Unique Bunker Warehouses at St Kilian
Who is St Kilian?
....The famous Irish missionary Saint Kilian celebrated his birthday again.
The Irish David F. Hynes and the Franconian Investor Andreas Thümmler have set up a unique German whisky distillery with Scottish equipment. The swan neck pot stills were manufactured by Forsyths in Rothes, Scotland.
CTO and Master Blender Mario Rudolf and his team presented their first three-year-old St Kilian single malt whisky which had been distilled in Rüdenau in Lower Franconia in 2016 along the Main river near the medieval town of Miltenberg.
Hundreds of friends and retailers joined the big party in May 2019
to cherish their first St Kilian Signature Edition.
They celebrated the inauguration of Sankt Kilian Signature Edition One. The brand new German single malt whisky appeared in shining amber colours in a specially designed bottle which interpreted the shape and proportions of its pot still where the spirit had been distilled.
The elegant and much acclaimed designer bottle was filled with a young whisky at 45% abv in natural colour. The three year old Sankt Kilian German Single Malt was double-distilled from 100% German malted barley.
„The first edition is not chill-filtered in order to preserve its full aroma and taste for the connoisseurs,“
Mario Rudolf pointed out. The distiller was born in the nearby town of Amorbach, which has strong family-links with Queen Victoria’s mother Victoire of Sachsen-Coburg-Saalfeld.
“It is an incredibly good feeling standing here, three years after we filled the first cask with our whisky which is a result of experimenting with different types of casks and wood.”
The newly born St Kilian whisky was the achievement of a dedicated dynamic young team. Special distillation methods in a state of the art distillery of the finest quality led to spirits which matured in a great variety of different casks on site next to the still house.
Inside the Bunker. Photo Courtesy St Killian Distillers.
St Kilian Distillery Facts
Today St Kilian is the largest whisky distillery in Germany and produces about 300.000 LPA. Countless international gold medals and accolades illustrate their success.
The State of the Art Distillery. Scottish Equipment, Irish Thought, German Craftsmanship
Founded in 2012 by Investment Banker Andreas Thümmler the distillery was planned by the Irishman David Hynes - former director at Cooley and today director at Great Northern Distillery - with equipment from Scotland.
Four wooden Douglas Fir wash backs came from Dufftown and the pair of swan neck pot stills were manufactured by Forsyths in Rothes, Scotland. An Irish speciality is found in the Lyne Arm of the spirit still: a reflux condenser pipe allows different styles of spirits.
St Kilan Releases
By 2023 thirteen Signature Editions have been released plus innumerous special casks bottlings. The Bud Spencer Whisky Series was created as well as the Terence Hill Single Malt whisky range. Special single malt releases like Grave Digger (Batch 1 & 2) and Judas Priest (Batch 1 & 2) Single Malts joined the shelves.
St Kilian Bunker City. Unique Warehouses
Since January 2019 most of St Kilian's whisky production has been maturing in former U.S. ammunition bunkers which are not far away from the distillery. The Hainhaus site covers 74ha with 120 bunkers which can be rented from the present owner, a local authority The Odenwald Regional Gesellschaft.
Photos Courtesy St Kilian Distillers
CTO and innovative Master Blender Mario Rudolf explains:
"Before we fill a new bunker with our noble casks, we first invest a lot of time and dedication in cleaning.
All surfaces are cleaned all around with hot water under high pressure. After that, they are dried and well ventilated.
After an intensive cleaning procedure another bunker is available for the storage of approx. 600 casks.
Perfect cleaning with steam is a must. Storage capacity is about 600 casks, depending on their size. Special detailed intensive chemical tests of floor, walls as well as room atmosphere proved the cleanliness of the place for whisky maturation. Photos Courtesy St Kilian Distillers
The bunkers are at least 50 to 100m apart from each other. They are situated at an altitude of 440m in our beautiful Odenwald.
Each bunker is covered with forest soil where shrubs and trees grow. This provides a good microclimate. In addition, there are chimneys in the ceiling which serve the natural ventilation.
The heat in summer and the cold in winter act in the bunker. The maturation processes are thus significantly different in the course of the year.
Photos Courtesy St Kilian Distillers
This change of temperatures causes more intensive maturation than in the very moderate and thus more homogeneous climate in Scotland.
However, the largest peaks and strong swings that we sometimes have are mitigated by the construction method.
The casks are stored a maximum of three high. They resemble to a typical dunnage warehouse in Scotland and provide perfect maturation conditions for our single malt whisky."
Temperature in summer is between 24 and 26 °C, in winter it will not be below 10 to 8 °C. A open ventilation system makes for a constant fresh airflow within the bunkers. Special steel racks allow a steady influx of oxygen into the wood and make for effective maturation of the whiskies. Linear distance of Bunker City to the distillery is only six Km but by road about 17 Km. In winter the transport of whisky casks is often quite dangerous due to heavy snow and icy roads.
"So far, e have laid down 40% Bourbon barrels, 30% virgin casks, and 14% wine casks plus a diversity of casks like cider, beer, Jägermeister cetera.
By November 2023 we store about 370 different casks types and sizes,"
Mario Rudolf explains in detail.
Bunker City Warehouse Tour Impressions
In late autumn 2022 CTO Mario Rudolf invited a group of whisky nerds to a unique pre Samhain-Tasting Presentation at St Kilian's warehouses in the Odenwald Bunker City.
Whisky at Night in the Hain-Wood of the Odenwald
Provisional light made for a rather Samhain atmosphere.
Today around 11.000 St. Kilian casks lie in former US and NATO ammunition bunkers which are situated just about 6km from the distillery production site (2023). 40% of the stock is Bourbon Barrels, 30% virgin oak casks, 14% wine cask plus a diverse mixture of casks:
On the way to the Bunkers the tour was opened by a dram of St Kilian Signature Edition Ten:
"Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the founding of St. Kilian Distillers the "Signature Edition TEN" was presented on March 19, 2022.
This mild variant focuses mainly on the barley malt, which as one of three permitted ingredients significantly influences the taste result of the whiskey. The malted barley recipe is made of five different malts - Pilsner and Munich malts, Caramünch®, Caraaroma® and Melanoidin malt. The whisky matured in first-fill bourbon barrels as well as in first fill rum casks of different sizes.
"It is very often spoken about the great influence of the cask on the quality or character of the whisky. But far too little, especially from the brewer's point of view, attention is paid to the influence of the raw materials - especially the malt. This time, therefore, we have focused on the special aroma of the special malts used, which we have available at St. Kilian,"
Rudolf explains in detail.
A total of 10,000 bottles of the "Signature Edition TEN" were bottled with an alcohol content of 49.5% abv."
After a short walk the party was greeted by Scottish bagpipe tunes...a mild wee dram from a first fill Bourbon Old Forester barrel introduced them to the impressive US Bunker area which is nowadays largely covered by solar panels.
The firts Old Forrester Casks arrive at the St Kilian Distillery
The Cask Line-up
The whiskies offered during the five hour evening were between three and almost six old years old. The first distilling started at St Kilian in 2016. The St Kilan single malts had an alcohol concentration of around 50 up to 62% abv.
Master Blender and Master Distiller Mario Rudolf offered the following drams drawn directly from the cask:
a full maturation whisky from a first fill red wine barrique of Château Margaux in Bordeaux (225l, French oak)
a light beech smoked malted St Kilian maturing in a small 100l Virgin Hungarian oak
a peated dram taken from a previous beer barrel (190 l) in which the local brewery Faust matured its special brewer's reserve beer with 10.9% abv.
Some impressions of the evening
Surprise: a wee tipple of a strong Faust stout which had matured in oak casks beforehand went along with Mario's peated whisky interpretation.
The Faust Stout
The Faust brewery was originally founded in Miltenberg in 1654. Its first name was Löwenbrauerei. By the end of the 19th century the name was changed to Brauhaus Faust
"Brewer's Reserve is a reddish-brown, opalescent beer with cream-colored foam. It is characterized by fruity aromas of raspberry, melon, plum as well as tones of rum pot and bourbon whiskey. It is pleasantly mousse-like and has a complex soft body with plum, sherry and strawberry notes.
The well-balanced acidity and sweetness is followed by a round barrel aroma along the finish.
Original wort gravity: 26.0%, 10.9% abv.
BE: 24 Eurobottle 0.33 l, best drinking temperature: 12-16°C."
Source: Faust Brewery
Faust stout and peaty St Kilian single malt...a rather strange culinary pairing, however, very delicious indeed. The piper Lothar and the whisky maker Mario.
The pairing of peat smoke and malty sweetness
was a highly delightful culinary surprise.
The stout reminded myself of a Traquair House ale which I used to drink at Bennet's Bar when a student at Edinburgh University - just excellent...
The tour continued at the distillery warehouse next to the still house.
While on the road Mario Rudolf offered another peated dram which had matured a Virgin Hungarian Oak. The peated malt with 51ppm came from Glenesk Maltings near Montrose, south of Aberdeen.
Some St Kilian Distillery Impressions
About the Author
Ernie - Ernst J. Scheiner is the editor of The Gateway to Distilleries www.whisky-distilleries.net He documents over 150 distilleries photographically from the inside and describes the production of the whiskies in detail. Since studying at the University of Edinburgh he has been interested in the subject of whisky and has published in
Trade magazines like The Ireland Journal, the small distillery, Whisky Passion and The Highland Herald. Features and stories appeared in blogs like whiskyexperts, whiskefanblog and whiskyintelligence. As former head of the VHS Ingelheim, and now as a whisk(e)y tutor, he teaches distillation at colleges, organizes study tours and whisky culture tours to the sources of whisky.