St. Kilian Distillers - The origin

Andi Thümmler

How St. Kilian came into being

From the diary of our founder.

1/ The first contact

In the mid-90s, as a student of business informatics in the beautiful Rheingau region, I was invited by my good friend and then savings bank advisor Dirk Hess from Kirchzell to a personal, self-prepared dinner.

Well aware of Dirk's culinary skills, I couldn't refuse this invitation and, as befits the occasion, arrived at my friend's home that evening in good spirits and in good company. The dinner was exquisite and, to my surprise, was topped off with a whisky tasting of exquisite Scottish single malts. This was to be my first encounter with single malts.

Dirk was one of the first in Lower Franconia to have the "Classic Malts of Scotland" set. Here I fell in love (not with my extremely attractive companion, but) clearly with the Lagavulin 16 Years, one of the best peaty whiskies from the Isle of Islay in western Scotland. This experience clearly left its mark on me.

As I learned later, my friend Dirk acquired his whisky knowledge from a certain Andy McNeill from Aschaffenburg. Andy is certainly one of the leading and most important single malt apostles in Franconia and beyond. I can still highly recommend his Celtic events and his special bottlings for collectors!

2/ London Days

In the mid-90s, as a young investment banker, I worked for a few years in mergers and acquisitions at a London investment bank. It was an educational but also tough time. Working 80 to 90 hours a week for seven consecutive days was the norm. Plus two to three flights a day.

As a telecommunications specialist, I was given a lot of responsibility very early on, did a good job and my English bosses Jack, Rob and Mark quickly began to appreciate me. It so happened that one or the other gave me a bottle of Scotch or Irish whisky as a small token of appreciation after the successful completion of a transaction. There was, for example, the Tullamore Dew, a Chivas Regal 12 Years and the Wild Goose.

Over time, I accumulated a lot of stuff, and the room in my 3-person flat-share in Petticoat Lane in Spitalfields was getting cramped. Luckily, in the few hours of free time, my investment banker buddies regularly came to my pad and emptied a bottle or two to the sound of Radiohead and Greenday. The showpiece of my London collection was to be a rare bottle of whisky from a special Belgian bottler, which I had bought for a hefty 89 pounds in the shop of the Ritz Hotel.

The Scottish spirit was matured by Belgian Michel Couvreur in French Bordeaux casks and bottled after six years. The bottle was hand-labelled, strictly limited and sealed with wax. I loved this whisky not only for its special taste and fruity nose, but also for its captivating individuality. Unfortunately, my mates loved it too, and so not a drop was left when I later returned to Germany from London.

Today, a bottle of Couvreur can cost 500 euros.

3/ The Dead Poets Society

At the end of my student days, I was invited by some fellow students to give an evening lecture at their "private club" in Mülheim/Ruhr as an expert on the international banking environment (I had worked at several banks and investment banks to earn some extra money). The topic was to be: Nick Leeson - the dramatic fall of the English Barings Bank due to speculation out of control in Singapore. I accepted the offer and went to the Ruhr the following week well prepared.

A good 20 students gathered in the "Club", the lovingly converted attic of a venerable private villa belonging to an industrial family. After a few drinks and the obligatory small talk, my lecture was to begin. To my surprise and utter disappointment, the ladies of the evening were not allowed to attend my talk. After all, this was a men's club in the old English tradition, and not only as far as the obligation to wear a tie was concerned. Unthinkable today.

Under protest, I began my performance in a severely depleted audience, which was to last a good hour. Visibly excited by the newly acquired knowledge, the owner of the club presented me with a bottle of Knockando 12 Years - an exquisite single malt Scotch whisky - to my great delight and applause. This was to become the first bottle in my whisky collection, which now comprises over 2000 bottles.

By the way, the cocktail was the famous whisky sour, which the ladies really liked.

4/ The Scotland Trip

In 2003, Malte and I decided to go on a whisky trip to Scotland. Malte is a great guy from Cologne and works in my company. In the meantime, I had set up my own M&A consultancy (note: Mergers&Acquisitions) in Frankfurt am Main. Like me, Malte especially loves the peaty single malts, so our destination became the Isle of Islay, the famous Scottish island of Lagavulin & Co. This was to be my first whisky trip.

It was early summer and we had a week. There were just under a dozen distilleries on the island, so we decided to set up headquarters in a quaint hotel in Port Charlotte. Equipped with two rented mountain bikes, we rattled through all the whisky distilleries within 7 days, feeling our way up from 20 ppm to over 100 ppm, the more ppm the peatier. Ardbeg, Caol Isla, Bunnahabain... one distillery was more beautiful and exciting than the other.

We lost a few pounds on our bikes as we crossed the island. There were only a few inhabitants, but there were a lot of sheep, which clogged the roads and paths in herds for a long time. The landscape was unique and the long sandy beaches reminded me of the beaches in the Caribbean, where I had been on holiday before.

A special experience was the visit to Bruichladdich. The distillery had been shut down for many decades before some investment bankers from London bought it up, renovated it from scratch and started production all over again. Right off the bat, the new Bruichladdich was voted the best whisky in the world. A new legend was born and we stocked up on it. So much so that we almost didn't make it back to Germany because of all the bottles.

This trip was followed by many more whisky trips to Scotland, Ireland, Sweden and the USA. I made it a tradition to invite my best employees on a whisky trip together for three to four days once a year. This is a great opportunity for team building and a great chance to acquire one or the other dusty rarity bottle for an interesting price in the far corners of the distilleries for your own collection.

5/ Frankfurt Westhafen Tastings

In 2008, I decided to go flat hunting in Frankfurt. I had previously lived in Berlin for a few years to establish our capital office there. The timing for buying a flat was more than perfect due to the global housing crisis that had been triggered in the US. Prices were at a low point. As a banker, I had internalised the basic rule of successful stock market and real estate speculation: Buy Low, Sell High. Or in German: There is blessing in buying. 80 percent of people do exactly the opposite, which remains inexplicable to me to this day.

I found what I was looking for on an island in the new Westhafen in Frankfurt. A modern, two-storey penthouse with great roof terraces, a unique skyline view, underground parking and a boat mooring included. After a few days, I bought the key of the penthouse from the owner, a fashion photographer who had just moved in a year earlier, and moved in. What to do with the new place?

As an outspoken whisky fan and with several hundred bottles of accumulated goodies, I had a large, blue-lit, copper shelf forged for my babies, which stretched over two floors in the loggia. A few weeks later, I invited friends and acquaintances, including good customers of my company, to the first "West Harbour Whisky Tasting". The food was a few plates of fish sandwiches from Gosch Sylt and Subway sandwiches. The concept was a bit unorthodox, but the guests were all enthusiastic and word spread. It turned out that this kind of social gathering and conversation, supported by numerous fine single malt whiskies, was very conducive to business. Many whisky parties with numerous guests followed in the years that followed. The pressure to expand the whisky collection, re-buy bottles and explore new regions and themes increased with the ever-growing knowledge and increased demands of my valued visitors. During these years, my whisky collection shot up into the four-digit bottle range.

When the hype later became too much and some neighbours pulled out the last stops after a Star Wars & Whisky New Year's Eve party in my penthouse, I spontaneously decided to sell. In the meantime, the prices for high-end real estate in Frankfurt had risen noticeably and I could just use the profit to build up my own whisky distillery back home. Not that these funds would have been enough to build up St. Kilian. To date, many times that amount has gone into the largest single malt whisky production in Germany.

But the arguments for such a large investment in our own whisky were compelling: such an investment is always high-percentage and liquid, no matter what, and I wanted there to be a quality whisky in Germany that could prove itself in the international arena.

6/ Mackmyra Svensk Whisky and the 30 litre barrel

At the beginning of 2010, I heard about the Seehotel in Niedernberg, situated between Aschaffenburg and Miltenberg on the Main. There was also supposed to be a good selection of whiskies there. So I went there to try out some rarities with Dirk Janssen, who was a bartender and whisky connoisseur at the time. Towards the end, Dirk remarked that the Swedish chef of the Seehotel had brought him a bottle of Mackmyra Svensk Whisky from the far north, and that we could open it to celebrate the day. Not bad at all, this Mackmyra, a hard drop, but with very good character. I didn't know that whisky is also produced in Sweden. In the land of Absolut Vodka. According to the chef, you could also buy your own 30-litre barrels of the rough, smoky spirit there. I had never heard of such an interesting possibility. And the smaller the barrel, the faster the content matures. Wow.

In early summer, I planned a holiday trip to Pennsylvania, USA, with my partner at the time. On our way back to Germany, we stopped off in Stockholm and, after a few hours' drive north, visited the idyllic Mackmyra distillery for the first time. We were immediately welcomed and well looked after by Jonas Berg, one of the eight founders of Mackmyra. I ended up buying half a dozen of my own 30-litre barrels in various shapes and sizes right away. It was quite uncomplicated and I was simply thrilled. At that time, there were already 15,000 Swedish barrel owners since its founding in 1999, and you could even buy Mackmyra shares on the stock exchange. Not bad, those Swedes.

Until today, there have been many mutual visits and we have become friends. Our Master Distiller Mario Rudolf was even allowed to work at Mackmyra's new Gravity Distillery for some time, gaining further valuable experience and Swedish facets.

And of course, nowadays you can also buy your own 30-litre barrel at St. Kilian. Skoll.

7/ Meeting David F. Hynes, Master Distiller from Ireland

In 2010, I was a collector at the InterWhisky trade fair in Frankfurt am Main. At one of the whisky tasting stands, I got into conversation by chance with Mr Queisser from Wiesbaden. As a former management consultant and member of a LIONS Club, he was well-travelled and, like me, a big whisky fan. He had a particular soft spot for Irish whiskies, which I didn't know so well at the time. So he offered me, a lover of peaty whiskies, the Connemara Whisky from Ireland to try. Until then, I didn't know that the Irish had such a good smoky whisky on offer. Until then, I had only known it from the whiskies of the Isle of Islay in Scotland. This acquaintance developed into a friendship that has lasted until today.

Some time later, Christian Boos, a good acquaintance and the leading expert on artificial intelligence in Germany, took me on a whisky trip to Ireland. He was already a big fan of the Emerald Isle at that time. For four days, our driver named Eddie drove us across the country in his Rolls Royce. We visited almost all the whiskey distilleries that existed. There were only about a dozen left in Ireland due to heavy consolidation. Cooley's Distillers, the home of Connemara, was particularly exciting. It was there that I first met David F. Hynes, the Master Distiller and Managing Director of Cooley's for more than 30 years. In Kilbeggan, the oldest licensed whisky distillery in the world, also part of the Cooley's group, I tried to convince David to sell me my first own cask of whisky. Very unusual for Irish distillers. With a lot of persistence and persuasion, I finally got David to sell me my first cask of whisky.

A year later, when an old, disused textile factory with its own spring was up for sale in my home village in the Odenwald, not far from Frankfurt/Main, and David was once again holding his famous Master Class Seminar at Interwhisky (and presenting the new, absolutely sensational Connemara Turf Mor), I convinced my Irish friend to extend his trip for another day to inspect this property together.

Finally, in the winter of 2011, we spent a day together in beautiful Rüdenau and finished our own very special whisky tasting around a campfire at dawn. This moment was the spiritual birth of St. Kilian Whisky Distillers. Back in Dublin, David quickly put into action what had been discussed after a good dozen drams and first of all ordered the two 6000 litre copper pot stills from Forsyths in Edinburgh (3 years delivery time). Not much later, Cooley's was taken over by Jim Beam from the USA. And shortly after, Suntory from Japan bought the Beam Group in a multi-billion deal. Time for David to devote himself fully to building up his new baby, "St. Kilian Distillers - Single Malt Whisky made in Germany" for a while. The old textile factory was gradually turned into Germany's largest single malt whisky distillery in a careful and elaborate conversion. What fortunate circumstances that led to this genesis. After four and a half years, the marvel stood in Rüdenau, and production was started just in time for St. Patrick's Day 2016.

8/ Back to the roots: Coming home

After it became clear that St. Kilian would go into production on St. Patrick's Day in March 2016, the decision was made to return home and settle down after a long, worldwide odyssey. Our village of Rüdenau is not far from the romantic district town of Miltenberg am Main, also known as "the pearl of the Main". The small historic town of Miltenberg has been very popular with tourists for many decades. Coach travellers and international river cruise tourists appreciate this beautiful spot more than ever. What's more, we are only 60 minutes by car from Frankfurt am Main. It is only 45 minutes to the Rhine-Main airport. This puts us right in the middle of the Rhine-Main region. Almost 4 million inhabitants live in our catchment area. And yet we are idyllically situated on the Main, between Spessart and Odenwald. Nestled by forests and mountains and a unique natural environment. When you've spent a long time abroad and spent a lot of time in big cities, you really appreciate it. Home is the most beautiful place after all!

Even in Roman times, there was a large castellum here with 500 mounted legionaries. At that time, Rüdenau was used by the Romans as a wine-growing area. According to legend, the Romans worshipped water saints in our valley. Even today there are three springs in Rüdenau and the Rüdenau coat of arms is characterised by these three springs. Fauna and flora are still in perfect harmony here. The climate in our area is very well suited for the long maturation of single malt whisky. It is astonishing that no one has thought of this before us. We are very lucky to have such a great location.

Our region was already a true region of pleasure before us. Numerous winegrowers and vineyards characterise the landscape. We have a first-class beer brewery. And there are various manufactories: spices, marzipan and much more. Of absolute top class! Our single malt whisky could not be missing. And of course we work together with numerous businesses here in the region. In a very short time we have already made many friends and the people are very open-minded and also wonderful fans. We are really very grateful for that. Thanks to the local "Whisky Friends", we were able to experience a great start to our business.

St. Kilian's vision for the future is clear: the climate, the water, our ingredients, the landscape and the people: all this promises top quality. Our unique team, which is at work here, works with fervour every day to produce an absolute top product. We want to be world class and we will achieve that. Of course, we can only do this together with our fans and our friends. We are therefore grateful for any feedback and are happy not only about every visitor, but also about any feedback on the internet and on social media. We are not only a whisky distillery, but also a modern internet company. Here we will make a special effort in the exchange with our customer and our fans.

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