Puni Distillery is the first whisky distillery in Italy. Located in the far north, in the middle of the Alps in the Venosta valley, the distillery can take advantage of the special climate and the pure alpine water. The water is sourced from the nearby Stelvio National Park and the name Puni comes from the river Puni, which flows through the valley.
Puni is a fairly new distillery. Whisky production began in spring 2012 and their visitor centre opened in autumn of the same year. The building design took inspiration from the traditional barn windows used in the region as well as in many parts of Tuscany. This piece of tradition was then used to create a unique, modern outer frame for the actual distillery.
The unique design doesn’t stop there. The bottles were designed by young Italian designer Christian Zanzotti. The top half of the bottle is varnished in a black matte colour, and the shape of the bottle is rather unusual – it almost looks like the top part of a still. The aim was to create something modern and luxurious, something that matches Italian elegance.
The distillery uses traditional pot stills, which actually came from Scotland. Instead of steam, overheated water is used to heat both stills. This allows very accurate control over the temperatures during distillation. The Puni distillery has a three-malt approach; they use rye, wheat and barley, although some releases are single malts made with 100% barley malt. The plan is to eventually only produce single malt whisky and use the three-malt mash in the occasional special release. I was advised that this is mainly due to the change in European spirits regulation and the rising costs of production and raw materials. Currently, however, the core range is made using the three-malt recipe.
From the beginning of their whisky making, Puni have been using a range of casks to mature their spirit in. As well as the classic ex-bourbon and ex-sherry, they have used peated scotch casks, different Italian wine casks and new oak.
Due to the warm summers and colder winters, maturation is accelerated, which is why Puni malts tend to have more complexity than is typical for a younger whisky.
The Core Range
The core range consists of three award-winning whiskies, and their flavour profiles vary from fruity to spicy. As mentioned above, these are currently made using three-malt recipe, but in the future all core releases will become single malts.
Age: 5 years
Gold is described as the classic style of Italian malt whisky. It is aged solely in first-fill ex-bourbon casks. The nose is sweet like a ripe banana sitting in the sun with faint salty toffee and semi-ripe peaches. The palate reminds me of these pancakes I make with very ripe, sugary sweet bananas and porridge oats. There’s even a touch of maple syrup. This whisky also has spiciness to it, but it is sweeter, such as cinnamon, vanilla and ginger.
Age: 4 years
Cask: ex-bourbon, ex-Pedro Ximénez
Sole is first aged in ex-bourbon barrels for two years before being finished for another two years in ex-PX sherry casks. Plenty of honey and pink grapefruit on both the nose and palate. The distillery also mentions blood orange, which is actually very noticeable on the nose. On the palate it turns into fresh orange peels with soft walnut oiliness and spices. Fairly fruity palate with some cereal. Nice soft finish. Quite fresh, I can see this working well in a Highball.
Age: 5 years
Puni Vina has been aged in ex-Marsala wine casks sourced from Sicily. This is like a fruit cake with cinnamon spice, dried fruits (especially sweet raisins) and walnuts. The palate has similar notes with added dark fruits like plums and cherries with dark chocolate chips and chocolate ice cream. Oily mouthfeel on the finish. Very nice.
This is a limited-edition category, which showcases the Puni whisky in a different way. It can be anything from a unique cask to different malt combinations to an extended fermentation period. Basically, this category will allow plenty of room to play around with different elements of whisky production and to create unique expressions.
Puni Arte 01
Age: 6.9 years
Cask: ex-bourbon, ex-peated
The first limited edition was aged nearly seven years in a combination of first-fill ex-bourbon barrels and several ex-peated scotch casks. Puni mainly works with Ardbeg, but they have used other peated casks from Islay as well. There’s sweet, gentle smoke on the nose with touch of soft nougat. The palate is salty with something reminiscent of salted caramel coated mackerel but in a nice way… Also something crisp, fresh about it, maybe a red apple? Tobacco leaves on the finish together with some oak. I’m really enjoying this.
Puni Arte 02
Cask: ex-bourbon, virgin oak
This is the first release where the distillery combined two different malt recipes. One was distilled using a three-malt recipe, which was then aged close to three years in ex-bourbon barrels, followed by a five-year secondary maturation in new oak casks.
The second recipe is their first single malt whisky, which is distilled from barley malt only. This was matured for over four years in ex-bourbon barrels. The outcome is dry yet sweet. The sweetness of honey and vanilla is complemented by spicy ginger, freshly toasted tobacco leaves and hay.
Aura releases are also limited-edition whiskies, but these are bottled at cask strength to allow you to experience the whisky in a raw, untouched way. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any samples of this category, therefore the tasting notes are from Puni Distillery.
Puni Aura 01
Age: 6.5 years
Cask: ex-bourbon, ex-peated
The first Aura release spent two and a half years in ex-bourbon barrels before being transferred into ex-peated casks for another four years. The nose is smoky and ashy with apples, peaches and sweeter aromas of caramel and vanilla. On the palate you can expect lemon, ripe bananas and vanilla, followed by bonfire and some sea spray.
Puni Aura 02
Age: 8.4 years
This was matured over eight years in ex-Marsala wine casks, sourced from Sicily. On the nose you’ll find juicy amarena, hazelnut and dried fruit. On the palate, there are notes of Christmas spices and liquorice.
To be honest, the overall feedback that I’ve heard of the Puni releases haven’t been that good. But I wanted to sample these with an open mind and as it turns out, I was positively surprised by some of the releases, especially VINA from the core range and the lovely sweet smokiness of ARTE 01. It makes sense how the special climate can influence the ageing process. Most of these whiskies are fairly young, yet they aren’t lacking in complexity and both the aroma and the flavour profile take you on a journey.
I look forward to seeing how the flavours of the core range will change once the distillery will release the single malt expressions. The next new release will launch this week and will be part of the ARTE series. There will also be a third edition of the cask strength AURA series, which is likely to be released later on this year (2022).
Have you tried any releases from the Puni Italian Malt Whisky range?
Disclaimer: I was gifted some samples by the distillery with no requirement to write about them.