Argentina’s first single malt whisky distillery to launch field-to-bottle expression

Argentina’s first single malt whisky distillery, La Alazana based in Patagonia, is to release another first for the country – a field-to-bottle whisky made using barley grown and malted on site.

Speaking to the drinks business, co-founder of La Alazana, Lila Serenelli, said the distiller’s next launch would be the 100% Patagonia edition which would be unveiled in a “couple of years”.

“For this edition we are working together with the government agriculture institute (INTA) and our technology institute IPATEC – CONICET (UNCo) for which we are using wild Patagonian yeast during fermentation as well as our barley which is grown and malted on site.”

Serenelli explained that Argentina was a major producer of malting barley, however the varieties grown are those used in the production of beer. As such, for the production of its whisky, La Alazana must import malt from the UK.

This inspired Lila and her husband Nestor to attempt to grow their own crop.

“We are also pioneers in growing and malting whisky varieties of barley and have already had two seasons of excellent crops,” Serenelli added.

“The spirit for our 100% Patagonia whisky is already maturing. It was a big challenge for us, but we are moving along very well with it.

“Patagonia is an ideal place to produce single malt whisky. We have got the purest water source one could imagine, and the Andes mountain valley in which we chose to build our distillery has got a mild climate with no extreme seasonal temperature variations. This is what guarantees that the wood extraction is in perfect balance with the evolution within the casks, so that maturation is perfectly and elegantly balanced.”

As for other future plans, Serenelli is keen to expand the malting facility at the distillery in order for it to be able to “malt most, if not all, of our barley”. She said this will also include peated varieties, made using the local Patagonian peat.

“We also are on an expansion project for the distillery. Our distillery at this point is at the end of the first stage, which was to concentrate on quality and positioning of the brand. Our second stage, which is now underway, is to expand in size whilst maintaining the quality we have achieved.

La Alazana, which was founded in 2011, currently sells all its whiskies from its distillery, with Serenelli noting that customers have been known to take a two-hour flight down from Buenos Aires just to pick up a bottle.

“As our objective is to have a standard expression that is no younger than eight years old, our bottlings are very limited and we are selling our limited editions exclusively at the distillery,” Serenelli noted.

La Alazana has released two standard expressions: its Classic (matured in ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks) and its Haidd Merlys (sweet barley in Welsh, a reference to the region’s Welsh heritage) which is matured in ex-Bourbon casks and is lightly peated.

In addition to these whiskies, the distillery also has a Chardonnay cask finished, lightly peated whisky; a Sherry cask matured whisky; an organic malt whisky matured in virgin oak; a limited-edition Cognac cask matured whisky bottled at 54% ABV; and a more heavily peated whisky, which is still maturing.

After setting up a successful business which is now run by his sons, Nestor Serenelli inspired by his family’s grain-growing and distilling heritage, decided to move out to the country to distill whisky. Lila, meanwhile, studied at the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling (ICBD) at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland where she completed her Diploma in Brewing and Distilling before transferring to the Masters programme. The couple make regular trips to Scotland in order to visit their suppliers and research projects for their distillery.

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