Viennese Whisky Has Come of Age
In a beautiful wine cellar in Vienna’s 18th District, brandy distiller Aco Nijemcevic lets me sip his soon-to-be-released whisky, which is double-vacuum distilled using a brandy still for extra purity and then aged for three years, the minimum aging time for a whisky.
Nijemcevic has provisionally named it “Usquebaugh et per Vindobona.” Usquebaugh means “the waters of life” in Scottish, and the addition of the Latin “et per Vindobona” alludes to the ancient Roman settlement on the Danube that later became Vienna. It is a fitting, if not easily pronounceable, name for a whisky that flows as smoothly as its eponymous river.
INVIVO Spirits is a family business – Nijemcevic’s wife and daughter both work for the company, and together they have years of experience in distilling fine brandies and spirits. INVIVO is also the chief Austrian importer for Ignacio Marin Wines, which bottles Spanish whites such as Blanco Macabeo, as well as reds like Tempranillo and Garnacha, in its El Gordo series.
Nijemcevic’s cellar is dry and has the perfect temperature (16°C) for storing wine, spirits, and whisky. Sand-colored dust coats the brick floors and wine racks. This is a place where a drinker feels at home. The indirect lighting shines past the whisky glasses and casts a long shadow on the floor. The glow of the lights warms my face as the small sips of whisky begin to have their effect and warm me inside, making my cheeks ruddy. This is a strong middle-flavored single malt that can be enjoyed in summer as well as winter – I would call it an “autumn” whisky.
Drunk “neat,” Usquebaugh starts out smooth, develops hints of smokiness, and then finishes with an alcoholic burst. Diluted with a few milliliters of soda or water, it opens up nicely, developing an entirely new range of tastes, and its smokiness lessens. It is important to drink this whisky from the correct glass. Poured into a traditional whisky glass, it opens up to the full range of senses. It looks golden, smells like a warm fire, and tastes like smoky butterscotch. It is not particularly peaty, and one’s palate responds to the 40 percent alcohol after a sip or two. Sipped from a brandy snifter, however, the alcohol comes out more heavily, and it tastes like apple.
All of the raw ingredients for Usquebaugh are all grown locally in Lower Austria. At present, the batches are small and likely to sell out quickly. My personal 50cl bottle is nearly empty after only two weeks.
Compared to other “young” whiskies, this three-year old vintage can hold its own. It is not an “aged” whisky and therefore has a lighter, more palatable taste, which will appeal to brandy connoisseurs as well as those who are turned off by the peaty intensity of, say, a 12-year-old Lagavulin.
The future looks bright for INVIVO Spirits. As the taste for “the waters of life” grows in Austria, its whisky will gradually adapt to Austrian tastes and drinking styles, and there is certain to be a growing market for Usquebaugh.