A Gem in the Black Forest: German Whisky from Scheibel Mühle

Published on 29 November 2023 at 10:38

On a beautifully boiling-hot August day, I arrived in the town of Kappelrodeck to visit Scheibel. Since trying their whisky for the first time in Hamburg and being blown away by it back in January (what feels like years ago), I had to come and see this distillery when I got the chance.


Before I talk about the whisky, one thing - Kappelrodeck is a lovely little town surrounded by orchards and vineyards. I don’t know if it’s nice to visit in winter, but in the summer, it made the Black Forest feel like the most beautiful place you could be. And this visit came right after my fantastic visits to Elsbach and Rüdenau, so it had a lot of competition! 


You also get to ride this little train from the mainline station at Achern!


With the Rhine on one side and the Black Forest on the other, this area of Germany is called the Ortenau. Within that, the Achtertal covers the area around the River Acher (which is where Achern gets its name).


Let’s take a look at what Scheibel is, and what their whisky is like!


The History

Founded around 1921, the Scheibel distillery is 3rd generation family-owned. If you know German schnapps, you surely know the name Scheibel already - they’re a leading producer for the country. Whisky is a newer venture for them, but not so ‘on-the-side’ as it is for many German schnapps makers expanding into whisky.


Under the Scheibel umbrella, their whisky has a distinct brand name - ‘Emill’, combining the founder’s name Emil with the emphasis on the old mill - E-mill. The current third generation head of Michael Scheibel.

The original home of the Scheibel family - their historic millhouse - was still a working premises until 1980. In 2014, the building was converted into a whisky distillery, so it's separate to the larger brandy making facility down the road.


You enter the distillery via what used to be an old bakery stall, where the Scheibel family sold baked goods. Side note - if you want to see a version of this still in action, check out the Bischopssmolen in Maastricht. 13th century watermill still in use, with a bakery using their own flour next door. 


The old office in the mill house is now Scheibel’s blending room, and a shop at the front is still open on Fridays and Saturdays. Like many whisky makers, Scheibel is still bouncing back from the effects of the COVID lockdowns: their shop here used to be open every day.


The Details

Despite having three stills, Scheibel double distils their whisky. Made by Karl, these pot stills are oil-fired and each hold 1000L. Scheibel only makes single malt here, using unsmoked local barley from around Kappelrodeck. 

Walking around the stillroom, you can hear the water turbine from the river below. The successor to the original waterwheel, it now consistently provides 50% of the distillery’s power. It would be better, of course, if they could convert the stills to electric-firing and also install solar capacity on the roof, but that’s a question for future development. Consistent and low impact hydropower is a pretty good start!


Scheibel’s production levels are still fairly low. Around 2020, they were releasing around 12,000 bottles per year, so only 9,000LPA. However, this has already increased since, and they currently have something like 250 barrels of whisky maturing. Those represent something like 60-100,000 litres by themselves, and the fast rate of ageing at Scheibel will help them keep up production in a relatively small space.


The whisky is aged on-site, spread across three floors above the stillroom. Each floor holds a different type of wood, and every Emill bottle combines spirit from each floor in varying ratios after 100 days marrying together.


First Floor = Ex-cognac French oak casks

Second Floor = New German oak

Third Floor = Ex-bourbon American oak


The sling you see above is a way to move barrels more easily, but I like to imagine its how they rock the casks to sleep.


The temperature increases as you go up through the floors - visiting in August, the effect was very pronounced! Floor 1 is 10-25C (depending on season), and it only gets hotter from there. The average angels’ share in the summer is 15-20% - imagine 10L a day disappearing from the building every day!


Showing me around, Dietmar is unsure if this fast ageing at Scheibel was deliberately planned, or just a consequence of location. I like to imagine the latter. Open grate flooring allows air to circulate between the floors of the building. 


Cool humid air from the river running under the building can rise up through the floors, surrounding the casks with fresh mountain air and preventing the angels’ share from climbing even higher. That’s all my assessment though, not anything that they told me. 


Scheibel also has some small private barrels which can be wax-sealed and then bottled after 100 days of finishing. For example, there are smoky, sherried, cognac or rum casks.


At the back of the distillery is their pride and joy - a beautiful tasting room built overhanging the Acher. This really ties the location and the distillery together, and it makes me think of a brook running past a Scottish distillery - except no Scottish distillery gets summers like these!


Looking through a glass floor, I can see a millstone from the building’s former life - the hydropower turbine is only a few feet away.


While Scheibel also has a smaller, cozy tasting room called the Louis Lounge (named for second generation owner Louis Scheibel), the larger tasting room is a true venue. It has an old shipping light in the corner, which apparently one Mr Scheibel saw on sale in the Netherlands?! The windows are gorgeous, with handmade glass reflecting the elements via different colours.


The main season for visits here is the winter, with tastings held from September to December: summer represents Scheibel’s silent season for whisky making. 


The Tasting

First things first - the bottles really stand out! With ornate bottle tops resembling a millstone, these hefty bottles were designed in Sweden and produced in England. 


The Scheibel range is refreshingly simple: their single malt comes in Kraftwerk, Stockwerk, and Feinwerk varieties, alongside a liqueur called Engelswerk.


The 42% Feinwerk is lightest of all - their standard single malt but with a port cask finish. Interesting choice to make their lighter malt the port cask one, and it actually smells a little sour compared to the others. Floral on the nose, the Feinwerk has a darker flavour than I expected. A hint of tawny port passes through before dumping tonnes of tannins on the finish, making for a real surprise! Odd to have such a potent finish for something at 42% ABV 


The Kraftwerk is cask strength at 58.7%. The nose is heavier, unsurprisingly, and a real punch carries through to the palate. The French oak seems to stand out more here, with rounded cherry depths of flavour. 


The Stockwerk is 46% ABV. If any expression is the ‘default’ Scheibel Muhle, it's this one. The cask flavours from all three types blend seamlessly together. It smells like fresh pear, and the palate is also like something you’d expect from a Speyside single malt. The body has a peppery bite, which combined with the fruit makes me think of a Balvenie or a Glen Grant 12 if you took out some banana and gave it more body instead.


Despite being a liqueur, the Engelswerk is still 40% ABV. Scheibel added a touch of sugar and smoky flavouring to make this, producing something almost honey-like. Not like honey-in-whisky, but something that tastes like honey with the strength of whisky. 


Even their 50ml miniature bottles are elegant replicas of the original!


Finally, they also make a wood-aged 50.5% vodka, the logically named Woodka. In fact, this was a key step on the way to making whisky for them, and other than the filtering of the vodka, it's largely the same thing as an underaged whisky!


Scheibel Muhle is a great example of small German whiskymakers. They have a simple range of single malts, but I couldn’t mistake them for any other whiskies - the bottle is unique, as is the whisky inside. While plenty of European whisky ages faster than in Scotland, this is some of the most rich and punchy single malt you’ll get at this young age anywhere on the continent. Keep an eye out for them in our tastings!


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