In our search for the next passionate Dutch distiller, we travel to the picturesque municipality of Doesburg, where medieval monastery “Het Arsenaal” has been converted to house several small businesses. Where a Grand Café, small cinema, game store, wine merchant and whisky specialist already had found their home, a micro distillery has joined inside their ranks in September 2016, our destination for the day.
In the middle of the Grand Café (which serves a great chicken liver, and has the worst spelling of every whisky menu anywhere), we find a winding staircase into the cellars, with the wine merchant on the right, and Bart Joosten’s Eaglesburn distillery on the left. The cast iron fences swing open inwards, we enter the low, arched ceilings of the distillery, and meet Bart, smiling ear to ear, welcoming us into his small domain.
Video-editor by trade, Bart has been an admirer of the better single malts for the best part of his life. During a visit to Scotland, originally for the culture, nature and not the local drinks, he decided that, as a whisky enthusiast, he had to visit at least one Scotch Whisky distillery. He went to the Balvenie (clearly his favorite distillery, showing from his private collection displayed in one of the alcoves doubling as the maturation warehouse) and… was infected with the same virus we ourselves were infected with so many years ago.
Dozens of distillery-visits later he decided to take things one step further and set up a crowdfunding campaign to start his own distillery. In the meantime, he talked with the manufacturers of iStill and decided that their smallest still wasn’t all that expensive and would not kill his entire collection of piggy banks. Several meetings with the excise man and a handful of autographs later, he could call himself a distiller – as micro as they get; in his spare time, 50 litres at a time, from the shed behind his house.
Putting together a handful of recipes for his (now) soon to come of age whisky, he also started experimenting with distilling gins and composed other liquors. It quickly became known in his city and among fellow enthusiast that he was making a quality product and before long, people got curious about how and where to purchase it. Although the iSill was small enough to fit in the shed, storage for ingredients such as neutral grain spirit and grains, fermenting vessels and empty bottles soon dominated the shed, and with a second iStill in the planning, there was no way the shed would not burst out of its joints any time soon.
Marnix Okel, friend and owner of Alba Malts, the whisky specialist already vested in the chapel of the 1309 Nunnery, pointed out the brewery had grown out of the location before they were completely settled in, and it would be perfect for Bart to join the old monastery building. Needless to say that after Bart visited the location, he was sold and moved office.
While we are still shaking Bart’s hand in front of his private collection, we can see the complete setup of the distillery. Undoubtedly bigger than his shed would have been, this place is still on the small side when it comes to distilleries, “micro” or not. The ceiling in the reception area is just high enough for us to stand straight, and in the still-room, the iStills (there is a 100 litre sister still installed) seem to have been made to fit inside the room. In the same room we also find a selection of herbs (for the gins), a bottling line and a large vat of the next gin batch, resting before it is ready to be bottled. For a room measuring about four by three metres, quite a challenge to fit the three of us in as well.
In the adjacent similar sized room we find more various storage and a handful of fermentors, bubbling away to be distilled on one of the two to three days a week that Bart is working at his distillery, as he has not quit his day job just yet. Although whisky is Bart’s passion, gin is hot, and realising that – if the quality is good it will almost sell itself, he needs to keep producing his range of gins to keep up with demand. After having looked into his Palantír, rum will most likely be 2018’s gin, and he is currently distilling and maturing rum with Dutch molasses and crystal sugar, just to be ready for next summer – incidentally the same year his first whisky will have come of age and be released to the public.
After several tries and errors, his most favoured maturation recipe now has aged the clean and tasteful single malt new make spirit in 10 litre casks for ten weeks before it was transferred into 50 litre casks. Because of the small casks, the whisky-to-be ages rapidly, and from what we have tasted from the different samples of the two-and-a-bit years old single malt, the definite bottling might just be a cracker, having picked up the right flavours from the wood, complementing the already luscious clear liquid.
Bart is off to a promising start, has a great, fitting location with loads of potential. We will be watching this distillery to see what will happen next and keep you informed about the future of his whisky and other products. Bart kindly gave us some of his gin to enjoy and review, and our notes on these can (soon) be found at WhiskyWorship and LovingWhisky.
Another distillery marked on the WhiskySpeller map of the ever expanding Dutch distilling landscape. We will keep exploring them, so all you have to do is to, keep an eye out on our social media channels to see where we will be traveling next!
Thomas & Ansgar