An interview with Henk Stuurman, owner and Master Distiller at the Nes Craft Distillery on the magnificent island of Ameland, promotor of the craft distilling movement in the Low Countries, as well as organizer of the first Low Countries Craft Distilling Convention on November 7th 2015.
Henk, what do you do?
As a civil engineer I work for the civil service on the island I live on. I also run a micro distillery. My goal is to create (and sell!) a range of unique products.
For instance, I produce a UJSSM style moonshine (for lack of a better name), made with rye that’s grown (and milled) on Ameland. The rye provides the fermentation with taste and nutrients, while sugar is added for additional ABV. By consequently using fresh backset to start up a new ferments, I get great taste transfer over the generations. The rye moonshine is sold white as well as aged on wood and Wakame seaweed.
As a big time genever fan, off course, I also make a young style genever. And currently I am working on a liqueur that’s slightly lower in ABV. Working with herbs is great fun, Odin, and I hope to be able to ship you a first bottle in November this year!
How did you get in touch with distillng?
A long time ago, I started making beer on a hobby scale. I also ventured into wine and liqueur making, inspired by the books of Jan van Schaik. But when I saw the video “Stoken in Beeld”, made by Professor Brouwer, I was hooked, and started building my first potstill.
Next thing I did, was to create extra space next to my house, apply for legal certification, and the fun of developing new recipes began.
Henk, you also started the Dutch forum on distilling. What was your goal?
When I started out, I made many mistakes, simply because there was not enough valid information around. There were some Yahoo groups, where distillers shared information, both in the United States and in the Netherlands, but these worked via email exchanges. When the Dutch Yahoo group stopped, I took the initiative to start a forum. Its goal? To give distillers a place where they can share their information and experiences, where they can teach what they learned, and learn from others as well. Your own help on that matter has been exemplary, Odin, and helped to further professionalize the forum. Given that the Netherlands is a small country, the forum won’t ever be the biggest. But it is innovative, and when I see other forums pick up on some of the innovations we create, that makes me feel proud.
How about the Low Countries Craft Distilling Convention, Henk?
The craft beer and craft distilling movements first picked up pace in the USA. Right now, I see that craft beer is picking up in the Low Countries as well. And at a tremendous speed. Craft distilling is following close behind. I am very happy with that, because the number of craft distilled, high shelf products increases.
One thing I noticed, though, is that these new distilleries aren’t in touch with one another. At least not in real life And that’s ashame. The goal of the Convention is to up the level of craft distilling in the Low Countries, and to create opportunities to produce and sell craft made products more widely.
What is, in your opinion, the current state of Dutch craft distilling?
The quality of artisan produced spirits is great. Marketing can be much better. The current focus of craft distillers is very local, and should shift to regional and national for the industry to become viable in the long term.
I also notice a strong specialization towards whisy making. Every new distillery somehow wants to release a whisky. On the one hand, I am affraid the market for whisky will be saturated. On the other hand … there are so many products, like rum, genever, and grain brandies, that are part of the Dutch heritage. Why look abroad, when there’s so many great drinks and recipes available locally? Innovation and differentiation are the keys to professionalizing Dutch craft distilling.
Henk, can you already tell us more on the program for the Convention on November 7th?
That’s a good question, Odin! Of course, the convention serves as a place where distillers meet, exchange ideas, and network. Maybe even form alliances or co-operations. But there’s more. I asked a few companies to tell about their specializations. A company like Alcotec will tell and teach about yeast strains, yeast usage, and yeast management. The Swaen Malts will talk about malting. The do’s and don’ts, the role high end malts can play in whiskey and beer making. Van der Kooy Jubbega will be present. They represent Speidel and will bring a Braumeister (for automated beer making) with them. I expect Willem Eder to show up with his great barrels. And iStill will come with distilling equipment. They will probably give a lecture on distilling. I myself will give a speech addressing the legalizsation procedures and on how to co-operate with the taxation offices.
Networking and sharing information … but we also just want to have a great day together. Lunch, dinner, and a few artisan drinks after that!
Picture of Ameland …
And a picture of Henk …