whisky.

There is not only a “sherry” finish for Slyrs, but different types of sherry are used for the finishes. Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez (PX) are already available, they are interesting additions to the range but both showed slight traces of sulphur. The cask Strength Oloroso finish tastes much cleaner and is very enjoyable. My personal favourite was the soon to be released Amontillado finish which we had the opportunity to taste in advance. This dry style of sherry is a perfect match for the spirit, and I prefer this to the additional fruit aromas of the other sherry types. All sherry finishes are done very well in the sense that they do not overpower the original whisky but merely underline the distillery character.

And then we had the honour of a sneak preview (or better pre-taste) of the ‘not quite 12 year old yet’ Slyrs that will be officially presented in 2015. Empty casks of the 3 yo are used to mature this expression. Even though it was distilled in the early days of Slyrs, the quality of this whisky is remarkable. Expect a rather bourbon-like dram with vanilla, aromatic spices, some fruit and strong but not overwhelming wood influence. The price is not yet known, but it will not come cheap, I suspect.

A lot has happened at Slyrs in the past few years and the trend is pointing upward. From a whisky making perspective they are on a good path. The standard 3 yo is now at a point where you can say it is very good for this age, also when compared to Scottish equivalents like for example the Glenglassaugh Revival. But even with the 12 yo around the corner, the distillery still seems to suffer from the “3 yo disease” like most other German distilleries.

It is obvious that for a young distillery it is crucial to generate income as soon as possible in order to offset the high initial costs of getting the operation up and running. But Slyrs has been distilling for about 15 years now, so they cannot really be called a startup venture anymore. While comparable distilleries in Scotland like Kilchoman are trying to slowly shift their product range to higher ages there seems to be no intention at Slyrs to move into this direction.

I think this is a pity because Slyrs definitely has a good aging potential. I am not sure if distillery manager Florian Stetter agrees, but as a distiller I doubt I would be satisfied with a “very good for a 3 yo” verdict for my standard bottling, if I see the chance to increase the quality even more. Anyway, Slyrs certainly has a promising future and I am sure they will contiue to be among Germany’s top whisky distilleries.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Gal Granov June 23, 2014 at 2:57 pm

oh dear.

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Keith June 23, 2014 at 3:26 pm

I was most disappointed:
I tried a few of the very early editions (around 2003-2005) and it was like sucking on aged rubber wellies and, as I don’t have that kind of rubber fettish it wasn’t really ‘the whisky for me’. They’ve now cleaned up their act regarding both the new make and the casks being used and I can no longer accuse them of producing “rubbery whisky”, he says in a distinct Chinese accent ;-)

We tried an aged one, almost 12y and even though it was a more matured version of that early spirit, it was pretty decent.

The only rubberiness was in a couple of their sherried casks which I think I can blame on sherry sulphur rather than the spirit.

Walk round any Scottish distillery and you get a feel of what I can only describe as ‘reality’. If you manage to get an invitation into a bonded warehouse then expect sawdust, earth, the odd mouse being hunted by the distillery cat … etc ……… Slyrs is clinically clean, typically German in that respect. Even the bonded warehouse has a permanently open door and a carpeted walkway for the visitors. The casks are only separated from the visitors by a very clean fresh, new rope. They’re successful, they’re making shed loads of money and are very touristy, bloody ‘ell their opening video even had reminiscenses and parallels to the corniest distilery visit I ever had … at Ben Nevis where it seemed whisky was invented jointly by a jolly big giant and Nessie.

But at least Slyrs are now making much better whisky and their new make is probably one of the top 5 I’ve tried and I have tried quite a few now.

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Gal Granov June 23, 2014 at 3:29 pm

Good to hear that Keith & co.
if i am ever in Germany in the coming years i will make a note to drop by ;)
maybe oliver will treat me to one of his BBQs ;)

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Oliver Klimek June 23, 2014 at 3:34 pm

I agree with your “clinically clean” remark. In this respect the distillery does not come close to the “this is an actual working place” character of a Scottish distillery. Yet I was quite impressed with the progress their whisky has made, and this is much more important for me.

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Jordan June 23, 2014 at 3:55 pm

Three years is hard to pull off with unpeated whisky. Doubly so if they’re intentionally excluding other microorganisms, which limits the complexity of their new make.

I tried the PX Finish and found it mostly tasted like high-test sherry. I’m not sure why they would want to limit wood interaction at an already young age.

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Oliver Klimek June 24, 2014 at 8:46 am

The 3 yo is matured in fresh oak barrels, so it already gets quite a bit of wood interaction.

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Steffen Bräuner June 23, 2014 at 4:37 pm

“Unfortunately the setup of our tasting did not allow to take proper tasting notes or even score the whiskies.”

I just got a picture of a bunch of guys standing around a barrel with straws, sucking like there is no tomorrow :-)

Steffen

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kallaskander June 24, 2014 at 10:03 am

Hi there,

“the distillery still seems to suffer from the “3 yo disease” like most other German distilleries”.

I have been to the Slyrs distillery once or twice and quit trying or even sampling Slyrs with the 2008 distilled, bottled 2011.
Not only the 3 years disease but a hard drop to swallow.

To me all German whiskies I sampled – that is about 10 different distilleries – are too young when they are bottled and almost all of them smell like Grappa, yeasty that is. In a way this seems to go hand in hand. Patience is not their strength it seems.
I had both the Glenglassaugh Revival and Evolution Stuart Nickerson poured for me at the Munich whisky fair two years ago. Both young both only three year sold and not a trace of yeast.

As there are some German whiskies I have not yet tried – and I would not like to do injustice to Mr Fleischmann who is making whisky for over 30 years in Germany now – I still hope to sample a real whisky made in Germany some day.

Next to the 3 yo disease there is something else about German whisky that I find strange. In the very strained attempt not to copy any already existing whisky style German distillers – many of them specialised in making fruit eau de vie originally – get out of their way just to be different. And different is something German whiskies really are.
And to me it seems you will hardly find a German whisky that can be compared to a Scotch or Irish – because German distillers want to be different and making “real” whisky is surely not on their agenda.

You may know that Rothaus whisky – a cooperation of the Rothaus brewery and the fruit eau de vie distiller Kammer-Kirsch – has been elected German distiller of the year twice at a function held by the German whisky distillers association, sic!
One German whisky writer who was on the panel told a collegue of mine that Rothaus won because it was the most palatable – to put it positively.

I find it positve that German distillers seek their own way and style, that they do not want to immitate but the difference in the stills used the various preparariton methods the way of distilling and maturation does not allow to form a “German style” whisky because being different is all it is about in German whisky making.
Treading new roads away from the well known and proved ways leads you astray – what else?

Another thing… many of the distillers are situated in the German South where there is a tradition of distilling fruit spirits. In our North we have a tradition of distilling grains – rye and wheat mostly – now if those traditional grain distillers were trying their hand at making barrel aged German grain whisky that would probably be quite another thing.
All in all I would say German whisky suffers from the lack of a German style yet to be defined and from the fact that there is no unity and no standards like in established whisky making nations. You know, Americans make bourbon, Scots make Scotch and the Irish make Irish. The Germans make chaos and take pride in their individuality.

Greetings
kallaskander

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