Swiss Distillery Houses Bees in Whisky Barrel

Rugen Distillery Einzug der Bienen Imker Schmocker I Keith Seiz min

Rugenbräu AG has been family-owned for more than 150 years, but a new innovation is buzzing around the distillery’s barrel room. In the first project of its kind, two bee colonies spent the summer of 2018 making their home in a whiskey barrel. When the bees left at the end of summer, the barrel was filled with Swiss Mountain Single Malt Whisky.

The idea was the brainchild of Kurt Althaus, master distiller at the Rugen Distillery. By taking up residence in a new wooden barrel, the bees would impart the notes and aromas of honey production to be absorbed by the wood and subsequently passed on to the whisky.

“The idea behind it is that when a bee colony lives in a new barrel for a while, the honey and the notes and aromas of honey production will be absorbed by the barrel and subsequently given to the whisky when it is stored in the barrel.”

In addition to the essence of honey production, the “barrel hive” also contained propolis, compound bees make from the sap on needle-leaved trees and plant buds. Propolis is a greenish-brown product used by bees as a glue or sealant to fill holes in a hive or to strengthen honeycomb. Similar to honey, the composition of propolis varies depending on the trees and flowers bees have access to. 

Althaus’ goal for this project was to break new ground by producing a whisky with distinct aromas. The final product will have a truly unique defined character, which will be bottled in a single-barrel Limited Edition.

“My philosophy is to always take things one step further, and I wanted to incorporate hive elements like propolis into this project,” Althaus said. “Another aim was to put the spotlight on the work of beekeepers and barrel makers. The work of the beekeepers, in particular, is very important and often needs further explanation.”

The whisky is expected to spend three years maturing in the Rugenbräu whisky cellar. 

We’re excited to see such inspired innovation and can’t wait to see how it turns out! 

We love to hear from you! What is your favorite honey whisky or honey-inspired whisky cocktail? Tell us about it in the comments below.