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.
Our 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.