The Dutch Master: a Profile of Patrick van Zuidam

02 October, 2013
Patrick van Zuidam

“I was going to help them for a couple of years then get a ‘real job’.” 

At that stage the big challenge for Van Zuidam was jenever or genever, the traditional Netherlands spirit which was the forerunner to gin. Van Zuidam summed up the situation as a “race to the bottom”. Pressure from retailers for cheaper and cheaper products and more profitable price promotions, resulted in distillers having to lower their standards – and the quality of the genever – to make a living out of supplying this demand.

His father had concentrated on liqueurs but, as Van Zuidam succinctly puts it: “People buy a bottle of liqueur and you go back six months or a year later and they still have half a bottle left. Whereas with whisky, gin or genever, someone is more likely to finish a bottle in a week or a month.”

Zuidam sells approximately 250,000 bottles of genever a year and Van Zuidam is trying to cope with 21% annual growth. Because he makes it from scratch he ran out of his five-year-old and was out of stock for seven months. Hence the new warehouse which is already nearly full with 3,500 barrels and the new wash back, mash tun and stills.

Pervading secrecy

Van Zuidam is critical of and cynical about the pervading secrecy that has affected – and arguably held back – the Netherlands drinks industry. “In the old days, my father would not visit a colleague but these days young distillers are talking things over with others. It is totally different and it is like a light shining. “We have no ‘secret recipes’, no hidden ingredients or locked rooms. We are open and honest about our products. People can look at everything and (our customers) find that refreshing.” 

As chairman of judges on the International Spirits Challenge liqueurs panel and a member of the rum panel, it is something Van Zuidam feels strongly about. The quality of some of the products, or more specifically the quality of ingredients used, their suitability and compatibility and the acumen of the blending, leaves a lot to be desired, to put it mildly.

Sometimes during the tasting and subsequent discussion, Van Zuidam rails against what they are tasting. Nevertheless, he is nothing if not realistic and pragmatic. “The average quality of whisky is much higher. Liqueurs aren’t the easiest,” he says. “But just because it is a crappy product does not mean it will not sell,” he states resignedly.

Touching on the increasingly contentious subject of dwindling stock for long-term ageing, particularly in Scotch and Cognac, due to increasing demand, mainly from Asia, he says: “No age statement does not mean: no good. But we have been led to believe that ‘older is better’.” He smiles and cites William Grant’s The Balvenie 1401 Tun Batch whatever as a superb single malt Scotch which has no age statement.

Van Zuidam’s own Millstone whisky has won plaudits from the great and the good among aficionados. There is a nice back story to the name. Apparently, Van Zuidam wanted to call it Lowlands as the Netherlands used to be known in English as the ‘low countries’. 

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