Barrels on a Chairlift, Single Malt in the Mountains - My Visit to Slyrs Distillery

Published on 18 April 2023 at 09:49

Bavarian Single Malt from the Edge of the Alps

(DE-SLY, no.004)


When you get the train from Munich to Neuhaus-Fischhausen, you see Bavaria change around you. The RB55 splits into multiple sections as it climbs up from the city, reaching toward the foothills of the Alps. Your train gets smaller and smaller - you reach the Schliersee, the ground snow-covered in late March - the train splits again and begins to pull you around the lake, surrounded by mountains guarding Slyrs Distillery.


I was supposed to also visit Lantenhammer distillery on the same day, but strikes the previous day had changed all my travel plans. Thankfully, I was just able to make time for Slyrs! Even if you don’t know much about European whisky, you may well have heard of Slyrs. Far from the only German whisky-maker, they are however one of the bigger-profile distilleries.


Lucky me getting to visit them! With my friend Paul, I walked into the beautiful wooden visitors’ centre to meet my guide, Nick Binder. A great guide around the distillery, Nick handles exports and really knows how to structure a tasting on the spot (see below).

This is no still-in-a-shed distillery - Slyrs was founded in 1999, really got going in 2003, and as of 2011 was Germany’s largest distillery. While that’s now a more crowded category with brands like St Kilian and Stork Club becoming increasingly prominent, Slyrs is still a big deal. 


Though German by all means, Slyrs’ branding is revealing. They label their product ‘Bavarian single malt’, and their labels use a blue-white cross-hatch pattern reminiscent of the Bavarian flag. 


What’s the visitor experience like at Slyrs? Slyrs has a 5 minute film to start distillery visits, focusing on the landscape and surroundings more than the specific details of the distillery itself. While I’d personally like more focus on the distilling itself, I understand that this helps to set the scene. They currently get about 50,000 visitors per year, and encouraging these visits has always been part of Slyrs’ mission. 


In part, the idea is to educate more people in Germany about whisky, Nick explains to me - whisky isn’t some mystery only understood by Scots! Another side of their prominence is Slyrs’ claim to be the first dedicated whisky distillery in Germany, and this matches their reputation pretty well. 


Time for details! Slyrs practise double distillation through Köthe stills, heated by steam coils. Their stainless steel washback can handle 6000L per day, with temperature-controlled fermentations lasting 5 to 7 days using yeast from Weihenstephan. More Bavarianness! Their first sparge is 62C, and the second is 72C. 


Slyrs has 2 wash stills, and the new make coming off their spirit stills (capacity 1500L) is approximately 70% ABV. The heart is a narrow cut capacity 1500L per still. Their heads and feints are all discarded - while that's a surprising kind of inefficiency, it certainly makes a strong statement about Slyrs’ commitment to creating a very light and pure cut of spirit!


Slyrs matures their casks on site, including a stock of some old, dark sherry barrels. These older sherry casks are 50 to 60 years old and cost about €2000 each, so not a small investment! Their warehouse is full of 225L barriques of new American oak (heavy toast) - these make up about 80% of the total 4000 casks held there. 


This space sits within a consistent temperature range of 18-27C, leading to a 4-5% angels’ share per year. The ageing environment at Slyrs leads to ABV increasing over time, rather than decreasing as it does in Scotland. 

They also keep a range of beer casks, port, madeira, rum, sauternes, marsala, STRs, and some full of whisky from Lantenhammer or organic test batches. Their wall of private casks, which range from 40L up to full size, show a diverse range of investors and brands.


When we got to the tasting room, the view was incredible. This is what you see out the window!


There are quite a few whiskies talked about here, but the overall Slyrs range is being streamlined over the next few years, so it won’t be quite so overwhelming in the near future.

Slyrs Rye, released only 2 years ago, is aged in ex-bourbon, crocodile toast casks. Trying this first, I found it had a gentle fruity nose but a darker finish even at 41% ABV. The mash bill for this is 70% rye, the rest is a mixture of barley and wheat, with all the grains involved being malted. This dram has a lovely light buzz to it without being too heavy or spicy - it's an approachable rye whisky. I can see why Nick started a tasting with it.


‘Malt Whisky’ is their (very simply named) new product, an entry level NAS which is actually a blended malt made in conjunction with another, unspecified distillery. A FC Bayern Munich special edition of this has a weissbier finish (for extra Bavarian-ness).


This Slyrs malt was made with beginners and mixologists in mind. Light and Irishesque, it reminded me of banana bread and walnuts. As Nick opines, this whisky (like much of Slyrs’ catalogue, in my opinion) demonstrates the value of lightness. Sometimes, it just isn’t the right day for a peaty or spicy smack in the face!


Now, Slyrs Classic, the distillery’s signature single malt which currently accounts for 40% of their overall sales. The Slyrs Classic forms the base of many other expressions, and contains whisky which is up to 6 years old. The nose is very different from their rye or blended malts. I find the nose almost grappa-like, reminiscent of plum wine. 


It combines a slight mustiness with sweetness, perhaps more like plum skin in that way… credit to Nick for arranging these drams in an order which really works to slowly build depth over the course of a tasting. The finish has a touch of spice and reminds me of a lighter form of virgin oak flavour; a little caramel is there.


The 51 is simply a 51% expression of this classic single malt, with some sherry and port casks of Classic malt being vatted together in there. The 51 has a lovely rich palate, but little spice - remember, this is a more concentrated form of quite a delicate malt. The main flavour for me was an Eddu-like apple note.


Slyrs’ oldest expression, the 12YO, builds on the Classic by using ex-Slyrs American oak casks for the rest of the maturation. First released in 2015, you can now get this as a regular expression. A special finish is also released every year, such as an Islay cask. The 12YO has a lot of almond aroma on the nose, and with its light character would compare favourably with many Speysides (if you need a Scottish point of comparison).


The Classic forms the basis of a series of cask finishes, which are all 5- 7 years old and (like the Classic) all bottled at 46% ABV. This includes marsala, which adds a lovely extra depth to Slyrs’ light malt base. So far, no German oak is used - Nick finds German oak quite bitter, and after trying some Blaue Maus in Nuremberg, I’m inclined to agree. 


Perhaps the most impressive of these special edition single malts is the Amontillado, which gets 4 years in its finishing cask!


Amontillado casks are not that common for whisky finishes, but when you get a good one, it's well worth the search - and this is a good one! While musty, the nose had no off-notes. It has that depth of a heavier sherry, some leathery notes and old cask flavours with just enough sweetness from the underlying Slyrs style of malt to make it all work.


Finally, the Slyrs Peat, which is 3 to 4 years old and made from 40ppm malt. Nick suggests aromas of lemongrass, moss, and sweetness. This is supposed to be a peated dram you could enjoy in the summertime, which is certainly a niche I’d certainly like to see more distilleries explore. As the emphasis at Slyrs is producing a Bavarian single malt, they didn’t want to rely on Scottish peated malt imports. This meant they took a while to get peated production going, but now peated malt from Germany is available.


The flavour here reminds me of the char on roasted vegetables, a lot of the heavier sulphur being stripped out and a heady sweet nose remaining behind. The smoke is there, but it's subtle, matching the Slyrs style. The closest Scotch whisky is probably Highland Park, though that is still very different to this. 


Beyond the whiskies I tried, one very unique release is Slyrs’ Mountain Edition, which matures in a warehouse up in the mountains behind Fischhausen. At 1500m elevation, 60 casks aged with no temperature controls, experiencing swings of 30C either side of freezing! As if that wasn’t interesting enough, they also made this from beech smoked malt. 

They have photos of barrels going up on a chairlift, and me and Paul agreed that this needs to go on a poster or some ad - it's fantastic!


Finally, Slyrs also make a range of nice liqueurs, including vanilla honey (Slyrs’ 2nd best selling product after the Classic SM), Alpine herbs, cream, coffee, and eierlikör. 


The distillery’s total output comes to 85,000LPA. While they expanded significantly back in 2006, another round of growth is coming over the following year. Looking at the visitor centre, I could already see that this is a very professional outfit compared to many smaller, newer distilleries in Europe. The visitor experience is comparable to a Scottish distillery, perhaps the only one I’ve seen in Europe so far besides MSJ.


What does the future hold for Slyrs? To me, they should absolutely be a core European whisky - a lynchpin for Eurowhisky. Slyrs’ whisky can be found in Austria and the Benelux, but not everywhere - they are focusing more on depth of market penetration instead of expansion. They have some good variety, and a light, well approachable type of malt. Personally, I thought the Amontillado was especially impressive. 

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