Scotland: Whisky & Distilleries
Belgium, country with a very long beer making tradition, knows everything about brewing barley and changing it in quality beer since many long years now. From quality beer to quality whisky, Its a short step from making good beer to making good whisky. But nobody did it before Etienne Bouillon.
Well, this is done by now, and the first spirit ran out of the stills on 17 October 2004. This spirit don't deserve the right to call itself whisky yet, as it needs to stay for at least 3 years in wooden casks before having the right to bear the name of "Whisky". By end 2007, the first Belgian Whisky will be born.
The production of spirit in Belgium is strictly ruled by a severe excise law. A permanent control from the excise administration requires from the distiller to be able to show its distillery at any time by day or by night, within a prescribed time of 10 minutes. No room left for fraud...
The distillation process can only be made in presence of a representative of the Custom and Excise administration, and the production material is under seal the rest of the time. The picture on the left shows a seal at the output of the wash still.
But all this legal hassles do not discourage the master distiller, who is also the owner of the distillery, the administrative manager, the sales manager, and the worker.... In short, Etienne Bouillon is the only employee of the distillery, which is really a one man run business. A kind of adventure born from the passion of one man.
The quality of a good whisky depends on several factors. Chronologically in the making process, the first important ingredient is the barley used in the malting.
The philosophy of the distiller is that a Belgian whisky must be made with local barley, and its traceability is important. The spring barley used grows a few kilometres further.
The malting is outsourced at a local malting too. Belgium being a great beer producer, quality maltings are not hard to find. The chosen malting, working within the frame of specifications decided by Etienne Bouillon, is also settled a few miles away from the distillery.
Water is underground water, taken at a depth of about 40 meters.
is not yet made at the distillery, and the operation is for the time
being outsourced to a local brewery, according to the distillery's specifications.
The first step which actually happens at the distillery itself is the fermentation .
The equipment is quite different from the huge washbacks Scottish distilleries use for this process, but the principle is exactly the same. The addition of yeast to the wort produces a chemical process which changes sugar in alcohol.
Pictures: wash backs.
fermentation, the first distillation happens under close control of the
Customs and Excise administration.
The stills are quite different from the huge stills used in Scotland, but the process remains the same.
The capacity of both stills (wash still and spirit still) is approximately 500 litres . The stills date back to the 19th century and one of them was an strolling home distiller's still.
The picture hereafter represents the serpentine used for cooling of
the spirit from the wash still.
distillation, the spirit is transferred in food friendly plastic
containers before its transfer in the wooden casks for aging.
The casks are stored under close control of the excise administration, and nobody has the right to enter the warehouses without the presence of an excise agent .
First fill bourbon casks are used, just like e.g. the Glenfiddich distillery.
For the time being (2005), the first casks are in the warehouse for aging and the first official whisky will be available by end of 2007.
One of the things learned at Bruichladdich concerning the aging is that temperature variations in the warehouse are beneficial. A warehouse which is warm in the summer and cold in the winter is the ideal warehouse. This because of the action of temperature on the wood, expanding by warmth and shrinking by cold, having an influence on the porosity of the wood, and on the influence of wood on the spirit.
Etienne Bouillon knows everything about distillation since many years. His career did not start with whisky distillation. However, in order to be able to produce good stuff, he followed the Bruichladdich academy where Jim MacEwan transmitted him a part of his great knowledge. Jim is the master distiller at Bruichladdich, but has worked for years at Bowmore, and is a very well known character on Islay.
Etienne Bouillon has lots of ideas for the marketing of his whisky. His passion for distillation brings him to taste and nose his spirit along the maturation process, from the first make spirit to the final product. One of the ideas is to market a limited number of bottles at each stage of maturation. This means that I intends to market some bottles after one year of aging, after 2 years, and so on. The idea is that whisky lovers can make their own opinion about the evolution of the taste of the whisky during its whole aging period. He intends to market vintage whiskies as well, indicating the distillation year on the bottles.
He does not intend to market single casks, but like most distilleries, make small batches available. However, there will be some exceptions. I acquired an exceptional Glenfarclas 1968 (sherry oloroso butt) he will use to age a part of its production. This will be an original thing, as reuse of Speyside casks by other distilleries is not really common.
Despite the quality of his production and his many marketing ideas, Etienne Bouillon remains modest. "First learn walking, before running". His whisky is intended to be marketed as a young spirit, and the distillery does not foresee marketing old vintage, but who knows... The time will be the best judge of the quality of the whisky after aging.
For the moment, the only product to be marketed is a reduced "New make spirit" at 40%, which is not yet whisky, but which gives a good idea of what the production will be after ageing in a wooden cask for several years.
In order to find some customers to buy this (because it is nice to earn some money in this business where the ripening of the spirit takes at least 3 years), this spirit (as it comes out of the still) has been coloured with caramel, like many whiskies on the market. It is rather difficult to sell "white" whisky from an unknown distillery....
The whisky will not be coloured in the future, when it will have been aged for a while in oak casks.
Whisky is an alcoholic drink. Let's prefer quality to quantity as the abuse of alcohol beverages can damage the health. Consuming alcoholic drinks during pregnancy, even in small quantities, can seriously affect the health of the child. Consumption of alcohol impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems.
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