Nikolaus Prachensky is pedigreed, to put it mildly. In fact, if any artisan has the wherewithal to experiment, it’s him, the founder of Niikki Pure Spirit, an award-winning distillery based in Chiang Mai. “I come from an area in Austria where every farmer distils fruit spirits, mostly from apple and pear. They call us ‘cider-heads,’” he says. “Our family has distilled for over 200 years.”
Having lived in Thailand for over three decades, Prachensky finally took the plunge into spirit-making outside of Europe in 2007, launching his own distillery. At the time, he was distilling with fresh local fruit and exporting his spirits to Austria. Before long, an obvious source of inspiration presented a fascinating challenge. Rather than using tropical fruit, he would distil an ultra-premium spirit from aromatic Thai rice. After seeking out advice and assistance from some of the world’s top distillers, a new Niikki Pure Spirit was born.
Made from local rice (organic, when available), the spirits go through a triple distillation process using the most up-to-date techniques, as well as some that are, quite frankly, a little unusual. “We play classic music on an endless loop to our spirits,” says Prachensky. “They seem to enjoy that—no kidding.”
The rice comes directly from small growers with whom Prachensky and his team of five have a close relationship. They believe in chemical-free, sustainable agriculture, too, so nearly all by-products are recycled, composted, or re-used in environmentally-friendly ways. That kind of devotion to the small, but infinitely important, things makes up the modus operandi. Fermentation happens under strictly monitored conditions, ensuring a perfect environment for yeast to thrive. The mash is slowly distilled to crystalline purity in a German-made copper still. And ultra-pure energized water is used throughout production, following the theory of the Austrian water pioneer Jakob Grander.
A recently unveiled line of products sees the team branching out even further. Niikki Pure Spirit Kristall V, Kristall G, and Kristall R—the letters stand for the colours of the labels on the bottle, violet, green, and red, as well as the spirits they resemble: vodka, gin, and rum—feature a brand-new range of flavour profiles and histories. Kristall R, inspired by sugarcane- and molasses-based rum from the Caribbean, is distilled using the finest molasses available in the community, and Kristall V represents a stab at rice-based vodka made with choice grains. While both are high-quality spirits with smooth, mellow tastes, Kristall G is the most interesting—at least from a narrative standpoint.
While studying with local distillers, Prachensky unearthed a special ingredient they had kept secret for generations. Each community had a “loog-paeng,” a kind of yeast and enzyme culture that imparted different characteristics on their spirits. But they wouldn’t spill their secrets, so Prachensky and the team set to work creating their own “loog-paeng” The result is Kristall G. With a complex fragrance—but a distinctive smooth finish—the spirit certainly stands out, even among the other products distilled by Niikki Pure Spirit. It goes well neat, on the rocks, or mixed.
In less than a decade, the distillery has grown from small name to big in artisanal spirit-making. Its growth might stem from the brand’s experimental lilt. Beyond the obvious quirk—that being the distilling of rice into world-class spirits—the squiggly triangle player on the bottle, a figure vaguely reminiscent of “School House Rock,” but vastly more surreal, speaks to a willingness to bare the soul. It’s also why Niikki Pure Spirit—the name, the taste—lingers on lips long after the glass empties.