The last couple of months we have been busy filling our days with work, trying (and failing) to avoid the flu epidemic(s), study, look for a new job, read, assess and review books (which feels close to studying), taste liquors and make notes on them, setup and create pictures, visit families who, apparently, need attention too. In between all this, due to the lack of one of our jobs and therefore, one of our incomes, we dearly missed the fun of visiting all the local festivals we had liked to, and were missing the joy of the pre-planning, scheduling and re-scheduling our trip to, and activities around the Spirit of Speyside and Feis Ile festivals in Scotland this year.
No time for sobbing, although realisation kicked in when the end of our catalog of articles from last year’s trip started to become visible and we saw the Spirit of Speyside Festival #dram17 events taking off these last couple of days. Still, the sun came out feeding us and our little patch of vegetable garden with enough energy to stop the downwards going spiral and put it in reverse. We decided to plan and explore the many distilleries around us and uncover the hidden places in our own little country this summer, when a Grandmother’s face appeared in the sky – help was needed in Deventer…
You may remember that we visited the Wagging Finger distillery last year, where Erik Molenaar, known from Kintra, a Dutch independent bottler of fine whisky, had just started his distillery in a temporary location and started distilling gin. Literally the day before we drove onto the boat from IJmuiden to Newcastle, we had taken a look at the distillery, snapped some pictures, wrote a little something about it, set up our photo studio and fabricated a handful of product photos for Erik to use for his marketing campaign. We then packed the bottle to come with us to Scotland where we shared it with whomever wanted to try. Good times…
Anyway, back to present tidings, the Bat Willemijn-signal. We looked at the request for help in front of us, decided rather quickly we wanted and were available to help and before long (well, two days later), we found ourselves in our car, driving to the Hanseatic city of Deventer, to get filthy to the bone by emptying beer kegs into the 150 litre still “Willemijn” and have her distill the 140-ish litre beer into a six-ish litre beer distillate. Perfect. Exactly what the doctor ordered.
Upon our arrival, Erik was already spraying kegs of beer into Willemijn. Spraying, because the 20 litres “keykegs” he received from his client are pressurised with 3.5 bar, and emptying these kegs can only be done with a combination of straight jets of beer, thick layers of foam and the necessary amount of sloppy mess when you want to empty seven kegs into the still. The math works out (seven times 20 is 140 litres, and Willemijn can hold 150), but the high pressure created a layer of froth as if it were created by a six year old bartender trying to pour a glass of beer at a party for the first time. Ergo; there was some spillage we needed to get rid of before we could fire up Willemijn.
All in all, in between the five batches we emptied 33 kegs, resulting in a fair amount of spirit of around 75-80%. During the day, we filled the still, reheated her four times, cleaned up after ourselves in between the sessions, discarded the heads and tails of the runs in their appropriate locations, made note of the volumes and their alcoholic strengths of the different runs for the taxman, got rid of dealcoholized beer and, after cleaning up again, started at the beginning once more.
Instead of looking at Willemijn doing her work, drink coffee and eat a stroopwafel while waiting, we decided to pump two batches of different gins (one aged, one unaged) through the small barrier filter and bottle them for a client’s special order. The distillery takes orders for small batches of gin, made to the client’s’ wishes, but based on (and slightly different from) Erik’s award winning recipe. Another routine job of cleaning the pump and filter, rinsing and drying the bottles, filling them one by one in the manu-mated filling line, corking and counting the bottles, and making sure the administration is in order, again, for the taxman to collect his percentage.
This was just one day of us having a peek into what Erik normally does on a day at the distillery. Erik had started the day before seven, and when we arrived at the distillery at eight thirty-ish, he was already starting the second beer batch. The Wagging Finger distillery is still a (mostly) one man operation, where, with the occasional borrowed hands, most of the work is done by Erik himself. Not only the distilling and filling of the gin bottles, also the planning of the future distillery where he will finally (his words, not ours) will be able to make his own brew and distill his first whisky. Next to all the promotional work for his gins and Kintra whiskies, he also launched a successful line of rums during these last months, where most are already sold out before they reach the shops.
This is a clear sign of recognition of quality from the customers buying the Kintra bottlings in the last years, where he only buys and bottles whisky he himself is enthusiastic about. If there are samples available where he is not entirely satisfied about, he simply will not purchase the casks. If that means his current lineup has only so many bottles, than that is what he takes for granted, rather than having a large range of average bottlings and risk unsatisfied customers. This reflects in his nose for quality in gins, where instead of experimenting with strange recipes and (too) exotic fruits, vegetables and spices, he went for a high quality gin, sticking to a traditional recipe, made to conquer a corner of the gin market and stay there in the future.
The hard work with both Kintra and the Wagging Finger distillery resulted in displaying and selling his gin around the world and winning his first award, which must only give the man enough confidence about his quality product and a good feeling about the company’s future in the drinks business. We were already glad to help him out with his product photography from time to time, and having the chance to work along Erik in the distillery for a day, gave us a clear insight of the rest of company, and confirmed to us that Erik and Willemijn are here to stay.
Once the distillery has relocated to its definite location, we are sure Willemijn’s bigger sisters (or brothers) will extend the portfolio with even more quality products, on a larger scale, but made with the same traditional progressive philosophy. The current experiments with malt wine and jenever already smell promising, but the small sample we were allowed to sniff (great nose, that!), was labelled as a ‘failure’, underlining the prime directive in the search for quality.
Have faith, more is coming.
Thomas & Ansgar