This time of the year is in the Netherlands known as the time to enjoy the Queen of the Vegetables, the White Gold, the Asparagus. With family living in the province of North Brabant, where a large amount of the country’s asparagus are grown, we travelled towards them for a nice dinner with the traditional ham, eggs, new potatoes and gravy solely made of molten butter. Calories a-gogo, but hey, so are most things that taste good. So, will this be another article where food is paired with whisky? No. In fact, there isn’t even any whisky involved…
A couple of weeks earlier, with our first asparagus-dinner-date when we just came back from Scotland, we were shown an article in an asparagus magazine (yes, shockingly, there is such a thing). This article showed us a family business growing apples and pears with a small farm shop on the side. Nothing really strange with a farmland filled area with fresh eggs-dispensers at the side of the road, mushrooms growing from the trees, paprikas and tomatoes around every next corner and asparagus everywhere you stick your fingers in the mud. A very laid-back attitude, old town centres with rich histories, bakeries where the baker actually makes his own bread from the flower the miller milled for him this morning, where the butcher butchered his neighbour’s cow (with permission) and went for some coffee, because well, they are neighbours, and they actually know each other. Aah… home. Not unlike some areas in Scotland, but then with vegetables instead of whisky. But, without wandering off too much, the van Welie family in Stevensbeek, where we just started with, has purchased a still to make their own booze.
No. They have not started with the umptieth gin, genever or whisky distillery, they decided to stay close to home. Growing ten hectares of apples and pears – roughly divided 80/20, they decided to extend their family business with something different. Instead of making syrup or applesauce from their overproduction or lesser pretty fruit, they now distil it.
Around 1100 kilos of dented but otherwise fresh and good product is mashed into large fermenting vessels with about 100 grams of fruit-yeast and bubbles away for 20-25 days, producing a cider like liquid. Hereafter, the 1000 litres of low alcohol is transferred into the pot and column stills which work together to create around 25-30 litres of around 85% alcohol. Water it down to 40%, add sugar to create a liqueur or without sugar for a clear Eau de Vie and presto – the Leon #2 and #3 have been created.
Leon is the name of the twenty-two year old son and distiller of the family, who wanted to grow into the company after he finished school. Father Theo was looking at expanding, had sniffed at some stills at a trade-fair in Germany some time ago and introduced Leon to the idea.
Keen after the plan, Leon went to the South of Germany to train for some months at a distillery distilling fruit and grains, and with a grant from the province, they purchased their setup and started experimenting with several batches of fruit from the beginning of this year. After some hits and misses, they were confident to start official production in May and bottle their product. Liqueur and Eau de Vie from their own land, pure and honest. More local than this is very hard to get…
Quite the different distillate we are used to, or normally would look into. By sheer accident we were pointed towards this enthusiastic youngling who is at the right place at the right time. He is doing something rather unique in the Netherlands – as far as we now know, at a large enough scale to be taken serious. Some of his products are maturing in wood, and at a not so distant point in the future, we shall return to the farm for another peek into what is happening at the distillery and have (another) sip of the promising maturing stock.
The asparagus season is almost over, but with or without a plate or two of the White Gold, we do not need to find a reason to go back and enjoy the next vanLeon product. Life is good, enjoy every moment.
Thomas & Ansgar