At 3,303 meters on St. Moritz’s Corvatsch Peak, the air is delicious, the view is sublime, and the whiskey is rare. For the past 10 years, local distillers Pascal Mittner and Rinaldo Willy have been quietly distilling Orma, Europe’s most eco-friendly, single malt, small-batch whiskey that you may never taste — unless you’re visiting the swiss region of Engadin.
We know St. Moritz has a lot going for it. Great skiing, amazing nature, luxury resorts, and four languages (in addition to English, French, and German, they speak Romansh). Now, it also has bragging rights to the world’s highest-altitude whiskey, distilled and aged on the highest peak in the Grisons canton.
“Orma” means “soul” in Romansh, which Mittner and Willy bottle up in small batches. And Orma is as local as it gets. Each batch uses water from nearby springs and is made with Alpine aromas and herbs from the Grisons, like Swiss stone pine. Mittner and Willy distill on the peak, bringing most of the batches down for aging and storing in cellars and monasteries across the valley, except for Corvatsch, whose 288 bottles are aged on the eponymous peak in the ski station’s basement storage room.
It started several years ago, when Willy and Mittner scaled Corvatsch on a warm August day to celebrate Willy’s cancer recovery. They decided to make it a tradition; toasting in that very same spot every August. On a lark, they started making small-batch whiskey, choosing Corvatsch as a site for their distillery for its spectacular view and daring precipice.
They also found that making whiskey at a higher altitude makes the process more sustainable. The higher altitude demands a lower boiling point, and for Orma that means less energy and heat usage, and more flavor. “At this altitude, the distillation process occurs at a temperature around 10 degrees lower than at sea level. That means more aromas and higher complexity are preserved,” said Willy.
Currently, Orma has 12 different whiskey offerings and every batch is a limited edition. Here’s the catch: Orma doesn’t export, so you’ll either have to head up to Corvatsch Ski Station for a tasting at the distillery or Restaurant 3303, where the menu includes Orma delicacies like the divine gerstensuppe, a light barley soup with a gentle Orma whiskey foam. You can also ask the bartender at the Kulm Country Club Bar for an Orma mule made with Orma peated whiskey and ginger beer. These, however, are the only ways to sample the world’s highest-altitude whiskey, so it might be time to plan a trip to Switzerland.
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