Whats cooking…?


Almost two years ago we made our first quick visit to Zuidam Distillers in Baarle Nassau, in the south of the Netherlands. Plans to go back to them were made a while ago already, and we were looking forward to seeing the place again with their new stills added to the distillery and other changes they have been going through recently.

Because the place is crammed beyond every reasonable square centimeter, we received the news the family have purchased a second site nearby to build a larger distillery and more warehousing, that they badly need.

It makes our proud Dutch hart beat a little faster to see this growth in this Dutch distillery, that is more and more getting the appreciation they deserve around the globe. Craft, passion and attention to details show from their products, and with every chance we get, we tell anyone who want to hear about their line of products.

Their growing collection with besides whisky also contains genever, malt wine, liqueurs and rums is also more and more present on the several festivals we visit and with every new and upcoming brand from around the globe, it is very nice to see that a (still) small, family owned distillery like Zuidam is getting highly valued for the products they are marketing.

The same-ish group of friends as went with us on the trip to Speyside in October, drove from different locations in the Netherlands to Baarle Nassau where we all went in to meet master distiller Patrick. After some good coffee he showed us around the distillery, warehouse and bottling line, explaining the details of their distilling to us, and what the differences are between the creation of their products. Showing us the new stills and other added equipment, he told us it is just a shiny still doing its stuff, and the quality of the ingredients and the science before it goes in the still is more important to make the result they are looking for. However, looking at the shiny new beautiful setup and the twinkle in his eyes, we know he is proud with the new additions, the result that comes from the stills and the products that are ready to sell.

Proud owner of a new piece of land too, were demolishing of an old farmhouse has only recently started. On this land, there are plans to build a underground warehouse and a stillhouse that can hold up to ten stills in order to increase production capacity from the two (new whisky) stills they are operating now. Their current warehouse is full at the moment, so they are in desperate need of the new place. From the drawings we have seen, the plans and layout looks very promising. Standing there in the middle of the open fields, him pointing out the lines of the property, and where the stillhouse, warehousing and other parts are going to be, you can clearly see the passion and joy in the way he talks about everything. Some great adventures are once more underway for Zuidam Distillers. We are already looking forward to have a look at the new site when it is finished, and will most definitely visit them again and tell you all about them.

After a great couple of hours spend at both sites of Zuidam Distillers we went for some good lunch in the town of Baarle Nassau. It is a strange town with lines running through it marking the borders of Belgium and the Netherlands crossing through streets, shops and what more. It was a great time, spent well with good friends and quality Dutch Spirits.

So. We already know the distillery makes a great product, and we now have seen first hand how these products come to life and we all have a good understanding about how a single cask bottling of a whisky (let us concentrate on whisky, and not wander off into the world of the other great Dutch Spirits for sake of the blog), but can we imagine how a whisky is created from different cask-types, ages and spirit quality? We thought we had a good idea; the Master-blender gets a line of samples, drawn from different casks, smells and tastes them and mixes them together following to a certain recipe.

Easy enough, right? Wrong.

We had already had a go at blending spirits and flavours in a workshop from another Dutch Spirit distiller (more on that in another post), but at the Whisky Festival Noord Nederland (WFNN), we could try our “skills” at blending Zuidam whiskies in a masterclass, led by Martine Nouet. Especially for this event’s tenth anniversary, Patrick had arranged that Martine had five different cask samples to use in the masterclass that were pulled from the Zuidam warehouse.

She talked us through the process of blending, age statements and the creation of whisky. Being a food and whisky journalist she knows all about keeping the balance and how difficult it can be in keeping them in the right combination, how maturation and cask types can influence the whisky and the art of keeping a constant basic line product on the market that always is the same.

We first explored the glasses poured for us by just nosing and deciding on that what to put together. Then it was deciding how to build it all up in graduated cylinders. The cylinders were deliberately kept to half the size we needed, so we could find out if the first mixture worked, and make changes if needed.

Obviously, the PX ex-Sherry casks were quite heavy, and most people in our class stayed clear from those, or used very little of them and decided to use the French or American Virgin Oak as a sturdy base for their concoction. From that base, most added a safe amount of ex-Sherry to give a little (more) character. Also, because of the cask strength samples, a little water could help a lot with taming the blend, where necessary.

In the 200 ml sample we got to take home with us we put the combinations below, and we are not at all confident they worked out as we had hoped, but it was a good introduction for us towards the blending and marrying process and the difficult art that it is.

PX Sherry
#2648 – 250 liter cask – 52% – distilled 1998
PX Sherry
#4121 – 250 liter cask – 52% – distilled 2008
Oloroso Sherry
#2647 – 250 liter cask – 54% – distilled 1998
American Oak
#1878 – 250 liter cask – 58% – distilled 2005
French Oak
#356   – 250 liter cask – 58% – distilled 2008
Water added

Martine told us that with blending it is just like cooking, you can learn to find and combine the right notes by training your nose and palate, and when you are experienced with what goes together well, you start cooking and experimenting until you get it right, mastering your recipe. A little bit too much (or too little) of one ingredient or the other can result in a different dish or, different marriage.

Our respect for blenders around the world has grown, and from the kitchen of Zuidam, where we have seen some nice single cask releases, combinations that have been married together in perfect harmony and some products like their Ménage a Trois and their 5 Grain whisky that have been created in the mashbill, where it is even more difficult to know what the end result will be, and we are sure we can expect more from them in the future when Patrick’s new “kitchen” is up and running. We will have to wait and see, meanwhile; watch this space.

You can find more pictures of our visit on our Facebook page


Copyright notice: Photos by WhiskySpeller

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