Säntis Malt – Swiss Highlander

At some of the festivals we recently visited we have noticed and tasted some of the products of Säntis Malt, produced at Locher AG brewery located in Appenzell, Switserland.

In 1886, the Locher family took over the brewery in Appenzell and today, the brewery has been in the hands of the family for five generations. There are over 90 employees who – when making their products, are aiming to keep the local character and Appenzell traditions, to exceed all expectations of Appenzeller Bier.

The beer specialties brewed in the traditional brewery each have their own unique and distinctive character, formed by craftsmanship in true brewing tradition, and by high quality demands and diligence in manufacturing.

From brewing it is an easy step to distilling. In 1999 the brewery began to produce Appenzell Säntis Malt. “The concept of maturing the spirit in the historical oak wood beer-barrels and finishing them on other types of casks is something different and intriguing, you can taste the beer influence in the whisky. The new make spirit flows at approx. 79% alcohol from the Holstein stills and is processed with spring water from the Alpstein mountains.” At our last festival in Amsterdam we had a chance to talk to Urs Dähler, Säntis Malts’ Whisky maker and ask him some questions after having tasted some of their lovely products.

Can you tell us something where the name and label design came from?

The name comes from our Mountain Säntis that is in the mountain area „Alpsteinarea“. On the label you see the bear that is the sign of the family Locher.

Can you tell us some more on where you source your barley?

The Locher AG Brewery feels very strongly about promoting Swiss products. Thanks to the partnership with GranAlpin and the mountain farmers of Grison, we were able in 1996 to bring the cultivation of malting barley back to Switzerland and promote this long-term.

The seeds of the special Appenzeller Bier and our Säntis Malt are quite literally sown today on the highest malting barley fields in Europe, between 1200 and 1700 metres above sea level. By supporting the cultivation of malting barley in the mountains of Switzerland, we ensure our Appenzeller Bier and our Whisky Säntis Malt is consistently of the highest quality. At the same time, we contribute to preserving Alpine habitats. We do not have enough barley in Switzerland it self at the moment, so we do import barley from abroad as well.

Do you have a specific yeast stem for distilling, or do you prefer to use a recipe of different yeasts, as is more common with brewing beer – your original company being a brewing company?

We use the same yeast at the Locher AG Brewery for the production of the whisky as we use for our beer production.

How do you stand on the subject of using caramel colouring or chill filtration?

All of our whiskies are non chill filtered and non coloured.

Being a brewery you have the possibility to use the oak beer barrels, being up to 120 years old for some of them. What are you looking for when buying your casks for finishing and what kind of casks do you use?

We are looking for all beer casks from everywhere of the world, but because of the breweries producing the beers now in tanks it is not possible to find old/used beer casks so easily any more.

We are always producing some new finishes in our whiskies, as for example our expression Snow White who are always finished in fruit spirit-casks. The edition II was finished in a Glühbeer-cask which was a cherry-cask what we filled with our new beer product Gluehbeer. We like to find always some new tastes…

Is all warehousing done on site? 

We have now 9 different cellars where we have our casks stored. The cellars are all in the same area in Appenzell.

 

What do you find is the biggest challenge in your job and what gives you the most joy in it? What is the thing that fuels your spirit? Can you tell us a bit of your plans for the future and where do you want to keep the focus on?

The biggest challenge for me is to organize our production and distribution. It’s a new business for us in a new market where we, and myself, can learn every day a lot. The most joy is, when I look in the eyes of a new customer when they taste for the first time one of our whiskies. Almost the reaction of the people is the same… “Wow, a Swiss whisky with this taste how is that possible…?” You know you do what you want to do when you can see it in the eyes of the people tasting our whisky.

We are trying to make our own way in the business. Obviously we are in contact with other producers and discuss new developments in the market. We started 2 years ago to export our products. A the moment we are on track and we still have a lot of ideas to get in new markets and make new customers happy. We have a new projects with whisky coming up and we plan to present this project in May!

Can you tell us something about you and your career so far?
Looking at hobbies I like to go hiking in the Alpstein, where we have the paradise on earth really. Earlier I was Chief Controlling in an office furnitures company in Switzerland. I was approached 3 years ago by Karl Locher, who ask me if I would like to do something completely different… and now I’m working in a completely different business, trying it and doing it with a lot of passion and having lots of fun.

 

Thank you Urs for answering some of our questions and letting us spread the word a bit on the Swiss Highlander called Säntis Malt!

Copyright notice: Photos by Santis

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