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The Scots are afraid of him

For decades, Dolf Stockhausen controlled a family business in the chemical industry. Then he became an investor and cultural critic. Now the former Clariant board member and Nidwalden native is reinventing whiskey.
Alles Physik, keine Chemie: Unternehmer Stockhausen. Bild: Herbert Zimmermann für die Weltwoche
All physics, no chemistry: entrepreneur Stockhausen. Image: Herbert Zimmermann for Weltwoche

In his entrepreneurial life, Dolf Stockhausen has already led many things to success. His latest project has something downright audacious about it. The inventor has developed a process for producing single malt whisky that ages the beverage much more quickly than conventional barrel aging.
Grassy and powerfully built, the 73-year-old approaches us. In contrast to his whisky, he appears much younger than his actual age indicates. With his
friendly, somewhat plump face and whistling eyes, he could easily pass for the type of "absent-minded professor. But Stockhausen is more than that. He is one of the most creative German entrepreneurs in exile in Switzerland. Stockhausen says he has "broken with Germany in resentment." The country, he says, is now "hopelessly socialist."
Stockhausen's departure from Germany took place in two stages. In the late 1990s, he emigrated to Graz, where he later took Austrian citizenship. In 2011, Stockhausen moved to Switzerland. Even before that, he had a vacation home in Ennetbürgen, where he "got to know and love the Swiss and learned to appreciate the Swiss model of success."
Together with his wife, the inventor, who originally comes from North Rhine-Westphalia
lives with his wife in a penthouse apartment furnished with discreet and exclusive taste
penthouse apartment in a prime lakeside location in Hergiswil, Canton Nidwalden. However, there is little time for the dreamlike view over Lake Lucerne, because Stockhausen has lined up empty tasting glasses with a precision reminiscent of a chemistry laboratory. Next to them are full bottles - some with printed labels, others labeled in felt-tip pen, straight from the experimental laboratory where Dr. Stockhausen turns the wheel of time.

Rocket ignition

At present, the construction plans for his invention are at the Federal Patent Office in Bern. They are therefore still secret. The name of the whiskey, "Seven Seals," brings to mind the proverbial book with seven seals. Is Stockhausen pouring a chemical turbocharger into the whiskey? Or does he sprinkle wood chips into the barrel, as is sometimes done in wine aging, to support the wood flavor?

"I don't do anything that the Scots don't do. But I do it more intelligently," Stockhausen says, peering slyly through the lenses of his glasses. "Whiskey gets its flavor mainly from the diffusion reactions that take place between the liquid and the cask." Unwanted types of alcohol molecules would migrate into the cask wall, while flavors such as tannins, wood sugars and vanillins would move from the wood into the liquid.

The speed at which this happens, Stockhausen continues, depends on the "ratio of surface area to volume." But since "the sphere is the geometric body with the smallest such ratio" and "a barrel is geometrically quite close to a sphere," it is clear that this is anything but optimal. Whisky aging in the barrel, he said, takes place in slow motion. Stockhausen's whiskey revolution is a "process with a more fine-grained geometry, where the maturation is much faster."

However, with whisky, as with wine, you can't just throw in wood chips.

thrown in. "The excess of tannins leads to a completely unpalatable

result." Rather, the wood in any form needs pretreatment with water to reduce the tannins to the desired level. In addition, Stockhausen says, one must ensure that sufficient wood sugars and vanillins are created in the wood to give the whiskey its flavor. While studying the technical literature on whisky, Stockhausen noticed that the aroma substances are created when wood is gently warmed over a long period of time. In Scotland, however, the barrels are flamed at 3,000 degrees. "With that kind of heating, only a few aromatics can be created."

As soon as the temperature is higher, even undesirable ingredients tend to emerge. Stockhausen concludes that he has "thought the Scottish process through to the end. All physics, no chemistry. How does one even come up with the idea of giving the Scots a lesson in whiskey production? Stockhausen says he's a big whisky lover himself. Two years ago, when an acquaintance asked him if they wanted to take over a disused distillery together, he was thrilled. On reflection, however, he realized, "I'm 72 now, and I'll have to wait at least ten years before I can open the first barrel, and I don't even know beforehand if it's going to be anything at all." There had to be a better way, he said. So he began to study in detail the processes involved in whiskey aging, and then set about experimenting.

In his whiskey invention, Dolf Stockhausen drew on his decades of experience in product development. In the early 1980s, he had taken over the management of the family-owned Stockhausen chemical company, founded in Krefeld in 1907.

At that time, the company had sales of eighty million deutschmarks and was "quite a nice little company. The business rocket ignition occurred when the company developed the granules that are still responsible for liquid absorption in baby diapers made by leading manufacturers. In the years that followed, sales and profits multiplied.

Then came 1992. "Unfortunately, the family wanted to cash in and sold the company to Chemische Werke Hüls (now Evonik)," Stockhausen notes somewhat wistfully. At least the inventor has one small consolation: unlike his fellow shareholders, he did not pay tax on the sales profit at the 48 percent rate that is customary in Germany, but only at 24 percent. He had come up with a special procedure. Stockhausen smiles with satisfaction. "It only worked once!"

Immediately after the German tax authorities had to grant him the ruling, they issued a so-called non-applicability decision for the future.

"Socratic Art of Product Design."

Stockhausen invested the proceeds from the sale in Süd-Chemie in Munich, which was acquired by Clariant in 2011. At both Süd-Chemie and Clariant, Stockhausen was a member of the Board of Directors, there as Vice Chairman, and here as a member of the Research and Development Committee, among other positions. Stockhausen describes his understanding of industrial product development as the "Socratic art of product design." It is a matter of applying the "midwifery art" described by Socrates in the industrial environment: Developing ideas in a structured-simultaneous, cross-hierarchical dialogue. He has always been "against paper processes".

He has always been "against paper processes," but rather about "making maximum use of the knowledge and ideas of employees. His process for whisky production has what it takes to solve one of the whisky industry's most pressing problems, the cask problem. Due to the worldwide whisky boom and a change in the law in the U.S., which for the first time allows the reuse of used bourbon barrels previously exported to Scotland, distilleries are hardly getting any barrels in the necessary quantity and quality. As soon as the patent is in place, he therefore wants to sell licenses to other distilleries in addition to his own production of the "Seven Seals".

The first reactions from the public have been "very encouraging," Stockhausen says. This fall, he was on the whisky ship in Zurich, where his whisky sold like hot cakes. And the experts are also taking notice. At a tasting, the highly regarded whiskey critic Jim Murray noted that the products of Seven Seals were better than most of the whiskeys from Scottish distilleries. He classified a cask-strength variant with a port finish, which is not yet available on the market, as a candidate for the "Whisky of the Year" league. Stockhausen emphasizes that this is also largely due to the quality of the distillates supplied by the sister company Langatun in Aarwangen and the exceptional whisky know-how of his two partners. In addition to the beverage business, Stockhausen is also active as an investor in young, dynamic companies. Among other things, he has a stake in a manufacturer of waterjet cutting machines and in a spin-off from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, which has developed a process for the bacteriological analysis of water that is used, for example, by mineral water producers.

In his Graz days, Dolf Stockhausen was a widely read author in addition to his entrepreneurial activities. He wrote theater, opera and concert reviews for the Grazer Woche, and railed against socialism and bureaucracy in the magazine Zur Zeit.

Stockhausen developed into one of Austria's most feared theater critics. He was particularly harsh on modern director's theater when it distorted the works beyond recognition. When Katharina Wagner started using this concept in Bayreuth, he wrote that the Wagner Festival was threatening to suffocate from "deconstructive director's theater."

For a moment it wants to give the impression that he still feels like taking up the pen now and then. But then Stockhausen's wife intervenes: "Those times are over." If you're constantly thinking about what you're writing, you can't enjoy the performances at all. Stockhausen enjoys his own whiskey to the fullest so far.

Image: Herbert Zimmermann for Weltwoche

Published in Weltwoche, 09.01.2019