Spheric Spirits

Good whisky can be a true work of art, where every step in the production process is reminiscent of a delicate brushstroke from of one of the old masters. Where every step has been taken with dedication and inspiration, and the result rocks people’s world. If that kind of whisky master craft is what you’re looking for, you won’t have to look any further than Spheric Spirits. Where Benedict Skelton shows his artistry to the world of whisky, with every bottle they release.

The first impression

It was during this year’s Whisky Tasting Festival in Utrecht that I first ran into Benedict. Until then I had never heard of Spheric Spirits, but at their stand I felt an immediate click with Benedict and with the philosophy behind their brand. One of the most beautiful things about the whisky community is its abundance of passion for the product, but from our conversation I quickly picked up that he was taking that same passion to a whole other level. I could have listened to him for hours there on the spot, but unfortunately a festival is not really the place for that.

The samples I got to taste in Utrecht left such a lasting impression, that when I saw their products lined-up at a whisky festival in IJmuiden, I rushed to get myself some coins to sample another one of their drams. At the Hogshead Imports stand there were several of their bottles on display, including a Highland Blended Malt from 1988. Given that it’s also my birthyear, I felt like it was destined to be. And after the sample in Utrecht, I fell in love with the nose and palate of this dram as well. I decided it was high time to reach out to Benedict, to find out where the magic comes from.

27-year-old Springbank

I sent out an email, and not long after we planned a Teams meeting for an interview. The day before that interview was scheduled I visited the Whiskybase Gathering in Rotterdam, where I once again saw Toon with his Hogshead Imports stand. We struck up conversation and I asked him if he had any recommendations as to which Spheric Spirits bottling I should try this time. I told him I had been hoping to try their 27-year-old Springbank offering, but unfortunately it wasn’t on the table anymore. At that comment, slight panic started to creep across Toon’s face… There was supposed to be a bottle of it on the table, but he couldn’t find it anywhere either!

As it turned out, the bottle had simply been so popular that it had gone empty faster than expected. The empty bottle was simply hiding among the discard pile. Lucky enough for me though, there was still another full bottle in his inventory left. And thus, much like before, I rushed to get myself some more coins. Once I had treated myself to a dram, I took my time nosing and sipping the dram. And I found myself lost for words.

Meeting a rockstar

The next day – at 12:00 – it was time for the planned interview. And after what I tasted from Spheric thus far, I felt myself grow more nervous than I usual. Their products left such an impression on me, that I found myself somewhat starstruck. It was like meeting a rockstar. Which in my opinion, when it comes to the world of distilling, is a title he deserves.

The nerves were quickly settled once we started talking though, as it often goes when you find someone who shares the same passion as you. Where I had originally guessed the conversation would last for about an hour, we ended up talking for more than three!

How lager stole our flavour

During this time, I learned more about whisky than ever before. I found out Benedict did his masters at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh Scotland, where he fell more and more in love with the country’s most famous product: Scotch Whisky. There wouldn’t be time enough in a year, to share all the knowledge he has on the subject with me. But still, I learned so much. He taught me about the esters that form during long fermentation, and about how imperfections in the production process (during floor malting for example) can create the base for some amazing flavours.

We talked about the history of Scotch as well, and how it has played its role in the flavours we get in our whiskies today. Back in the day, for example, whisky was mostly made with spent ale yeast. Which takes much longer fermentation than the distiller’s yeast that’s widely used nowadays. The latter might be more efficient, but it produces less flavours. But still, ale yeast disappeared more and more, as it also became harder to get a hold off. Lager was rising in popularity, which used a yeast that was less suited for distilling. Of all the old distilleries, the only one still using a co fermentation of distillers and ale yeast seems to be Ben Nevis.

What the funk?!

This brought us to the subject of funk. On their website Spheric Spirit states that they are all about three things: Flavour, fermentation, and funk. And when you look for their webshop, you’ll discover it’s called wewantfunk. Which might sound odd to some, as it’s often a descriptor that’s used to describe an unpleasant taste or smell. Now I personally understand exactly what they mean, because I am for one a big fan of that well-known “Springbank Funk”. But as many people have other associations with the word, I still wondered why they chose to go give it such a prominent place in their promotions.

To that question Benedict answered that he saw funk as an acquired taste, like a blue cheese. It’s a form of sophistication in a whisky, that you’ll learn to love and appreciate over time. They embrace these funky flavours because they only produce bottles in small quantities anyway. Their products are not aimed at mass market, but at whisky lovers with a sophisticated enough palate to appreciate the pleasures a little funkiness can bring.

Old school

His first fascination for these funky flavours, came from experiencing some whiskies that were bottled several decades ago. He found out that whisky was different back then, full of funky the funky flavours he so desired. Inspired by Serge (from Whiskyfun) and with help from the Thompson brothers, he started learning more about this old school whisky during his months spent at Dornoch distillery. His experiences there made it his goal to study the science behind these old techniques more and to spread the word.

Bringing old school whisky back is much more intricate however than just choosing a different yeast, or introducing a longer period of fermentation. It’s about looking at every step in the process, as if it were a painting like I described in the intro, and recreating it in the best possible way. Quality over quantity, and patience over haste.

On top of the world

He was able to further implement his knowledge at the Aurora spirit distillery. The world’s northernmost whisky distillery – all the way up in the Arctic – where he got the chance to steer the flavour ship of the distillery. He introduced them to all his knowledge on old style Scotch practices and microbiology, to help them pursue those old school whisky flavours that can almost smell like opening a bag of Haribo (but all natural of course). He became co-owner of the distillery and Spheric Spirits is regularly making incredibly special batches there. They’re utilizing Arctic microbes and spontaneous fermentations that sometimes last longer than a year!

El loco in Mexico

Spheric Spirits does more than just whisky alone though. On their website you’ll also find Eau de Vie, Rum, and their recently added Mezcal as well. That latest addition to their line-up is a perfect example of just how deep Benedicts passion for distilling goes. While I was visiting Toon from Hogshead Imports the other day, I got to sample their Tepextate Silvestra. And though I’m not typically the biggest Mezcal fan, it was yet another Spheric Spirits dram that blew me away. The flavours were complex and amazing, and the story behind it could have come straight out of a childhood story book.

Even the Mexicans themselves referred to him as crazy for his willingness to live where he did, just to achieve his goal of making this Mezcal the first official Spheric Spirits production. But as you may have noticed by now, no bridge is too far for Benedict when it comes down to following his passion. They tell the story much better than I ever could though, so instead of me penning it down here I implore you to have a look at it through the following link: Spheric Spirits Tepextate

For the love of whisky

Even though this is a whisky blog, I added that last story to show you just how much passion Spheric Spirits put into their products. But perhaps an even more powerful example of that shows in their philosophy for cask management.

All things considered Spheric Spirits is still a small collaboration-based producer of old-style Scotch whisky, that indie bottles stuff they admire to finance their own productions. And so, it might very well be possible that someday in the future they might find themselves strapped for cash. In that case you might expect them to bottle some of the casks they have in store, to create an income. But this is one thing that Spheric Spirits will never do. They stand very firm on the fact that whisky is only ready, when it’s ready. They will bottle the whisky when it is at it’s best. Or they will find someone with pockets deep enough to wait until that moment comes.

When you love something so much, you’d rather say goodbye than see it get hurt…

So, what did I learn?

I have always believed that whisky is a form of art. And through Spheric Spirits I have found the undeniable proof that I was right. They’re products paint a picture for the senses. With the master craft that went into it, plain for all to see. But please don’t forget, their art is meant to be enjoyed. So, if you ever get yourself a bottle pour yourself a dram. And experience the wonders that will unfold.

Thank you Spheric Spirits for sharing your passion with all of us, in the form of liquid gold. Each of your whiskies is yet another masterpiece. And I cannot wait to try the single cask and micro batch collaboration productions you’ll be releasing of your own. I for one will follow your projects with bated breath, ready to be blown away time and time again.

Dramble on!

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