PUNI distillery is the first and only whisky distillery in Italy and was established in 2010 as a family business by Albrecht and Daniela Ebensperger and their two sons, Jonas und Lukas.
The distillery is located in the very north of Italy in the heart of the Italian Alps on the border with Austria and Switzerland. The clear alpine water, locally sourced grains, traditional copper pot stills from Scotland and bespoke maturation warehouses are the main elements for the creation of the first Italian Malt Whisky.
With great enthusiasm and profound passion for the scottish water of life encouraged the Ebensperger family to found PUNI distillery. In the midst of the Alps, near the Ortler mountain range, lies the distillery building, just outside the small town of Glurns in the Vinschgau valley. There are significant temperature differences between summers and winters and these climatic changes very much help the maturation process. Considering this, the ‘Highlands of Italy’ are an ideal place for creating an extraordinary whisky.
The growing of grain has a long tradition in the Vinschgau Valley. With its characteristic dry climate and low precipitation, rye has always been the dominant variety. Even throughout the Middle Ages the valley was renowned as an important rye-growing region. PUNI distillery uses only locally grown rye in its mashbill.
The distillery takes its name from the nearby Puni river, which flows through the Vinschgau valley. Similar to Scottish distilleries, which very often have gaelic names, PUNI is an ancient raetic name, deeply rooted in the local history. The first Italian Malt Whisky, aged just over 3 years, was released in October 2015.
As the first Italian whisky distillery PUNI uses three types of malted cereals in order to give the Italian Malt Whisky its characteristic taste. The barley forms the malty, spicy foundation, the wheat adds a mellow sweetness and the rye brings body and depth to the spirit.
Apart from the normal warehouses, PUNI distillery also stores some of the Bourbon barrels in derelict military bunkers from the Second World War. Several bunkers were rented for this purpose and the barrels are stored at constant temperatures and high humidity levels, behind 4 metres of pure concrete walls.
The first expression I tasted was NOVA – matured in American ex-Bourbon barrels for three years before being finished in selected Virgin European Oak casks and bottled at 43% ABV. Apart from the bottle design that I litterally fell in love with, here are my thoughts:
Nose: Man, this is sweet and suprisingly balanced for such a young guy! Banana bread pudding (you know, not your usual banana bread… Oh no! The upgraded version with plenty of cream!), custard cream, rum-raisins ice cream (hum… yeah that’s a lot of cream), subtle Christmas spices, brown sugar, nutmeg, vanilla and some hints of butterscotch and citrus. To sum it up, a nose for drammers with a sweet tooth. The good news is, I am one of them!
Palate: You can say it is still pretty youngish but really promising for a first single malt only aged for 3 years. The palate reveals notes of herbal honey, wood spices, raisins, plums and pleasant vanilla. Not as sweet as the nose would suggest but clean and rather frank.
Finish: Gentle with light fruity notes.
Recommended Food Pairing: Banana bread with whipped cream *yummy alert!* – I know that was obvious…
The second expression is ALBA – Italian word for sunrise, as well as the Scottish Gaelic name for Scotland. It is matured for three years in Marsala casks from Sicilly and finished in handselected casks from Islay. The perfect combination between Italy and Scotland! Also bottled at 43% ABV
Nose: Malty flavours lead the way to subtle peat and plum brandy notes. I found a rather winey profile here, probably coming from the Sicilian wine casks (Thank you Captain Obvious!) – Also some ripe peaches, apricot clafoutis and a slight salinity in the very background. The young spirited character shows more in this expression than the previous one I had but hey, don’t forget it is 3 years old.
Palate: Quite vivid but still extremely easy-drinking and light. Slightly smoky, mineral and earthy with white pepper, dried grass, liquorice and bitter walnuts. If I was to make a career change and become a forest ranger, that would probably be a bottle you’ll find on my lodge whisky shelves 😉
Finish: Smooth, herbal and malty.
Recommended Food Pairing: Warm peaches with basil and honey (BBC Good Food always know how to inspire me…)