12/01/2023 A good distiller combines science, facts, knowledge, talent, and a great palate into a craft and produces spirits that make your customer fall silent.
Tell us a little about your background and journey into distilling
I started out as a lover of single-malt whisky. Together with my sister we started an online bookshop with books about whisky and other spirits and were present at all the major whisky festivals in The Netherlands and Belgium. Selling more than 80 titles on whisky also meant reading 80 titles on whisky, so I became quite knowledgeable about this particular spirit. My friends at WhiskyWijzer invited me to help out with promoting whisky's and from there the journey continued. I was invited to work with the Rutte Distillery in Dordrecht, The Netherlands where I was introduced to the wonderful flavours of gin and genever. After finishing the Liquorist Education I was asked to become a teacher in their courses. After that, I went on to the iStill University in The Netherlands, where I was vigorously trained in all aspects of distilling. I joined iStill as the course leader for the Certified Distillers Course and Master Distillers Course and then also took over Recipe Development. From iStill, we set upon the Loki Distillery, solely dedicated to contract distilling with unparalleled quality and reproducibility.
Image: Sebastiaan Smits;Source: Twitter
Your current role and what does your day look like?
I'm the Master Distiller at Loki, overseeing production there. Most of the day is filled with talking to customers about their wishes and of course all the paperwork that comes with shipping duty goods all over the world. On other days I am working at the iStill Laboratory to develop new recipes for customers. And six weeks a year are fully dedicated to teaching new distillers at iStill University.
What inspired you to become a distiller?
Taste, taste, and then taste! I just love the way you can develop all these wonderful flavours with distilling. There are so many great scents and flavours in a well-developed spirit. Taking a sip from a great whisky, grappa or brandy brings back memories and stops time for a few seconds.
What are some of the most essential skills for a distiller?
As a distiller, you need to have a thirst for knowledge and really know all the steps of the process through and through. It's not enough to just follow a recipe, even if that recipe has worked for hundreds of years. You need to know why it works, what it does, and wherein the process flavours are created, harvested, and changed. Also, you need to have a great palate and a good nose. Luckily for us, that means a lot of studying, whereas other people might call it drinking.
Image: Sebastiaan Smits
How do you think a distiller can help in driving marketing and sales personally?
It's your product, it's your story. As a distiller, you need to tell that story through all aspects of your business. Marketing is useless if it doesn't reflect the journey and the story of the people who made it. I always teach new distillers to stick to their plan: you had an initial goal, an initial dream. Hold on to that dream and make it come through. Because firstly that means you will put all your effort, talent, and energy into it, and secondly whenever you really like something there's a very high chance other people around the world will like it as well. We're not that different from each other.
Define a good distiller
A good distiller combines science, facts, knowledge, talent, and a great palate into a craft and produces spirits that make your customer fall silent
What is the hardest part of a distiller's job?
All the paperwork
What's your elevator pitch to a bartender when pitching your brand
We produce a whole range of different spirits for different brands, but when it comes to contract distilling I would say: we can make anything you like: a blanc canvas vodka, a gin you'll remember for the rest of your life, a liqueur packed with flavour or a whisky you will take home instead of putting on your bar. And we'll promise the same consistent quality with every batch.
What are the current challenges the spirits industry is facing according to you?
The biggest challenges the spirits industry is facing at the moment are of course the energy crisis and the lack of knowledge about distilling. We need to work more sustainably, we need to save on energy costs. And we need to ask ourselves if it's still right to ship bottles all around the world, where we could look at producing locally. Also, craft distilling isn't making as big an impact as craft brewing, where we are basically doing the same thing: putting the craft back into the process, instead of bulk production. Craft distillers need to come together and share their passion.
Image: Sebastiaan Smits; Source: Twitter
What skill or topic you are learning currently and why?
I am currently doing more research into fruit brandy, like palinka, poire williams, slivovitz, etc. I am very fond of these spirits myself and there are only a few distillers around the world who have an amazing quality. Fruits are sometimes hard to work with, but as with all drinks we produce, we want to be the best at it.
What is your idea of a good life?
A good life is filled with health, wealth, abundance, and prosperity.
Which is your go-to drink and what is the perfect setting you enjoy it in?
What a tricky question, as every setting needs a different drink for me. But this time I'll go for a well-aged grappa after a great meal.
What are your favourite 2-3 distilling or spirits books?
Whisky Classified by David Wishart and Thirty-three questions on taste-rich distilling by Odin van Eijk. Both have a great scientific approach to distilling and tasting.
Header Image: Sebastiaan Smits; Source: Loki Distillery
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