Overlooking the Engadin Valley, ORMA distills and ages the world’s highest-altitude whisky
I’m standing at 3,303 meters on St. Moritz’s Corvatsch Peak, overlooking the Engadin Valley and in spite of the sublime views, all I can think about is whisky because under the Corvatsch station is a cachè of ORMA, the world’s highest altitude aged whisky that you may never taste . . . unless you’re visiting Switzerland.
10 years, Pascal Mittner and Rinaldo Willy took to celebrating their friendship to new heights, thanks to some undisputedly great news. Willy and Mittner scaled Corvatsch on a warm August day to celebrate Willy’s cancer recovery, which turned into an annual tradition and then Europe’s most eco-friendly, single malt, small-batch whisky.
On its own, Corvatsch is an incredible location – sharp peaks, spectacular views and a daring precipice. St. Moritz and the surrounding keep it up with more great skiing and winter sports, amazing nature, and luxury resorts. Add to it a multicultural enclave which has boasts three official languages – English, French, and German – and Romansh, an ethno-cultural minority and language distinct to the area. Now, the Engadin 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, and it is very much soul that Mittner and Willy bottle up in small batches. 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 ageing 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.
The ORMA team also discovered that distilling whiskey at a higher altitude makes the process more sustainable. A higher altitude demands a lower boiling point, which 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.
Or you can live out your Accidentally Wes Anderson dreams by ordering up a whisky in the smokers lounge at the undeniably photogenic and cool Grand Hotel Kronehof. Otherwise order up an ORMA due at the Kulm Country Club Bar or Altitude Bar, a cozy mix and Orma Peated whiskey and ginger beer.
It’s time to visit St. Moritz.
April 8, 2022 – A version of this article appeared Travel + Leisure.