Morten Nymann is clad all in black as if to match the buildings around him. He takes a look at one of the gables and points to where its sharp angle meets the glooming sky.
“I remember when we began the project. Within the first hour we knew the gables would be the defining character of each building,” he says.
He continues along a sweeping concrete part, while he talks about how the architectural style is rooted in rural culture. Suddenly, an elderly man walks up and interrupts.
“I hear you are the architect. I just want you to know that you have created something really special,” the old man says, before walking away again.
Morten Nymann is one of the partners of LOOP Architects, who designed this new distillery for the high-end whisky manufacturer Stauning Whisky. The project consists of long barns that take their inspiration from the local agricultural style and fishing huts. The materials used are wood, steel and concrete, but unlike regular barns built for swine and tractors, LOOP Architects chose to refine the materials.
Japanese dragon scales
Stauning Whisky have offered tourist tours around their distillery for many years. Therefore, the new distillery is built to enhance that experience by dividing the site into six buildings, each featuring different processes involved in making the whisky.
Morten Nymann approaches the entrance. From afar it looks as though the gate is made of the same black-painted wood as the rest of the distillery. But that is not the case. He walks up real close and stops just an inch from the gate. He takes a sniff of the wood. It smells smoked.
This is because each entrance is built of charred wood using a Japanese technique called “Shou Sugi Ban”. The final finish almost looks like it was made from black dragon scales.
“Whisky ages in barrels that are burnt on the inside. Therefore, we used the charred wood for each entrance to signal that you are walking into a place where whisky is made,” says Morten Nymann.
The first two buildings form one big room with long stalls on a concrete floor. Here malt is laid out to mature. At the end of the room, slits through the windows show a flowing field of corn. This the very same corn that will one day lay on the floor as malt, before going on to become whisky.
In the third building, there are two huge ovens for the next step in the whisky-making process. Through thick glass you can see how the heat rises. Morten Nymann enters the fourth building, which is where the fermentation is done. It is a large room filled with tall silvery metal tanks and steel stairs and floors. In here, the noise bounces of all the metal.
“We tried to show as much of the production as possible, and some of it is really quite beautiful to behold,” Morten Nymann says as he admires an array of steel tubes that almost look sculptured in place.
The holy place
Morten Nymann takes a step into the fifth barn. A solemn silence sinks over him. Compared to the clanking metal room before, this building feels almost church like. He places a hand on one of the large cobber pot stills that dominate the room.
“This is the holiest place of the entire distillery. Here, whisky becomes whisky,” he says in an almost whisper.
When the cobber pot stills are in use, they warm up to 100 degrees Celsius and the room becomes hot with them. LOOP Architects worked in a clever ventilation system hidden behind slats in the ceiling. These slats also help give the large open room a great acoustics feeling worthy of an intimate concert hall.
Large oak casks are stored in the sixth building. There are only a few windows here so as not to let light reach the darkness of the whisky casks. LOOP Architects designed the building so a natural draft flows through the wooden barn. This is also the place the whisky is bottled and packaged.
In awe of the reactions
The distillery has been a huge project for LOOP Architects and the scale of its significance is only just becoming real for Morten Nymann.
“We are immensely proud of the finished project. A lot of people have contacted us to say how much they like it and that really is great praise,” he says.
Stauning Whisky themselves are also over the moon with their new distillery. Just ask co-founder Alex Munch, who has been involved in the project from day one. He tells how they wanted to build a place that was as Danish in architectural style as their whisky is in taste.
“We are in awe of all the positive reactions we have received from around the world. I really love the charred wood and I am so happy we ended up with the black slats in the ceiling. Morten showed the black slats to us in Copenhagen and at first we were very much against it. But somehow he convinced us and well … now we all love it, like we do with the rest of the place,” says Alex Munch with a grin.