Stuart Forster tastes the newly launched Carpathian Single Malt, a whisky from Romania, and talks with its Scottish master distiller Allan Anderson.
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Distilled, matured and bottled in Romania, Carpathian Single Malt is being launched onto the global whisky market in 2022.
I enjoyed sampling three different expressions of the whisky at an event in London and chatted with key figures involved in the product launch.
Romanian single malt whisky
The production of single malt whisky is traditionally associated with five regions in Scotland. Yet in recent years the likes of The Lakes Distillery and Penderyn Distillery have seen production expand elsewhere in Great Britain.
And now it’s possible to find single malt whisky from Romania. The first casks of Romanian single malt were bottled in the spring of 2022.
Carpathian Single Malt is the brainchild of Nawaf Salameh. In 2016 he was invited to become one of the Keepers of the Quaich, the prestigious international society which recognises outstanding commitment to the Scotch whisky industry.
A quaich, in case you are wondering, is a two-handled drinking vessel traditionally used in Scotland. Nicknamed the ‘bowl of friendship’, the quaich was originally used to serve drinks at clan gatherings. Drinking from a quaich symbolised bonding between people.
Over the past two decades the annual consumption of single malt whisky in Romania has jumped 100 fold, from approximately 10,000 litres to almost one million litres.
A global whisky boom
Mr Salameh was aware that Romania has high-quality natural ingredients ideal for making whisky. He saw an investment opportunity.
The Alexandrion Group chairman believes that single malt whisky will follow the trend set by gin, whose international popularity and consumption has boomed in recent years.
He points to the tightening of the definition of single malt whisky by the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission, in 2021, as a factor likely to boost the popularity of single malts.
To be defined as such, American single malt whiskeys must now be distilled from a mash made only from malted barley at a single distillery. It must be no more than 80 per cent alcohol by volume. The oak casks that the spirit matures in must not have a capacity greater than 700 litres. Then the whisky must be bottled at or above 40 per cent alcohol by volume.
Master distiller Allan Anderson
In 2017 Mr Salameh invited experienced distiller Allan Anderson to a meeting in Bucharest, Romania’s capital city, and offered him a position.
“It’s very different after spending 18 years in the Scotch whisky industry,” says Mr Anderson of working in Romania. He had previously worked at the Loch Lomond Distillery in Scotland and at distilleries in Ireland.
“Going to Romania, it was a blank canvas. I could take the experiences I’ve had in the past and make a nice product, which I think I’ve done,” says the Alexandrion Group’s Distilling Director and Master Distiller.
“Seeing it from being conceived to signing the bottles; maybe once in a life, a distiller gets to do that. I’d like to thank Mr Salemeh for the freedom he’s given me and the trust; he’s basically given me a blank cheque to create this whisky,” says the master distiller behind Carpathian Single Malt.
He jokes how his Glaswegian accent has caused some issues in Romania. His pronunciation of barrels, for example, is frequently misunderstood as bottles.
Carpathian Single Malt whisky
So far, Mr Anderson has created Carpathian Single Malt with 37 different expressions. Wine barrels from France, Italy and Portugal are among those used. Burgundy, Chianti and Barolo finishes are under production.
A barrel initially used during the production of an award-winning Romanian wine, made with the traditional Fetească Neagră grape, held whisky decanted during the initial bottling of Carpathian Single Malt.
“We did an inaugural bottling of 900 bottles. The whisky was matured in Fetească Neagră, Pinot Noir and Madeira barrels,” explains its creator. The whisky is bottled at 46 per cent alcohol by volume.
“It’s four-and-a-half years old. It spent three years in a select bourbon barrel from Kentucky, then over a year-and-a-half in a Fetească Neagră barrel from our winery on the iconic estate. The wine barrel was dumped and two or three days later we filled it with three-year-old whisky,” says Mr Anderson.
“It’s really taken on the colour and the flavour of the Fetească Neagră…I don’t believe anyone else has used that type of finish,” he adds, recommending a little water be added to release the whisky’s flavour.
“We use bourbon barrels because there’s a good supply of barrels from Kentucky. When it comes to wine barrels, there are so many varieties of wine that you get different flavours. Bourbon gives it a straight flavour profile and, if you want to change it, you do finishes,” explains the Scotsman of his use of casks.
Ingredients of whisky
The soft water of the Sub-Carpathian region is ideal for making whisky.
Romania’s fertile land is able to produce up to three crops a year. Planet, a variety of Romanian barley, is used in the production of Carpathian Single Malt.
The malting plant is just a few kilometres from the distillery.
“Everything’s very fresh and 100 per cent Romanian,” says Mr Anderson of the ingredients he uses in the production of his whisky.
The Madeira edition is also four and a half years old. After three years in a bourbon barrel, it has spent slightly more than a year in a Madeira cask to produce a copper-coloured whisky whose taste has a hint of raisins and honey.
Unlike the Fetească Neagră and Madeira expressions, Carpathian Single Malt’s Pinot Noir edition did not go into a bourbon cask first. It was matured for just over three years in an oak cask to produce a whisky with a long finish.
Romania’s average temperature is typically around five degrees centigrade higher than in Scotland. That fosters contact between the cask and the liquid it contains, helping shape the character of the final product.
A beginning with multiple finishes
“The finish, to me, is key. With it we are trying to accommodate, please and surprise existing and traditional whisky drinkers and connoisseurs. I think there’s a huge market. For the Alexandrion Group and Carpathian Single Malt, I think it’s important not just to have a product we are trying to make successful for the organisation. We’re also contributing to the whisky market, by maintaining the traditions, expanding the market and appealing to non-whisky drinkers,” says Colin C. Lovering, the Alexandrion Group’s international brand ambassador.
Mr Lovering is an Englishman who has made Romania his home. He describes launching Carpathian Single Malt as a “pioneering project”.
The Week recently named Carpathian Single Malt first in an article looking at 50 of the world’s best whiskies.
Whether it will mirror the international success of the Romanian car manufacturer Dacia remains to be seen. In the meantime, it has been winning plaudits from whisky aficionados at launch events in locations including Washington DC and London.
Carpathian Single Malt YouTube video
Discover more about Carpathian Single Malt via this Alexandrion Group YouTube video:
YouTube video about Carpathian Single Malt, the first whisky from Romania.
Travel to Romania
Bucharest Henri Coandă International Airport is the principal point of entry for air passengers to Romania. The airport’s International Air Transport Association three-letter code is OTP.
Blue Air, British Airways and Tarom operate direct flights between London Heathrow and Bucharest. Wizzair offers flights from airports across the United Kingdom, including Liverpool, Luton and Edinburgh. Ryanair flies from Bristol.
Bucharest North Railway Station (Gara București Nord) is the Romanian capital’s main train station.
Enjoy road trips? The shortest road distance between London and Bucharest is 1,582 miles (2,546 kilometres). Plan at least 27 hours of driving for the journey.
Hotels in Bucharest
Planning a trip to Romania? Search for accommodation in Bucharest via Booking.com:
Books about Romania and whisky
Enjoy good whisky or the idea of a trip to Romania? You can buy the following books from Amazon by clicking on the links or cover photos:
Visit the Carpathian Single Malt website to find out more about the whisky that is distilled, matured and bottled in Romania.
See the Romania Tourism website for information about places to visit in Romania.
Thank you for visiting Go Eat Do and reading this post about Carpathian Single Malt whisky from Romania. If you enjoyed this article you may enjoy this interview with Christian Krogstad of Westward Whiskey. Following a trip to Tennessee, I wrote about 5 of the best Old Fashioneds in Memphis.
Stuart Forster, the author of this post, is a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers and appreciates good whisky. He has written about rum production in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, for The Tonic Magazine and contributed to publications including Wanderlust and The Independent.
Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.
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