Sunday, November 13, 2016

Around The Whisk(e)y World In 7 Days - Sunday - Day #7

Distillery: Destillerie & Brennerei - Heinrich Habbel / Hillock Park Distillery
Located: Sprockövel, Germany
By: Matthias Blau

Have you ever been to Sprockhövel? I reckon most of you have not. I cannot blame you, because there is not so much to see in this small town, at the edge of the Ruhr industrial area. Still, if you have never been to Sprockhövel you have missed the opportunity to visit the cradle of Germany’s oldest whisky, “Destillerie & Brennerei Heinrich Habbel”. 

But I am getting way ahead of myself, for Habbel’s history has not been connected to whisky for almost a century. The former agricultural schnapps distillery was founded by Michael Habbel’s grandfather in 1878. Michael – the current owner and managing director – inherited the distillery from his father, who sadly died too young of age, in the 1960s. For young Michael, an ambitious and innovative distiller, it was not hard to turn his hobby into a career. In the early 70s he switched the main production from schnapps to fruit brandy and other liqueurs. Eventually in the next decades the “Destillerie & Brennerei Heinrich Habbel” grew very famous for a wide range of herb and fruit liqueurs, as well as other specialties. One of their greatest connoisseurs – so I have been told – has been the late federal president Johannes Rau. Rau, during his term as prime minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, bought all his liqueurs from Habbel.

Aside from Habbel’s whisky, there is one special liqueur I like most. It is Habbel’s chocolate liqueur. First of all, it is crystal clear which is amazing for a beverage that is made out of cocoa beans without adding any artificial additives. Then it has an amazing chocolaty taste, which might be suggested due to its name. But – and this is my personal highlight – if you heat this liqueur up, all of a sudden, it tastes like white chocolate. The chocolate liqueur is perfect for desserts and for the ladies. So fellas, I highly recommend you buy one, if you get the chance.

Nonetheless I think you wanted to learn something about Habbel’s whisky. Let us get back on track. Again we are back in the 70s. In 1977 to be precise. In this year Michael Habbel produced his first own whisky. According to the story, he was motivated to do so by a Tormore he once drank in Scotland. Even though the role model was a malt, at this time Michael could not produce a pure malt whisky. Due to regulation, he was not allowed to use more than 15 percent malt. Therefore, he mainly used rye. Regardless, the whisky Michael Habbel created back in 1977, is a very good whisky and a very interesting one. How do I know? I was lucky to try it, on several occasions, because it has just been bottled “recently” in 2011.

Those of you who are good at math might have quickly realized that this whisky must have matured for over 30 years. Well, that would be marvelous, but it is not entirely true. The new make was filled in ex-bourbon casks, where it matured for ten years. But in 1987 – my year of birth – Michael Habbel thought the time for his whisky was not right – so he transferred it into iron drums, and stored it for two more decades, until I came of legal age to drink it. . . Ok, all jokes aside, maybe he had other reasons to do so. The result stays the same: the bottling felt into a time where I was lucky enough to try Germany’s oldest whisky. By the way, its name “Uralter Whisky” is self-explanatory for the German word “uralt” means ancient.

Nevertheless, apart from the “Uralter Whisky” Habbel’s plans for another excursion into the whisky field, lay idle until the new millennium. In the early years of the 21st century Michael Habbel used a small still and started making whisky again. He got his barley from a local brewery that prepared it exactly like he wanted it to be, so he would get the whisky desired. Those whiskies were introduced to the market under the brand name Hillock since 2014.

The old column still surrounded by Habbel's awards 
For your interest, Hillock is an old English word for hill. That is actually just an English version of Habbel’s surname. Habbel is an old German expression for “Hügel” which means hill and here we go. For me, even more interesting than this pun, is the transparency Habbel adds to his whisky names. The first Hillock from 2014 was called “4 and a half 12”. This might sound quite cumbersome, but once I learned the meaning, I found it highly interesting. “12 is the older whisky in the bottle and it has been vatted with a 4 and half year old whisky. So the name is the exact age”, Habbel’s master distiller Christof Hans explained to me. I mentioned something like this before, but I cannot stress it enough: in a time where many distilleries, from all over the world, are playing with age and non age statements on their bottles, this is an impressive move. By the way, the current Hillock on the market is called “6 and a half 14”. I let you guess the age.

No matter how special those whiskies are, there is only a very small quantity. Like I said Michael Habbel used a small still, and I think, it was more an experimental phase. To take his whisky production on the next level, Michael and his daughter Michaela – she joined the family business some years ago with the same keenness her father once did – decided to take a leap of faith, and build a new whisky distillery behind the old distillery building. To cut a long story short: in 2014 Hillock Park Distillery was opened. It is a beautiful modern facility that was built with rhyme and reason as well as heart and soul. To understand how these four words can describe a building process of a distillery, one has to know Habbel’s business credo. 

Michael Habbel and his daughter understand their business still as a manufacture, a classic craft that pays attention to tradition and detail. So if you enter Habbel’s vaults, the first thing that greets you, is an ancient column still that was used in the founding years. Furthermore, you can find big glass bulbs, a walled in still like in the old days, and many other equipment for processing herbs, seeds, fruits and much more that is still used, but could as well be contemporary witnesses of German distilling history.
By building the new distillery, the Habbel’s did not break with their tradition, they expanded it. So the experienced distiller Michael Habbel designed a unique column still that could produce the whisky he desired. With a capacity of 1.500 liters, he had it built big enough to have a good output, but - and this was important to him – he was still far away from becoming an industrial producer.

For Habbel’s master distiller Christof Hans the new still and the whole facility were love at first sight. “I really like working with herbs and fruits, producing all our favorite brands, but making whisky at Hillock Park Distillery, is my real passion”, he told me. Actually you got to envy Christof! I like my job, and I would not complain about it a second, but when this lad gave me the tour of Habbel’s halls, he had the glowing in his eyes, of a man who takes real pride in his work. I can really vouch for him and everybody else from Habbel, whom I met, that they are living the company motto.

Work is down - Christof Hans is enjoying the weather in front of Hillock Park Distillery
If you ever meet Christof Hans or visit the Destillerie & Brennerei Heinrich Habbel, you will see what I mean. Michaela and Michael Habbel did not just build a distillery in Germany, they created a piece of Scotland, at the edge of the Ruhr industrial area. As I walked down the paved path, behind the old brick wall distillery building, towards the new Hillock Park Distillery I had the sun in my back shining over the green valley and hills behind the new building, in which the smell of peated barley and the fruity scent of new make whisky greeted me. Maybe I am helplessly romantic and that is the reason why things like this strike me, but I simply closed my eyes and was in Scotland at once.

Now if you would ask me, clearly I would say that Habbel is a special place, and they do create a terrific whisky - especially for a German whisky. But I have to confess, I cannot judge the Destillerie & Brennerei Heinrich Habbel objectively. Actually I never did. Believe me or not, when I took my first sip of Habbel’s “Uralter Whisky” I was very pessimistic, for I am a posh-like Scotch connoisseur, and I always give foreign, non Scottish whisky, an extra hard time. So nobody was more surprised than me, when I tried the whisky and found it rather exciting. It is a pity that I have been living my whole life, only a stone’s throw away from a liquid gold vein, and I did not notice until now. Then again, Habbel’s whisky journey has just started, so I might be on time.


Hillock. 4 and 1/2 – 12
Single Malt German Whisky

Distillery: Hillock Park Destillery
Region: Germany
Age: Vatting of 12 & 4 ½ years old
Proof/ABV: 45%
German Price: Unknown
Release: 2014

Points: 75/100

Nose: Sweet with a light fruity scent.

Palate: At first a herbal note mixed with oak. After a while the whisky gets sweeter.

Finish: Sadly too short - the flavors fade very quickly.


Hillock. 6 and 1/2 - 14
Single Malt German Whisky

Distillery: Hillock Park Destillery
Region: Germany
Age: Vatting of 14 & 6 ½ years old  
Proof/ABV: 45%
German Price: 58€ for 0,5l

Points: 83/100

Nose: It starts with a sweet scent. A deep breath reveals light peat and hints of herbs.

Palate: Smooth and soft enters this whisky your mouth. Vanilla, mixed with a "background" smoke, that take over after a while.

Finish: Much longer than the first edition. The sweetness of vanilla stays for a while.

To learn more about Destillerie & Brennerei - Heinrich Habbel, check out their website here


Hey laddies how are you doing? For those of you who do not know me, I am Matthias, a Scotch connoisseur from Ennepetal in Germany. To be precise, I am from Rüggeberg, which is an even smaller part at the back of beyond of the small town I live in. Still I do not wish to complain for I live rural and quiet, but only an hour away from Düsseldorf or Cologne, and even less to Dortmund and other major cities from the Ruhr area.

I started to be a whisky enthusiast right on my 18th birthday. Some friends had the great idea to give me an 18yo Glenfiddich. Thus started an ongoing tour through Scotland’s whisky landscape. Though I like Scotch the most. I also drink the occasional bourbon – especially in summer – and other foreign whiskies (non Scottish whiskies) from time to time.

My all time whisky highlight – yet – has been a 12yo Kilkerran poured straight from the cask, by Robert “Pop” Scally – Assistand Distillery Manager at Springbank, and one of the coolest persons I know. I drank many older whiskies, and maybe even rarer whiskies, but that was my whisky – if you know what I mean. (If you don’t know, just read the story about Kilkerran and Mitchell’s Glengyle Distillery and you will).

Apart from my “addiction” to Kilkerran I am pretty eclectic concerning my whiskies. If I had to pin point my favourites, I would say I lean towards Springbank (obviously), Talisker, Highland Park and whatever sails across from Islay.

A while ago I started to share my passion on Instagram @Blue_Dram and even more recently, I was invited to share my passion and the little I know about uisge beatha on Son of Winston Churchill. Being able to do so and getting to know Hasse Berg from SOWC has been an absolute pleasure so far. If it continues like this, I am sure you will read a lot more from me, but then again – “there is no such uncertainty as a sure thing” (Robert Burns).

Slàinte mhath.


We would like to thanks Matthias Blau for his participation in this project. 

This was our final destination. Thank you all for traveling with us. If you want to read our previously distillery visits? Click below!