Johannes Peinsteiner knows the Salzkammergut as well as the back of his hand. In the See-Distillerie, he combines history, stories, personal knowledge and regional flavours to create exceptional gin specialties.
“The door is open, come on in!” When entering the small distillery in the St. Wolfgang neighbourhood of Graben, one encounters, alongside friendly greetings, a plethora of aromas: juniper, lemon and cinnamon dominate. A smiling, grey-haired man with glasses perched atop his head pours juniper berries from a stainless steel container into a still. The berries spread evenly across a bed of raspberries. “Hello there! You’ve arrived just in time to fill the flavour basket. Now we add a carefully selected mixture of spices to the raspberries and juniper berries,” explains Johannes Peinsteiner, operator of the See-Distillerie on Lake Wolfgang. In the past few years, this small, fine gin manufacturer has made a shining name for itself. Johannes spreads the spice mixture fully and evenly over the layer of raspberries and juniper berries. The smells of cloves, coriander, bay leaves as well as a slight hint of cardamom hang in the air.
At one time, the gin producer was a politician and mayor of St. Wolfgang. In 2003, along with his wife, Renate, he took over an empty shop in the village centre. This was the beginning of the St. Wolfganger Klosterkellerei, an insider tip for lovers of regional liqueur and distillery specialties. Upon leaving politics in 2015, Johannes founded the See- Distillerie. Here the trained brandy sommelier lets his creativity run wild. He produced his first gin in a small still. Working closely with a coppersmith from Tyrol, he had a new still made according to his exact specifications and began operation in the summer of 2016. Johannes explains, “At the bottom of the still, there is flavour-neutral alcohol distilled from grain. It can only have agricultural origins. The alcohol content must be higher than 96 per cent. Together with mineral-rich water, it’s heated in the still. Alcoholic gasses and water vapours are generated, which then rise. Then they make their way through the so-called botanicals. These are the berries, herbs and spices that I place in the flavour basket. During this process, the rising steam takes on the subtle flavours of the botanicals.”
While Johannes continues his explanation, he adds lemon zest, ginger, several raspberries and small spruce twigs to the flavour basket. “The spruce twigs come from the Sonnstein Mountain on Lake Traun. That’s where my wife and I had the idea for the Trunseo gin, which I’m distilling today. We complement one another extremely well. Given her distinctive senses and fine sensibility, Renate contributes a great deal to the development of new varieties,” Johannes attests. The Salzkammergut expert thereby reveals one of the secrets to the success of the gin manufacturer: the basis for each type of gin are botanicals that perfectly reflect the particular region represented by the gin. For Trunseo- Gin®, which is subtitled ‘The Connector’, juniper, lemon, anise and forest flavours dominate. A total of 16 botanicals provide the gin’s unique taste. Regional history and stories also play a role in the process. ‘Trunseo’ is the name by which Lake Traun was first known in documents originating from the year 909.
Johannes slowly pulls the cap of his still along a track mounted to the ceiling and positions it over the flavour basket. With the help of a pulley and chain, he lowers the cap and secures it with screw closures. “Now we have to wait. The alcohol is heated. At 78 degrees it begins to evaporate. The steam rises, takes on the flavours of the botanicals and then liquefies in the condenser to become the finest distillate,” Johannes explains.
While he patiently waits for the first drops of distillate, the gin expert invites us to a small tasting of his products. The sampling is comparable to a journey through the Salzkammergut and starts at Lake Wolfgang with the Wolfgangsee-Gin, which is distinguished by its finesse and subtle juniper flavour. A stronger taste of juniper and flavours that call to mind a stalk through a mountain pine thicket characterise the Kaiser-Jagd-Gin®. “When I make a gin for the hunter, then it needs to be one for all those who have the hunt in their blood,” Johannes states with a wink and then pours a Salzkammergut-Gin. A chamois adorns its label and stone pine sets the tone for its flavour. The ‘Salzkammergut Gin Journey’ continues onward through the Trunseo-Gin®, Attersee-Gin, Fürst-Erzbischof-Gin, Mannsee-Gin, and the mysterious Toplitz-Gin to the highest pinnacle of the Salzkammergut: the Dachstein Mountain. For this noble distillate, Johannes has taken inspiration from the glacial region. This magnificent elixir presents itself much like a glacial landscape – with a high intensity of juniper, rich alcohol content of 45 per cent, compact body and lasting length. At first sip, it is immediately clear: the Gletscher-Gin is aptly called ‘The Challenger’.
“Now the foreshot is beginning to drip,” Johannes determines. The foreshot is the first part of the distillation. Along with the last running, the so-called feint, the foreshot is discarded. Gin is only made from the high-quality ‘heart of the run’. As soon as the foreshot is completely drained, Johannes flips a switch and the distillate begins to run out of another pipe. It doesn’t flow directly into the awaiting stainless steel container, but instead makes a small detour over a rock crystal, suspended directly underneath the pipe. The gin specialist explains its purpose: “My guests always think that the crystal has some sort of esoteric influence. But it doesn’t have anything to do with that. Instead, it generates a separating effect. The surface of the fluid stream is divided when it flows over the relatively large surface of the crystal. It allows the flavour of the gin to properly develop and harmonise before the individual streams re-converge at the tip of the crystal.”
While the Turnseo-Gin leisurely ripples into the stainless steel container, Johannes divulges another couple of small secrets: for one thing, the idea for the next gin variety is just beginning to mature. “This gin will be dedicated to the Postalm. In order to discover its flavour, I’ve wandered around up there several times. For sure, mountain pine, spruce and – to allude to the alpine rose – roses will be included in the botanicals.” On the other hand, a very special day approaches: 7 October 2021, Johannes' 60th birthday. In the cellar of the St. Wolfganger Klosterkellerei, 10 barrels of whiskey have been maturing for a while. This whiskey was manufactured in the See-Distillerie by Johannes himself. How it will taste, no one knows. The first barrel will be tapped on the special day. Those who have tasted the gin from House Peinsteiner already know: it can only be the noblest of elixirs.