23/01/2024 Unlock the secrets of Romania's first single malt aged in wine casks with Master Distiller Allan Anderson.
Let’s embark on an exciting journey into the heart of Romania, where the Carpathian Single Malt Whisky is quietly maturing under the expert guidance of Allan Anderson, Whisky Director and Master Distiller of this inventive creation.
Allan, the launch of a single malt matured in Romanian wine casks is quite innovative. Can you share the inspiration behind this unique collaboration between Alexandrion Group's wine division and the whisky production?
The initial seeds of an idea to create Romania’s first ever single malt whisky was born out of a chance discussion about the quality of Romanian barley over 20 years ago when our visionary CEO & Founding Chairman Dr. Nawaf Salameh was visiting Dubai. Since that moment he harbored a dream to create Romania's first ever single malt whisky, especially in the knowledge that Romanian viticulture stretches back millennia, yet no one had distilled a single malt. Dr. Salameh brought me on board to make that vision a reality; I conceived the idea of using Romanian casks to mature the whisky, especially in the knowledge we had our winery making fine Romanian wines. This brought together a perfect marriage with the creation of a single-malt whisky. Fast-forward to 2016 and the catalyst to make the vision and dream a reality was when Dr. Salameh was honored, by becoming 'Keeper of the Quaich'; at that moment all the stars seemed to align, whereby my tenure in Ireland as a Master Distiller had come to an end, I had a chance meeting with Dr. Salameh and saw his absolute passion, commitment, and forward-thinking nature to the project. Our combined wish to make a world-beating whisky, with Romanian products, in Romania and thus placing Romania on the global map of single malt-producing nations was on track. The rest as they say is history.....
Image: Dr Nawaf Salameh (Founding Chairman, Alexandrion Group) & Mr Allan Anderson (Whisky Director & Master Distiller - Carpathian Single Malt Whisky)
Carpathian Single Malt is the first Romanian single malt whisky, aged in wine and cognac casks. How does the Romanian terroir, including the wine barrels, contribute to the distinctive character of this whisky?
Romanian viticulture stretches back millennia, the soil, the diversity of the landscape, the climate, and even the cultural know-how to farm these lands over centuries, feed into the distinctive terroir for wine production. It is these characteristics that feed into the process of creating a characterful single malt whisky whose DNA is firmly rooted in Romania. The fact that we can use wine barrels from our winery has been exciting, but we have not limited ourselves to Romanian wine barrels but also sourced them from some of the finest wineries across Europe and the world, to provide a wide-ranging portfolio of whiskies, with the common denominator that we are always using 100% Romanian Barley and Sub-Carpathian water from the hills surrounding the distillery. All these unique components provide the distinctive character of Carpathian Single Malt Whisky, and we see the proof in the pudding when we attend worldwide consumer events and get exceptional feedback. We believe we have found a unique balance between single malt connoisseurs and maybe traditional wine drinkers who may be stepping into the single malt whisky category for the first time.
Your role as Master Distiller involves blending Romanian malt with pure Sub-Carpathian waters. How do the natural environment and climate of the Carpathian Mountains influence the flavour profile of the whisky?
As touched on in the previous question, Romania is blessed with a unique landscape that still incorporates swathes of forests and mountains allowing flora and fauna to flourish. The Carpathian Mountains and forests provide habitat for the largest European populations of brown bears, wolves, foxes, chamois, lynxes, and European bison. Added to this, the mountains and foothills also have many thermal and mineral waters and are home to the second-largest surface of virgin forests in Europe after Russia. Based on this incredible natural treasure, even King Charles III of the United Kingdom & Commonwealth is a huge supporter of Romania stating 'As I have said before, I have come to love Romania – your culture and art, your heritage and history, your sweeping landscapes and priceless biodiversity, this 'tara de Gloria, tara de dor' (country of glory, country of longing), if I may paraphrase your national poet, Mihai Eminescu.”
Now put all of that in the context of creating a unique single malt using these resources, firstly makes Carpathian Single Malt Whisky authentically Romanian but also brings to the market its flavour profile, a bit like having a unique DNA profile that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world and then add in the traditional processes and value of the Scottish methods of producing single malt and you have something quite special.
Image: Some of the portfolio of Carpathian Single Malt Whisky
You have 30 years of experience in producing Scotch and Irish whiskies. What unique challenges and opportunities did you encounter while crafting Carpathian Single Malt in Romania?
Can you imagine being the first person to ever produce single malt whisky in Scotland, Ireland & Romania, that was a unique challenge and has become a unique achievement, for which I am very proud. Firstly, as you rightly state I have 30 years’ experience in producing single malt whisky. So the challenge was not so much the production of the single malt, based on the fine quality Romanian ingredients but more the logistical side of the production process. This included addressing capacity issues, which we did last year with the opening of a second distillery next to the first. Also sourced the best wine barrels from across Europe and this was addressed by the fantastic network of contacts both I and the Alexandrion Group have to work with. Finally, in terms of time; as you can imagine I am creating new ‘finishes’ and making sure we maintain our exceptionally high standards but also running masterclasses and attending events across the world, so that is a challenge I have become accustomed to.
The Carpathian Single Malt expressions include Fetească Neagră Cask Finish, Chianti Cask Finish, Amarone Cask Finish, and Peated Cask Strength. Can you walk us through the flavor profiles and characteristics of each expression?
We currently have 13 cask finishes with more on the way, so maybe the best way to get an overview of the flavor profiles is via our YouTube channel, which I recommend your readers subscribe to. There are some interesting videos covering many aspects of Carpathian Single Malt Whisky production, but this specific video provides my very own insight: Colin C. Lovering și Allan Anderson – interview despre gama Carpathian Single Malt (youtube.com)
Image: Feteasca Neagra Expression - open bottle
The whisky is finished in wine casks, including those used for the famous local grape variety Feteascã Neagrã. How does this influence the final product, and what sets it apart from traditional whisky aging methods?
You could say the process is traditional, whilst using state-of-the-art equipment. What We have been able to produce is a wide selection of single-malt whiskies. One of our early goals was to create a high-quality whisky, that could appeal to everyone from whisky aficionados to newcomers to single malt. By finishing the whisky in the best quality wine casks available, especially from our own winery, it has the impact we desire and provides a wide range of taste profiles to suit most palates. We often get feedback from members of the public at exhibitions and events who state: "I have never been a whisky drinker in the past, but having tasted several of your varieties, I could get into it". We believe Carpathian Single Malt Whisky is a delicately balanced whisky, offering a diversity of taste and character through the Romanian terroir and our unique finishing potential. This in itself is a fine balance to create, and I am overseeing that process and this is what sets us apart.
As we raise our glasses to another successful year for Carpathian Single Malt, the world-class whisky has become an ambassador for Romania, captivating hearts globally. Allan Anderson's dedication to preserving the untamed beauty of the Carpathians is not just reflected in the whisky but is a commitment to the conservation of a precious natural heritage. Cheers to another year of excellence!
Note - Header Image: Allan Anderson, Whisky Director & Master Distiller - Carpathian Single Malt Whisky