Belgium, like its neighbor Germany, is famous for brewing some of the world’s best beers. In recent years, however, some Belgians are going in a different direction—distilling. In fact, according Belgian Femke van der Vorst, some breweries are shifting to distilling, making whiskeys specifically.
It’s not like these breweries are losing money, it’s about showcasing quality Belgian ingredients like barley. The Western European country also wants to prove that it can make whiskeys, too.
Femke works as the sales manager of Belgian Owl, a Belgian whiskey brand that was founded by Etienne Bouillon in 2004. She recently visited the country to introduce the single malt whiskey to local connoisseurs. They are also expanding their reach with plans of bringing the spirit to China and Japan.
Belgian Owl’s distillery is located in Hesbaye, eastern Belgium. They grow their own barley and uses 1898 Caperdonich stills from Scotland. What’s unique about the brand is it is one of only a few distilleries that sells its non-aged single malt or the spirit before it becomes proper whiskey.
“There are a few distilleries that sell new made spirit but it’s very rare. We grow our barley ourselves. During tour at distilleries, the guides usually talk about the new made spirit, that it is very harsh and it’s something that you would drink. But, why not? That drink is something we love to drink because it’s a high quality product. You can only bottle this product if you conduct your whiskey making process in a very, very precise process. This is our pride, although it’s not even a whiskey,” Femke explains.
The brand is currently being imported by Les Deux Belges, a local company owned by two Belgians who aim to bring in quality Belgian drinks here like beer and now whiskey.
“For the moment, we have 300 bottles (of Belgian Owl) available locally. We plan to import thousands of bottles in the future. The whiskey’s quality is extremely good that’s why it’s not a whiskey that we want to sell at the supermarket, we would love to see it at high end bars. What we do is we import quality over quantity,” says Les Deux Berges president Gregory Tutt.
During a special night at Impressions, Resorts World Manila, Femke and Gregory introduced Filipinos to Belgian owl by pairing the spirit with chef Cyrille Soenen‘s delicious food.
According to Femke, the non-aged spirit with 46 percent alcohol volume, is perfect for cocktails and can also be consumed neat. The brand’s three-year-old artisinal whiskey, on the other hand, was aged in bourbon casks. It has fruity notes as well as spice like ginger and finishes smoothly.
They also served The Private Angels Limited Edition, a three-year-old whiskey with a higher 70.3 percent alcohol volume. It’s very strong on the nose and very spicy with hints of chocolate. Mixing the spirit with drops of water is recommended for this variant but it depends on who is drinking.
For the brand, while aging is important, it’s pride is on its non-aged spirit drink because you can’t have good whiskey if you don’t produce a quality spirit drink.
“We are very proud of this product (Spirit Drink), this is where it all starts. This is our pride. Anyway, aging is not that difficult, but the art of whiskey making is not in the aging, it is about making this spirit. The flavor coming from the wood is useless if the distilling is not done right. You can age it whenever you want you will never have a high quality product,” Femke ends.
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