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How it all started

“Honey, I have a plan”, I said.

My wife just looked at me, patiently waiting for me to continue. We were having a coffee at the Paris Orly airport, waiting for the check-in for our flight home to Berlin to open. This was the right time. The idea had been with me like a secret companion for almost a year, and unlike the many ideas I had had before this one hadn’t abandoned me. Instead it had grown in a quiet, steady manner inside my head, and I was now sure of myself.

“I am going to open a whisky distillery.”

Raised eyebrows — and then an approving nod. I could breathe out. It was now out there, that crazy, bold idea, and my most important stakeholder hadn’t rejected it. What a relief!

I remember vividly how I came to discover whisky. About four years earlier, I had arrived in Berlin on my own, following a job opportunity. A Frenchman relocating to Germany, I was just starting to develop an interest in wine and beer after having avoided alcohol for most of my youth. After the odd cognac, I thought there might be something to explore in the brown spirits category, though I didn’t have big ambitions about it either. One evening at a bar with friends, curious to try something else, I ordered a Johnny Walker Red Label. Interesting, but it wasn’t going to be my favorite drink. A few days later in another bar, I noticed that they had the Johnny Walker Black Label. I can’t remember from where I had the notion that it was supposed to be better than the Red Label. Perhaps it was the higher price, I really don’t recall. Anyway I ordered just that, and had a sip. What a difference! I remember thinking “There’s whisky, and then there’s whisky.” This was worth exploring further.

A few weeks later my friends came over from Paris to visit. Wanting to receive them well, I went to what would become my favorite whisky shop and bought one cognac and, more importantly, one whisky: Deerstalker Balmenach 18. The cognac ended up gathering dust on a shelf, the Deerstalker was gone within a few weeks. I was hooked.

I bought a second bottle (Nikka Yoichi 10), then a third (Dun Bheagan Longmorn 12), and seeing how much there was to discover, I decided that life was too short to stand still on the road to whisky heaven and quickly set myself a rule to never buy the same bottle twice.

One thing to know about me is that I’m a complete, utter nerd: as soon as I develop an interest in something, I have to know how it works. I started reading books (101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die was a great introduction) and blogs (Whisky Science!), watch videos (Ralfy, thanks for all the fun!) and kept tasting every whisky I could get my hands on.

I always wanted to start a business of my own, ever since school in fact. Coming from the field of software engineering, I had always assumed that it would have something to do with computers, the internet or this social media thing that I couldn’t quite warm up to. I had plenty of ideas all the time but none of them felt like it would be something I’d need or use myself. In fact, except for actually building software I noticed that I didn’t really enjoy being at the computer all that much anymore. Software was already ubiquitous, did the world really need more of it? Was the internet really making us happier? It all felt increasingly unsatisfying and alien.

It was probably Kilchoman that planted the seed of the crazy idea of opening my own distillery in my mind, though it took a while for that seed to sprout. You see, I used to think of whisky distilleries as monuments from the past that had all been built by far greater people than myself well before my time. Surely, that ship had sailed for tiny little me.

Yet the seed was planted, the soil fertile. The thought of a new distillery was fresh and exciting. And so the idea stuck with me like a secret companion for almost a year, and unlike the many ideas I had had before, it didn’t abandon me. Instead it grew in a quiet, steady manner inside my head, until I was sure of myself.

“Honey, I have a plan,” I said. “I am going to open a whisky distillery.”