The Master with the support of Past Master David Raines organized a three day visit to Schiedam (Netherlands), at the end of June, the purpose of which was to experience and understand Jenever, the traditional Dutch spirit which had been the origin of and the inspiration for English Gin.
The concept of an international masterclass open to all is a welcome initiative, reinforcing our collective knowledge and links with the distilling industry around the world. Schiedam is the centre of the jenever gin industry.
The visit began with part of the group visiting a working windmill, and the others, a windmill museum. Both groups were encouraged to climb five narrow vertical stairs to ascend the working floors and to see the inner workings before reaching the external platform where the sails were positioned to catch the best of the wind. All the wheels and cogs are connected to a drive shaft which connects to the grind stones to crush the grain, producing flour for bread, but mainly grain for jenever, and the sails could be rotated through 360 degrees to optimize the wind power ( like a yacht)!
From there, an ‘interesting’ boat trip in the driving rain around the canals of Schiedam was enlivened by our tour guide, whose anecdotes and local insights made our soggy sandwiches easier to digest.
We arrived at the Jenever Museum and were given a guided tour covering the history of the production of jenever. We learnt that moutwijn (translates into malt wine) is a mash which can be made from different grains (e.g. wheat/rye/barley/corn), and contains 6% alcohol which is distilled three times.
This was the origin of the original jenever distilled in potstills and referred to as Oude Jenever.
It resembles whisky in its first stage and on tasting Oude jenever, the comparison with whisky was apparent. In fact many concluded that jenever is a spirit that is similar to both whisky and gin. Whisky in the process of producing the Oude jenever spirit and gin with the addition of distilled juniper and other botanicals.
Jonge jenever is made using a continuous column still.
Both have juniper (jenever) as their principal botanical and flavour.
Spices which came from the Spice Islands of the Dutch East Indies in the 17 Century were also added to the juniper flavoured spirit to give variety and to protect against various ailments and the plague.
The jenever tasting at the museum showed the versatility of the spirit as many different spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves citrus and red fruits were among those botanicals and spices used. In one case Distillers Pride 2016 and a touch of Indonesia cake was added.
We were joined by members of the Schiedam Jenever Gilde also known as the “small golden glass” Guild. Wearing green cloaks and with large wooden medals around their necks, they were joined by the Mayor of Schiedam and surprised the Master and PM Raines by installing them as Knights of the Gilde using an impressive sword and reciting an oath. Both were presented with certificates and medals to confirm their inauguration into the Guild.
A toast to the association of the Jenever Gilde and the Worshipful Company of Distillers was made with Oude Schiedam jenever and ginger beer ( The Boilerman cocktail). The Master presented the Gilde members with a specially commissioned Quaich from Mappin and Webb to commemorate the visit and a bottle of the Master’s Cask 18 Years Old Caol Ila Islay malt.
From here the celebrations continued over dinner and we were joined by members of the Jenever Gilde. The second day of the visit was quite a contrast and equally interesting.
The day began with a visit to the Nolet Distillery, home of Ketel One vodka. The Nolet family are now in their eleventh generation of distillers and we were hosted by Bob Nolet who gave us a guided tour and a history of the family business. We met his mother formally in the museum windmill, the biggest in Schiedam, and informally on the bottling line complete with clipboard!
The family began as distillers in 1692 and up to the 1880’s prospered as jenever was exported around the world. However Bob’s father in the 1960’s spotted the growing taste in California for vodka martinis and worked hard to make a distinctive premium vodka with an unique production method and mouthfeel, which could be truly appreciated in this cocktail, mainly comprising of pure vodka.
Thus Ketel One was born, the name coming from Ketel being the Dutch word for potstill, and the secret process and recipe being based on a mix of column and potstill vodka.
The brand was developed in California initially as other competing vodkas focused on the US East Coast, and expanded dramatically from 2008 when a 50/50 partnership deal was agreed with Diageo covering global sales and distribution which changed the family fortunes. The benefits are seen in the modern high tech production facility on both sides of the canal, and the impressive investment in marketing materials, including an award winning cinema commercial at Cannes. The competitive tasting before lunch provided much food for thought for some of us!
After the production tour and museum inspection, we walked underneath the canal, and along the quayside to Royal De Kuyper Distilleries, another family controlled company with a Royal Charter and over 300 years of history. De Kuyper traditional liqueurs are exported around the world with famous brand names like Peachtree liqueur, Warninks Advocaat, Mandarine Napolean and have all the ingredients to feature in any cocktail drink, anywhere in the world.
We were greeted by Bob De Kuyper, himself a liveryman with personal links to the UK via the old Matthew Clark agency business, and our guide Ingeborg, who managed our tour of the distillery, including cobbled streets and old buildings which had featured in TV programmes and explained the history of flavorings in their comprehensive range.
We were privileged to have a presentation from CEO Mark De Witte, an industry veteran from Seagram and Bacardi, who unveiled a confidential growth plan for the business based on a mix of acquisitions and a new focus on ‘owning the cocktail occasion’ with a new priority portfolio of global brands and local heros.
Afterwards, a cocktail demonstration and tasting in the impressive modern Dekuyper bar, where we sampled classic drinks like the Martinez cocktail, Rutte Celery Gin and tonic and a tasting of Mandarine Napolean.
The trip was rounded off with a Gala dinner at Hosmans Cabinet ,an exclusive restaurant located in a traditional Dutch house by the canal, complete with roof terrace and low beams in the dining area, giving a nautical feeling! The menu prepared by leading chef Willibrod Hosman, featured Dutch specialities like herring and Texel Lamb, and the speeches and toasts flowed elegantly with thanks to our hosts from Dekuyper.
The following day, we set out to Dordrecht, closer to Rotterdam, and the Rutte distillery, now owned by Dekuyper. Situated in a small shop in the centre of the town, this charming boutique distillery was crammed full of interesting bottles and small stills –known as Volcans or Volcanoes!
We are charmed by the dynamic master distiller, Myriam Hendrichx, who captivated the group with the history from 1872, and the story of the Rutte family. The distillery makes all sorts of spirit and liqueur recipes (anything goes seems the motto), but their celery based gin is the most famous. We enjoyed a tasting of various kinds of jenevers and liqueurs and Myriam is on a mission to convince bartenders and mixologists to rediscover this forgotten category and appreciate its versatility . It was a fitting end to the Masterclass visit which linked together our livery with the Jenever Gilde, and we look to welcoming them to our future events in London.