Henk Stuurman is starting up a micro distillery. It may well be Holland’s smallest distillery. But that is not what matters. What matters is that Henk is pursuing quality, not quantity. Who is Henk Stuurman? And what are his goals? What does he want to obtain with “Artisan Distillery Nes”? Let’s find out!
First, let me be so bald to give a first introduction. Why? Because I know Henk for a few years now. Does that make me the right person for a first introduction? Maybe not, but I will give you my impressions anyhow!
Henk is about my age and full of energy. How I know? Because we manage the Dutch homedistiller forum together. And that’s how I got to know Henk. He started the Dutch forum, I started investigating our beautiful art and found my way to the Dutch forum. That’s how we got to know each other. And since we are in contact for a few years now, we decided it was about time we met and talked. The interview below is a resume of what we talked about. And a resume only, because when distillers meet, there seems to be an instant bond and friendship.
In short: we talked about many things, but in this post I will limit myself to Henk’s plans to start up Distillery Nes. Well, I will try to limit myself to that.
Okay, here we go. Just imagine the scenery. Henk and Odin meeting in Amsterdam. In a restaurant on the water front. Henk traveled all the way from the small northern island of Ameland, where he lives. By boat over the Waddenzee and then by car through the province of Friesland, over the longest dyke we have (Afsluitdijk) and the province of Northern Holland. I just took the train.
First impressions when Henk stepped in: “Hey, this is the older/bigger brother of Captain Jack Sparrow!” More mature, less uptight & dramatic. Even though Henk was born and raised in central Amsterdam, I can’t imagine him living anywhere but on the island of Ameland. Pirate blood running through his veins? Just by the look of him, I am sure there is. Pirate blood and salty sea water mixed with rum. It almost surprised me he didn’t wear a dagger!
So he came in, we ordered some food, we exchanged formalities (but not too many), and I asked:
Odin: “Henk, how did you ever get into distilling?”
Henk: “My former father in law gave me a book a long time ago. A book with a video. “Distilled Images”. He gave it to me, because I had been brewing beer for years. It must have been somewhere around 1998. It was only after reading the book and watching the video, that I realized homedistilling is even possible. Now imagine, internet wasn’t around yet, and it was very difficult to find information on distilling, but I managed to build me some distillers. And I even taught myself how to distill. Luckily a lot has changed since then. Nowadays a lot of distilling equipment can be bought and information on distilling can be found easily. Still, my wish would be that we would be able to change Dutch legislation in such a way that, just as with wine and beer making, it would be legal to distill your own drinks.”
Odin: “When did you decide to start up your own distillery?”
Henk: “Some 5 years ago, I moved from an apartment in Amsterdam (the “Jordaan” to be more specific) to the island of Ameland. Here, I could both start working as an independent construction consultant and focus on getting my artisan distillery up and running. Because I mostly work at home, I saw the opportunity to combine my profession with my hobby of distilling. As I work at home on construction projects, I can fire up my stills and distill at the same time. By the time my wife was expecting our fourth child, we decided to move my office to the barn and build a micro distillery there at the same time.”
Odin: “Artisan Distillery Nes is now about to be launched. What were the greatest challenges during start-up? What were the biggest problems you encountered?”
Henk: “Well, one might expect the government to be the biggest challenge, but that wasn’t the case. Permits are normally a crime to get, but the island of Ameland decided to rule the size of my boilers as “hobby scale”, and made an exception. The biggest challenge was that I live on an island and not all materials for still building were available. I had to travel to the mainland often, just to find the right materials and parts. And sometimes I had to order things and that meant I had to wait for weeks before I could resume building. Another thing I underestimated, was my family situation. Working, raising four kids, being married … and starting up a microdistillery at the same time … Sometimes something had to give. I remember having to replace the kitchen one year. Now, that didn’t speed up the process of building my stills. And by the time the kitchen was done, we faced a very long and cold winter where working on the stills was hardly possible. It was just too cold to work in the barn. No distilling equipment up and running to keep me warm.”
Odin: “How was it, having to deal with the taxation office and customs department?”
Henk: “They were actually very cooperative! For sure, what you read on the internet scares you. Especially what I found on moonshining in the USA. But over here, in The Netherlands, both the taxation office and the customs department were very eager to help out. They actually seemed to like the idea of such a small distillery initiative!”
Odin: “What kind of drinks do you plan to start making, Henk?”
Henk: “Maybe not the “usual suspects”. I am aiming to make drinks that stand out from the crowd. With “artisan” at the heart of whatever I will make. In Holland most distilleries focus on Genever (Dutch Gin) and whiskey. That won’t be the road I am taking. I will start with a barrel aged rum, a spiced rum and a cranberry rum. After that, I will start producing a Genever. Not an old styler, but a young style Genever. Why? Because I want to show that this variety is underestimated. There is nobility to be found in making young Genever and I intend to do just that. And after that a UJSSM style moonshine and an espresso liqueur. Maybe a rye whiskey later. If for nothing else, because the soil on the island of Ameland is not the most fertile. And that means rye is grown all over Ameland.