When was the last time you got truly excited about a new release? Like, really passionate. A whisky that gives you faith in the future of the industry. One that moves you. Thrills you. Really grips you.
Don’t worry, you can give it a think.
For me, it would probably have to be the Waterford Heritage Hunter. That was some seven months ago. I’ve had better whiskies since, but none that kind of penetrated my soul in the same way. The longer this whisky journey of mine goes on, the less frequently it happens. And that’s alright. There’s no doubt I’m spoiled.
But that makes it all the more meaningful whenever I do get pleasantly surprised by whisky. Call it one of the positive side effects.
This brings me to Thy Whisky Distillery, a single-estate operation in Denmark. I first got introduced to them last year, when Berry Bros & Rudd bottled one of their beechwood smoked whiskies. I then recently got the opportunity to interview co-founder Jakob Stjernholm for an article in an upcoming issue of Whisky Magazine. And just last week I happened to be in Denmark and was able to carve out some time for a distillery visit.
I’ll just come right out and say it: I think I’ve fallen in love. It’s Waterford Heritage Hunter all over again. Yet with Thy Whisky Distillery it is not so much one single release. It’s the entire place that does it for me. I mean, Thy has everything I’d ever want from a whisky distillery. Including a herd of cows. Yes, cows. I love cows. And the best distillery dog you could hope for.
In all seriousness, Thy Whisky Distillery seems to do everything the right way. Originally a farm that has been in the family for eight (!) generations, they grow their own grains. Organically. Modern barley varieties. Rye. Spelt. And most importantly, heritage varieties too. They think of themselves as grain geeks first, and whisky geeks second.
Thy Whisky Distillery also installed its own drum maltings. Enough to be completely self-sufficient and then some. They do peated whisky from their own peat bog. But what captured my interest most is their previously mentioned beechwood smoked single malt. Jakob explained they use beechwood for everything in Denmark. “That smell of beechwood is basically everywhere. It is very much a part of Danish culinary culture.”
And now beechwood is also part of whisky culture. And it is all the better for it.
Having heaped all that praise on Thy Whisky Distillery, I would like to point one thing out. Yes, I love what they’re doing. But no, that doesn’t mean I think they make the absolute best whisky in the world. That wouldn’t even be fair to expect. But their whisky is really good. Different. Thought-provoking. And most importantly – it has a soul.
Thy Whisky No. 20 Maltmod (53.4%, OB, 2022)
Distilled in 2018 and 2019
Made from Odyssey barley
60% pale malt, 30% caramel malt and 10% beechwood-smoked malt
Matured in ex-bourbon octaves and ex-Oloroso sherry casks
Nose: A hint of eucalyptus at first, but then the citrus notes come in. Subtle orange zest with just a little tangy lemon. Soft farmy notes linger in the background, accompanied by whiffs of fresh tobacco, some pine wood and wisteria. Taste: Quite creamy, more so than the Spelt-Rye below. An impressively elegant note of herbacious smoke, accompanied by earthy roots, café noir cookies and dark chocolate. Just a touch of charred oak, nougat and nutmeg too. A few drops of cough syrup too. Finish: Medium length. Vanilla candy blocks (schuimblokken in Dutch) and cloves.
Sorry for the references to typical Dutch flavours. I couldn’t help myself. As far as the whisky goes, it is remarkable how wonderfully unique it is. Danish distillers experimenting… And succeeding.
Thy Whisky No. 21 Spelt-Rye (52%, OB, 2023)
Distilled between April 2017 and December 2018
Made from 50% rye, 10% spelt and 40% Odyssey barley
Nose: Kind of a dusty grain quality that I sometimes find in Bruichladdich, but also whiffs of juniper and resin, along with gentle notes of elderflower, hay, and a sliver of orris root. Touches of cinnamon, crushed mint leaves and golden syrup too. Taste: A spicy arrival, without ever becoming too hot. Hints of white pepper, cumin seeds, floral honey. Also some inspiring earthy notes and touches of Frisian rye bread. (I know, Danish rye bread would make more sense – but I wasn’t familiar with it at the time of this review.) A whisper of lemon pith too, as well as anise and milk chocolate. Finish: Medium length. Vanilla and warming spices.
A very inspired whisky. It’s clearly young, but I’m also not sure how it would change with age. For the better or not? What’s clear already is that the Thy Whisky No. 21 Spelt-Rye is already really good. Fresh and earthy and grain-forward.
Nose: The beechwood smoke and the Pedro Ximénez casks are centre stage. It is very reminiscent of wood-smoked, barbecued beef. Maybe with a nice honey glaze. Also whiffs of fudge, caramel and licorice. But hidden in the background there are some more herbal, almost botanical touches as well. What’s certain is that the balance is top-notch. Taste: Proper creamy mouthfeel with the (somewhat dry) beechwood smoke in a starring role once again. The barbecued beef makes an encore, accompanied by a good pinch of pepper, caffè macchiato and pralines. Oh, and some sweet berries as well. Finish: Medium to long. Lingering wood smoke, soft spices, cedar and vanilla.
Really, why use peat when there's beech? It's such a singular style, although I suspect other wood-smoked whiskies might sit in a similar flavour camp. Either way, I can only applaud Thy Distillery for making something that's wholly theirs.