Whisky Connosr

Telsington Whisky, Liechtenstein

By Dominic Roskrow

You get used to raised eyebrows when you start listing the countries across the world now making whisky. But few get the Colin Farrell treatment that Liechtenstein does. And the initial shock is normally followed by merriment, incredulity and not a little mocking.

Scotch is not a holy cow. they spit on us

You think Belgium gets it bad? The little Principality nestling up to Switzerland and somewhere near Germany is in a totally different league.If you search for them you'll find all sorts of bizarre facts about Liechtenstein - but a producer of single malt whisky wouldn't be among them.

That, though, might be set to change. And if and when it does it'll be down to Marcel Telser, who with his father Sebastian runs the Brennerei Telser and produces Telsington whisky.

Marcel is not only deadly serious about whisky, but he's been working overtime in the last few years to banish prejudices towards his home and to be taken seriously. And he's passionate enough about the single malt whisky Telser is making to express himself strongly.

"My attitude towards Scotch may be interpreted as arrogant," he says at the start of our interview "but I believe, Scotch is not a holy cow. They spit on us Europeans, so we have every right to do our own thing"

Actually his views aren't arrogant at all. Probe a bit and you'll discover a love and respect for Scotch. He takes issue with the way it is made - and he has every right to - but nobody can accuse him of not knowing what he's talking about. He's studied Scotland very carefully up close and personal.

"My love for whisky dates back in the early 90s when I first went to Scotland," he says.

"When I visited my first distillery, I was – frankly speaking - shocked at the rough way they made spirits up there. The nice copper pot stills could not help. So I decided to prepare well and make my own whisky, something which would be significantly different from Scotch.

"I spent 15 years of research and was in Scotland twice a year throughout the 90s. I visited almost all the distilleries, whether they had a visitor centre or not. I spoke to a lot of people in this sector and finally worked out what I wanted to do. At the same time I went quite deep into wine- and beer-making, completing my knowledge in these areas.

"Despite its impure nature, I like Scotch very much - the long ageing in casks covers up a lot, but it was never my intention to copy Scotch. This would have been nonsense, bearing in mind that whisky should represents its region. Therefore, our Telsington has absolutely to be different from Scotch whiskies."

It is - and for some very good reasons. Marcel explains.

"One of the main differences to other whisky producer is that we ferment and distill the full wash (including the barley), not only the liquid wash. As we are not an industrial producer, we are able to move the wash manually. The result is significantly richer and deeper.

"We use three different types of barley which are distilled separately and assembled after distillation before it goes into the cask. This means, we make a kind of 'pre-blend' to ensure ongoing quality. All of our whiskies are matured in a Pinot Noir cask as it gives a local touch to our whisky. The Rhine Valley is historically the best wine producing area of Switzerland and it's just a few kilometres away from our distillery. The Romans brought the Pinot Noir to us around 2000 years ago. So this grape is not only excellent, but has also a history in our region.

"Our whisky is100 per cent handmade and I think the only one that is distilled over wood fire. And we use our knowlege from fruit distilling, what means that we take ultimate attention to cutting foreshots and feints."

Marcel is aware that European whisky comes with a certain negative baggage, not helped by the fact that everyone and their dog are currently riding the whisky fad and having a go - not always with good results. But he believes the battle can be won.

"Producing whisky has become a hype in Europe and almost all distilleries have jumped in to whisky production. I think European whisky is in the trial and error phase. There are some very good whiskies but sorry to say there is a huge quantity of very bad ones. Many of them are trying to connect to Scotch tastes, but I think this is not the right long term approach.

"Furthermore ageing plays an important role and we are not yet where we want to be. In my opinion some European whiskies will become a serious competitor to Scotch once it is has reached between six and seven years in the cask and more. Yes, I think we in Europe can become a highly accepted region in around five to 10 years time. It will happen."

Telsington has been on a fast learning curve but now, with a mixture of eye-catching and unique packaging, and premium positioning the Telsers hope to spread their wings further afield. But at the same time, production will not be ramped up.

"With an 800 bottle production we are restricted as to how far we can grow," says Marcel. "We sell our whisky locally in connoisseur shops in Liechtenstein and Switzerland as well as in our distillery. But there are plans to come into the United Kingdom market. The English love our whisky."

You better believe it. And if Marcel has his way, those raised eyebrows will be a thing of the past.