SOMETIMES, THE BEST THINGS COME OUT OF NOWHERE
Like a small village on the west coast of Denmark.
Big skies, moorland and 200 kilometres of shifting dunes
A remote village on the West Coast of Denmark, nine friends (a doctor, a chef, a butcher, a teacher, a helicopter pilot and four engineers), two small pot stills and an old butchery.
The founders of Stauning Whisky didn't have much when they started out in 2005. Least of all, any knowledge of whisky-making, but they shared passion, curiosity and the will to experiment and create.
However, they had the land around them: The wind, the sea, the fields, the heather and the peat. And some of Denmark's finest water. What could possibly go wrong?
Sometimes, having less is more than enough
Having next to nothing, the nine friends had to find their own ways to achieve their vision: A 100% Danish whisky, one which reflected the place and could stand comparison to the finest from around the world.
The spirit dribbled into the small bottles, and a New Nordic Whisky was born.
“We had to make our whisky with what grew around us,” says Lasse, one of the founders. “The same applied to the engineering. We just used and adapted what was lying around, saw what we could replicate from a normal distillery, and then fine-tune”.
And so they did. The barley, they got from a local farmer. Malting was done on the tiled floor of the butcher's cold room. In a nearby museum, they found the peat to dry and smoke the malted barley. Milling could be done in an old meat mincer.
And then finally, one late August night in 2006, the first drops of the second distillation - the hearts - came through. “We felt like pioneers setting out for a new world,” Alex, one of the founders tells.
"Forget the whisky and open up a bakery instead”. The bank.
200-400 litres of whisky a year; that was the ambition back in the first years. But then Jim Murray, famed author of the annual Whisky Bible, had a sip of Stauning’s pot still.
"What on Earth is this?" he exclaimed. "Whisky-lovers will kill their mothers for a bottle of this. This could possibly become some of the world's best peated whisky."
The team now realized that what started as a hobby project had true potential to become exceptional. Even though one bank suggested them to forget the whisky and open up a bakery instead, they managed to raise money to buy a farm and turn it into a small distillery.
Now they could use the same equipment as every other distillery. But they didn’t. What started as a necessity in the abattoir had now formed into a philosophy. Stauning not only reflected its origin, but also the mindset of its founders.
They stuck to their own ways. Locally grown rye and barley, floor-malting and small fire-heated pot stills was – and still is – the secret behind the distinctive character of their New Nordic terroir whisky.
It's neither new world whisky nor old world whisky.
It's Our World Whisky
In 2011, the first commercial bottles were released. Was they any good? The critics thought so, but the founders were modest. “We are from the Danish West Coast,” says Hans Martin. “Here, you have to wait before you can raise your arms to celebrate.
The timing was perfect.
The New Nordic food scene was booming. Like-minded chefs, bakers and producers were shifting away from industrialized production. The local was becoming more important than the global, whether that applied to bacon, apples, wheat… or whisky.
Soon, the best bars and finest restaurants started serving the whisky from the West Coast of Denmark. René Redzepi of the world-famous Noma Restaurant delisted every other whisky for Stauning. At the same time, the prodigious whisky began winning awards all over the world.
Even though production was now up to 80.000 litres a year, you would have to be more than lucky to get hold of one the bottles from Stauning.
Think big. Stay small.
Back in their refurbished farmhouse, the founders kept on experimenting and making up new ways of expressing their West Coast spirit.
But demand was by far outstripping supply, and further expansions were needed.
With its clean, sharp angles, burnt timber panelling, glass and black metal, it is a true expression of Danish design and architecture philosophy.
In 2018, Stauning opened the doors to a new and modern, purpose-built distillery.
The distillery is at the forefront of a revival of the region. "The most stupid thing you could do around here until recently was build a house,” says Martin. “Now people are moving here, schools are opening, tourism is booming, and new restaurants are celebrating local ingredients.”
Even though capacity now has risen ten-fold, it's still a small distillery. And inside, the Stauningers are still making whisky their own way with small pot stills, open floor malting and direct fire heating. Not because they are stubborn, but because they insist on doing things their own way: The Stauning way.