Dutch treat: An 11-city whisky tour through The Netherlands
The growth in micro and craft distilleries throughout the world has swept through the Netherlands. Since 2004, the Dutch have had Frysk Hynder Single Malt from Us Heit in Bolsward (in the province of Friesland, also spelled Fryslân*) and Millstone Single Malt from the Zuidam family in Baarle-Nassau (in the province of Brabant). Then things went quiet for a wee while, but soon the craft movement was set in motion.
The Netherlands currently hosts a baker’s dozen of distilleries that produce whisky or have plans to do so. Not all of them have launched a whisky, but for most it won’t take much longer. So we have selected 11 distilleries throughout the country of Hans’ birth to give us an enjoyable whisky tour, using an analogy of the famous 11-cities long-distance skating race in Fryslân, from where the Offringa clan originates. That’s where the tour starts.
1. Bolsward — Us Heit
Aart van der Linde has been brewing beer in a former dairy school for decades — the proud Frisian Us Heit, which means in proper Dutch “Our Father,” and in this context is a reference to the Frisian earl and city governor William Lodewijk. He lived from 1560 till 1620 and his statue can be admired in Leeuwarden, the capital of Fryslân/Friesland.
In 2004, Aart decided to try his hand at distilling whisky. He modified the existing equipment for his beer brewery and since then has been able to make beer and whisky very efficiently at the same place. The name of his single malt is Frysk Hynder, a reference to the Frisian thoroughbred. In the city hall of Bolsward a painting of a former governor can be seen, proudly sitting upon such a horse. Frysk Hynder has been launched on the market as a three-year-old and a five-year-old. Each batch differs slightly from the other, mainly due to the use of different types of casks.
2. Gramsbergen — Mommeriete
Gert and Carina Kelder have been brewing beer since 1988. Once a year, since 2008, they produce a mash without hops and ask Alambik in the province of Groningen to distil whisky from it. The distillate is returned to Gramsbergen where it matures and can be tasted in the local pub. A real niche!
3. Vroomshoop — Kalkwijck
Your father is a gentleman farmer with fields full of different grains and you happen to have an excellent nose plus a talent for technology and chemistry. Then you work together to make “single estate whisky.” That is exactly what Bert Benus and his daughter Lisanne have been doing since 2009. Kalckwijk also distils fruit liqueurs, Dutch gin (jenever) and other distillates.
Eastmoor Single Malt can be spotted on the shelves of specialist stores throughout the country as a three-year-old. Shortly a rye whiskey will be added, as well as a bourbon-style whiskey.
4. Ootmarsum — Sculte
For several years, Gerard Velthuis, assisted by distiller Roy Kroeze, has been making “whisky with character” in Twente, part of the province of Overijssel. “Twents character,” Gerard calls it, pointing to the fact that his product matures in casks made of oaks grown in Twente. The distillery is located in a former monastery, in the center of the village.
5. Losser — Horstman
After having enjoyed distilling as a hobby for years, Johan Horstmann finally reached the point of no return. He decided to turn professional and created Horstman Whiskey, deliberately spelled with the “e.” When he applied for an official distilling license, he had to discuss a minor issue with the Dutch Customs and Excise Office. They wanted taxes paid on his “hobby whisky.” Luckily, they worked it out to mutual satisfaction and the result is appreciated. The water for Horstman’s whiskey comes from a well previously used by Grolsch, a large beer brewer in the region who distributes its product worldwide in the recognizable swing-top green bottle.
6. Doesburg and Ede — Eaglesburn
Bart Joosten is a true whisky aficionado. His love for the drink was so great that he decided in 2016 to make his own whisky. He ordered a hyper modern i-Still, designed and built by a company in Woerden, near Utrecht. It is a bit of a time warp, since the equipment and the maturing whisky were housed until very recently in the cellars of the Arsenaal in Doesburg, a military fortification dating back to the middle ages. Bart is on the move to Ede, in the middle of the country. By the way, the i-Still has grown into a worldwide phenomenon. Dornoch distillery in Dornoch, Scotland is only one of many small new distilleries operating an i-Still.
7. Arcen – de IJsvogel
This little distillery, originally a small factory for roasting grains, is located on a beautiful spot in the “uiterwaarden” of the river Maas. “Uiterwaarden” are the fields from the dyke to the river. It is an old water-driven mill, which shows respect for tradition since centuries ago many a Scottish distillery would have had a water wheel to generate energy. We are now in the southern part of the Netherlands with a strong Catholic presence, noticeable by portraits on the walls of Mary and Armandus. The latter is the patron of the distillers. The production is small and modest, just like the little bird that gave the distillery its name (IJsvogel means “kingfisher”).
8. Baarle Nassau — Millstone /Zuidam
In a Dutch enclave, jutting into the northwestern Flemish-speaking part of Belgium (Vlaanderen), stands a distillery owned by the Zuidam family. They have been active distillers making liqueurs, jenever, vodka and other alcoholic beverages for more than 40 years. In 1999 the first efforts to make whisky were executed and in 2005 whisky lovers were pleasantly surprised with a five-year-old single malt, soon followed by a 100-percent rye whisky, which is very unusual for the Netherlands. Throughout the years older vintages with different maturation regimes have been launched. Rye and single malt alike have been collecting international awards almost yearly. Millstone is the showcase of the Dutch whisky industry. The company is now led by the second generation, the brothers Patrick (master distiller and CEO) and Gilbert (sales and marketing director).
9. Bruinisse — Kampen Destillateurs
Founder Meindert Kampen gave his name to a distillery in the southwest, in the province of Zeeland. This province is composed mainly of a series of barrier islands, connected by the famous Delta Works. He makes Eylandt Legend Single Malt — a smoky boy with a whiff of briny sea spray. Like most micro distillers Meindert also produces other drinks, among which seaweed vodka and a score of liqueurs. For those libations he purchases neutral alcohol and seasons it with spices. Almost everything is sourced in the province itself.
10. Hoofddorp – Gospel Spirits (Jopen)
An appropriate name, since this whisky is distilled in a small white chapel. Beer brewer Jopen, from the nearby city of Haarlem, has been making gin and rye whisky here since 2015 and labels them Gospel Spirits. The little building doubles as a pub and visitors can actually watch how the whisky is made.
11.Texel — De Lepelaar
The Scots have their whisky from Arran, Islay, Jura, Mull, Skye and the Orkneys, but the Dutch can proudly present whisky from Texel, one of the barrier islands in the north Netherlands. Joscha Schoots, a food scientist, started to make beer on his estate “De Bonte Belevenis,” loosely translated “The Colourful Experience.” It’s an ideal product if you want to make whisky, since the first steps in their production are akin to each other. Joscha enjoys an experiment and even added wood chips in a small batch of maturing whisky, but discontinued that practice. It was only a flavor trial and, in the end, he wanted to make proper whisky. He continues to experiment and even made whisky from barley dried over burning seaweed. This is a real family outing, since De Bonte Belevenis consists of various craft shops, a small petting zoo and outdoor activities for children.
The Whisky Couple
* Fryslân (Friesland) is a country within a country, with its own language officially recognized as the second speech in the Netherlands, its own parliament, its own flag, its own anthem and of course its own premier league football club, SC Heerenveen.