In 2018, a bottle of Macallan 1926 whisky was sold for 1.1 million US dollars in an auction at Christie’s in London.
Just let that think in!
It has been the highest that was ever paid for a bottle of whisky; but it really was just the culmination of a trend that saw incredible sums shelled out for rare old whiskies in recent years. And apparently whisky is now the fastest growing spirit in the world!
I would not call myself a whisky aficionado. Indeed, so far my experience with whisky is rather limited. What I do love, however, is the concept of tasting menus based on innovative and unusual pairings.
That’s why when the latest newsletter from one of my favourite German countryside hotels popped up in my inbox, featuring a fine dining menu specifically created to be paired with St. Kilian whisky, I was sold immediately.
I have to admit, I’ve never heard of St. Kilian before. As someone who is not very familiar with the world of whisky, this did not bother me too much. Especially as I trusted the excellent Hohenhaus team to work only with the best.
However, being a researcher at heart, it was clear I would not embark into the evening without doing some digging around to find out more about the distillery, and whisky in general. And that’s where I started to get hooked. It’s safe to say, the world of whisky is a topic I indent to explore more deeply going forward, so stay tuned for more going forward!
What to know about German whisky
Germany has a long wine making history and small distilleries making all sorts of fruit brandies and other spirits are commonplace as well. In fact, across Germany there are around 29,000 distilleries and around 300 to 400 of them also make whisky.
Numbers alone do not make a great product, however and until not so long ago, German whiskies were not among the highest rated internationally for their quality. Perhaps one of the main reasons for this was the fact that most distilleries made whisky just as a by-product alongside many other spirits, so it did not the attention it needed to make it outstanding.
Recently, however, there are more and more distilleries popping up across Germany dedicated to making whisky, and only whisky. Their production is mostly limited to small batches and they strive for the highest of quality.
This strategy is paying off and a number of very promising new German whiskies have started to hit the market – and among them those from St. Kilian Distillery.
What to know about St. Kilian Distillery
So here are some key facts about St. Kilian Distillery – but hang on until I am going to discuss our pairing menu to get some really intriguing behind-the-scene facts about the distillery and their products, which we learned thanks to the great company of St. Kilian’s head of sales Michael Holzapfel.
St. Kilian was founded in 2012 and on St. Patricks day 2016 their first spirits were distilled and filled into the barrels. The whisky is made according to traditional Scottish Single Malt Whisky production processes paired with the newest technology – and inspired by whiskies around the world.
A total of only 760 bottles were produced of the first St. Kilian single malt whisky – aptly called ‘first Killian’.
The distillery is located in the small town of Rüdenau in the German Odenwald region, round about an hour from Frankfurt. They are open for visits and tastings with prior appointments.
Hotel Hohenhaus: A charming country house with a castle
Hotel Hohenhaus for many years has been a stable when I was craving a quick escape into the German countryside.
The hotel is located in the northern part of Hesse close to the border to Thuringia, just under two hours from Frankfurt. But as soon as you turn of nearby motorway A4, it feels like you enter a different world.
Indeed, one of the things I love most about this place is the feeling of total disconnection to the outside world.
Surrounded by apparently endless low rolling hills and thick green forests, the only movement around you comes from the large sheep herds grazing the fields around the hotel and a couple of herons flying in and out of a little pond near the hotel.
Despite the secluded location, should you crave for more than relax, the hotel offers a long list of activities, including horseback riding, mountain biking, tennis, golf and guided hiking tours.
Close by you can also explore the small historic village of Herleshausen whilst Eisenach, the town of Johann Sebastian Bach and famous Wartburg Castle is just about 20 minutes away.
The best views of this idyllic surroundings are from the little terrace behind the historic Hohenhaus hotel, located in the estates former stables.
The main lobby with the cosy fireplace is equally perfect for chilly summer evenings or cold winter days.
Rooms at Hohenhaus are kept in a minimalistic style – after all you are here to let go of the crazy city life and its overexposure of glitter and glamour. It’s this feeling of going straight back to the roots of rural living, keeping only the essential (albeit at a high level) that always lets me breath deeper and immediately has me slowing down.
That said, the hotel is currently undergoing some renovation, fully incorporating the former manor house – now called the Kavaliers-House – into hotel operations. This will add a few more rooms, including several themed suites and eventually also become the home of the new second restaurant.
However, perhaps even more exiting is a distinctive shift in services and in particular a new culinary concept, entirely focused on local and regional products.
Indeed, most of the food at Hohenhaus comes from its own land thanks to the re-introduction of farming and forestry on the 1,600 hectares estate. Hohenhaus now breed their own chicken, pigs and the quite unique brown mountain cheep. The latter is recognized as an endangered species.
Venture out for a morning stroll through the surrounding fields and forests, and chances are high you will bump into the Hohenhaus kitchen team out foraging for wild herbs, fresh fruits, mushrooms and what else grows on the estate.
The hotels long time restaurant, now renamed Hohenhaus Grill has shifted focus to a traditional local cuisine.
Meanwhile the new La Vallée Verte restaurant presents you with fine dining influenced by chef Peter Niemanns’s Burgundian roots.
A delectable whisky and food pairing menu at Hohenhaus’s La Vallée Verte
We stated the evening in front of the fire place with a selection of awesomely delicious amuse bouche including a lobster bisque, black pudding with caviar, a pickled deer filet, macadamia with honey and bacon, and a dark bread – all made with products from the Hohenhaus estate.
This was accompanied by the first pairing of the evening, the Spirit of St. Kilian Batch 5 Amarone.
It was also the start of learning about St. Kilian and a bit of the art of whisky making in general (although I can’t guarantee I got all of it correctly being fairly new to the topic).
In short, whisky is made from fermented grain mash and to be called whisky has to age for at least three years in a wooden barrel. That’s at least if you follow the Scottish whisky legislation which is largely accepted to be the standard internationally, although different countries have different rules.
Quite importantly, though a spirit is not allowed to be called a whisky if it has not matured at least three years, this does not mean the a not-yet three year old spirit cannot have a great taste. Indeed, most distilleries will release so called ‘unaged whisky’ which is typically called ‘White dog spirit’.
Thus St. Kilian while waiting for their first whisky coming off age used the opportunity to release small batches of their spirits (which they called either Spirit, White Doc or they made it into a liquor) to allow customers to get an early understanding of the final product.
Another perk of St. Kilian is distilling their whiskies in Germany means they are not bound to follow the very strict rules of Scottish whisky making.
Having more freedom to experiment, one of their specialities is to use different barrels for aging. So in addition to ex-bourbon barrels (which are the main barrels used for whisky-making internationally), St. Kilian uses barrels previously used for aging a wide variety of wines and other spirits like Amarone wines, Sauternes white wine, sherry and many more. Indeed, they have around 90 different types of barrels available to use.
But back to the menu. We continued with a foie gras paired with St. Kilian’s Batch 7 spirit aged in barrels of bourbon, sherry and virgin oak. This was likely my most favoured pairing of the evening as the rich, buttery flavour of the foie gras had a great soothing impact on the full-bodied spirit with hints of spicy oak.
Next up were a carp, a very delectable saint pierre, and a German angus. They were accompanied by several other first batches and – as a highlight – the signature edition of St. Kilian’s first single malt, aptly called One. It is a blend of a large number of different barrel types, including ex-bourbon, rhum agricole, sherry and chestnut barrels along with small quarter casks.
A camembert paired with a spirit aged for 21 months in barrels of bourbon and Sauternes displaying a slight nutty flavour was another great match.
Whisky pairs wonderfully with sweets, especially chocolate as the two share a lot of similar flavours. Thus a delicious chocolate parfait paired with two different spirits, the white dog and a berry liquor was the perfect ending of our menu.
I once again spend a wonderful time at Hotel Hohenhaus, taking the very welcome opportunity to slow down in this secluded place of calms. At the same time, I had a really fantastic introduction into the world of whisky and fully intend to explore more of it going forward.