Visiting Det Norske Brenneri
Just a few days ago I finally got to visit the distillery that started the modern day whisky adventure in Norway. Det Norske Brenneri ('The Norwegian Distillery'), formerly known as Puntervold/Agder Brenneri, is located in Grimstad, in the south of Norway. They were the first private distillery to obtain a license to produce spirits when the monopoly was removed in 2005.
In 2012 they launched the very first Norwegian single malt, Audny. Since then they have also released two follow-up batches of the Audny (see here and here). Then in November 2015 they released the Eiktyrne, with a finish in 40 litre bloodtubs.
The company itself was originally founded in 1952, and the first 50 years or so they mainly produced apple juice and various kinds of essences. Ole Puntervold, the son of the founder of the company, was the one that started the distillery part of the company in 2005. His motto was "Nil satis nisi optimum" - only the best is good enough.
Starting in 2005 they produced aquavit and various fruit based spirits. Soon enough they started looking into whisky production as well. Today they also produce bitters, gin ('Harahorn') and Norwegian jenever ('Den Flyvende Hollender' and 'Nøkk').
In January 2014 Puntervold AS and Agder Brenneri were purchased from Ole Puntervold by Odd J. Nelvik and Stig Bareksten. For all practical purposes the name of the distillery changed name to Det Norske Brenneri from this date.
Earlier this year Det Norske Brenneri hired Jon Bertelsen as Master Blender. Jon has 20 years experience working with some of the best producers of cognac, calvados and Scotch whisky. His brand, Jons Utvalgte, is well-known as one of the most interesting whisky importers in Norway.
Getting to the distillery is quite easy, although it does take a while. It is located in Grimstad, as previously mentioned. Grimstad is about 280 kilometers from Oslo, and about the same distance from Stavanger. You can travel either by car, train or bus. A nice summary (in English) on how to get there can be found on the Visit Norway website.
The distillery has decided to source the wash from a local brewery (Nøgne Ø). The wash is made to their specification, and arrives in batches of 5-25 thousand litres. The whisky is distilled in two Holstein stills. The stills are named 'Olav' and 'Harald', after the current and the previous king of Norway. The size of both stills is 300 litres.
The first distillation is very slow, and the second is extremely slow. Jon did not want to go into more detail than that, but he seemed very happy about the way he has set this up now. There has been quite significant changes in the style of new make produced since Jon started working at the distillery. And from what I can tell, these changes are definitely for the better.
All the whisky they produce is matured on site. The whisky barrels are resting peacefully amongst quite a large number of casks containing aquavit, gin, fruit spirits and other products...
Det Norske Brenneri has always invested in good quality casks, and this focus has only increased since Jon joined the team. I found casks from Lafite Domaines Barons De Rothchild, Tonnellerie Bossuet (Pineau des Charentes), Seguin Moreau and Remy Martin, to mention just a few. When pressed for more details Jon also revealed that he is putting new make in casks at two different ABVs, one lower (~55 % ABV) for spirit that will mature for 3-7 years and one higher (~60 % ABV) that will mature for 10+ years. I was also told that while he likes cask influence on the end product, he prefers the cask influence to be added early on during maturation, and not in the end (as in finishes).
Whisky production was very limited at the distillery the first few years, with only a few casks per year. This year production is increased a lot, but still at a the relatively low 3500 litres of new make (about 2500 lpa). The plan is to increase this volume next year.
I have reviewed all the three batches of the Audny, the first Norwegian single malt, and I have reviewed the Eiktyrne. In general I would say there has been a nice positive development over these four official releases.
While visiting the distillery I got to taste the new distillate that Jon has created (slower distilling and different cut points to what they had previously). I also tried the new distillate having been matured for a few weeks in various casks. All I can say for now is that the improvement is significant. This is really something to look forward to!
There is nothing official about new releases as yet, but expect to see both a second Eiktyrne over the next year or two, as well as one or more Eiktyrne small batch releases. More on this when I have solid facts to reveal.
Sláinte! - Thomas