The Dutch Master: a Profile of Patrick van Zuidam

02 October, 2013
Patrick van Zuidam

He was threatened over using the name by a festival organiser so had to go back to his computer. Late on a Friday just before the whisky was launched, he came up with Millstone. Not the most exciting, some would say. He did not want “corny images like tulips”, but the grain for the whisky had been milled in traditional Dutch windmills in exchange for a few bottles of Zuidam genever. A nice bit of modern day bartering.

“The story is as important as the product,” says Van Zuidam. “Bourbon was close to death as genever is today but it has shifted and become hip again. The product has not changed. Genever is good with Coke and makes a good Old Fashioned or Manhattan. The one thing it isn’t good with is tonic.

“Five years ago I thought things would slow down but it hasn’t, hence being out of five-year-old genever for seven months. That is an important product for us. For whisky it is even worse. Sales are doubling every year. We have to produce a lot more in order to age it,” says van Zuidam.

Ageing for people means wrinkles, grey hair and sagging muscles. Ageing alcohol means wood and barrels. Again Van Zuidam doesn’t buy any old bunch of staves, let alone pellets or planks. He specifies virgin US oak, 24 months’ air dried with a level three or four char or toasting. 

He also buys Spanish Olorosso and PX (Pedro Ximinez) barrels. These are not barrels that are just used for finishing and then the sherry is thrown away. No, Van Zuidam’s are ‘proper’ sherry barrels that cost between E600 and E700 each. They are 600-700-litre butts that are dismantled by Zuidam’s Spanish cooper, who then reassembles them as 250-litre casks. 

Walking round the facility, he even has about half a dozen women hand-labelling whisky and genever bottles.

Distillery alchemy

Around the walls are huge demijohns of fruits, herbs and spices. Merlin the magician would be happy here. Cork stoppers smelling of mint, cardamom and strawberries are thrust under one’s nose to prove that Zuidam’s liqueurs are made from recognisably whole fruit, herbs or whatever.

One of Patrick van Zuidam’s pride and joys is his 100% rye whisky, made from 50/50 malted and unmalted rye. A delivery of rye grain arrived during the visit. I smelt the rye in the fermentation tanks.

Van Zuidam reckons he works about 70 hours a week and travels several times a month, mostly around Europe.  In what spare time he has left, he has horses and once did dressage. He also has a large dog which comes to work with him. Joshua is a Weimaraner, described as an ‘all-purpose gun dog’. The name comes from the Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, Karl August, whose court, based in the city of Weimar (now in modern day Germany), enjoyed hunting.

Asked if he likes hunting, Van Zuidam responds: “Hunting is frowned upon in Holland” – there’s that wistfulness again. After a pause he says emphatically: “The dog hunts.” That wasn’t answering the question and you get a feeling that he might if he could.

Good Will Hunting is a film about an ordinary guy who has a gift for mathematics. Van Zuidam has a gift. He is a perceptive judge both of people and alcoholic drinks, as witnessed as an ISC chairman of judges and managing director of the family business. 

The hunting and horses have to make do with second best in priorites – if ever there was such a thing in the Van Zuidam psyche.

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