donderdag 15 september 2022

Spirits from the garden of Eden

A couple of weeks ago, while attending our local spirits festival, I got in touch with Jeroen Aerts, owner and master distiller at “Het Aerts Paradijs” (which translates more or less as “Garden of Eden”). After the festival, I made an appointment to visit the distillery, a less-than-7-minutes-drive from my office. 

In 2014 Jos Aerts (Jeroen’s father) started a small craft beer brewery in a refurbished stable, located in the back of his (huge!) garden. Jeroen was helping out with the brewing, but as he was more interested in the distilling process, he finished a distilling course at Syntra PXL

In 2019 the brewery had grown to the limits that Jeroen’s father, who still had another day job, could handle. That’s when he handed the brewery over to Jeroen, who decided to manage the brewery full-time. One of the first things he did, was adding a spirit still next to the beer brewing equipment. Today they produce and sell apple juice, several craft beers and a small range of spirits.

His very first distilled product was “Appelstook”, which is a young Calvados-style brandy, produced with a variety of apples from their orchards. This brandy is still very young. You get all the sours and fresh fruitiness of the apples, but in my opinion, the sweeter notes still need more time to develop. 

They also added two gins to their portfolio. They started with “Gloria”, a winter-style gin with apple, cinnamon, orange and star anise. New in the range is “Eden”, a summer-style gin with elderflower, lemon zest and lemon verbena.

The most interesting product in his warehouse… a barrel of whisky, distilled in April of this year. On the mash bill, a mix of light-peated and unpeated barley. This product is still ageing, we’re not allowed to call it "whisky" just yet. But I managed to get a sip from the ex-bourbon barrel and … wow, what a taste explosion. I’m very curious to taste this again when it’s fully matured. I sipped the new make spirit at cask strength (63%), but even the higher level of alcohol couldn’t mask the intense bouquet of flavours. Jeroen is certainly on the right track with this spirit. 

Jeroen’s ambition is to uplift his “Appelstook” into a commercially interesting product, and he is also keen to experiment with more varieties of whisky. In the next weeks, more barrels will be added to the warehouse. 

In the warehouse, I also detected a barrel with distilled beer from another local brewery (Koolputter). Because of COVID19-lockdowns, this was a barrel with outdated beer. Instead of just throwing it away, Jeroen decided to distil it and let the spirit age in a barrel. Is it any good? Still to be discovered in the future… 

Also very interesting: In collaboration with Beau Marais Winery, they will soon start producing a local Marc/Grappa. 

Lots of ambition in this former pig stable. I’m really curious to see where this leads in 5 or 10 years. This summer they organized a pop-up bar in the orchard, something they will probably repeat next year. Their products are always available at the brewery and in several local shops.

Disclaimer: All pictures and texts are copyrighted by Geert Conard and Esito Management & Communications unless stated otherwise in the article. While some items might have been gifted by the producer or distributor, these are in no way paid promotions or recommendations.

dinsdag 13 september 2022

Negroniweek 2022

If you browse through the boozy pages on Instagram, you will notice it’s #negroniweek again. This is the very first year I don’t fully participate, due to a lack of time and resources. In the past years, I’ve always posted a full week of Negroni-style drinks, which are still online for you to enjoy. 

Of course, I will raise my glass to the cause and hope you’ll visit lots of participating bars and restaurants, which will raise some money for their selected causes this week. When venues register to participate, they will donate a small contribution to the ‘slow food’ movement, but most bars will also donate one dollar or euro for each glass of Negroni sold, to a local cause. Think global, act local.

I also promise that next month, I will create a special Negroni version for my friends at Paal 26 Grand CafĂ©. They are participating in this edition of #Negroniweek, this means you can support a local cause by ordering a ‘regular’ Negroni right now. 

The Negroni is one of the easiest cocktails to stir at home, because of the even parts of Campari, gin and sweet vermouth. It’s also one of the most adapted recipes.

  • Campari? Sure, but why not try any other kind of bitter/amaro?
  • Gin? Sure, but why not try any other kind of spirit? 
  • Sweet vermouth? Sure, but why not try any other kind of vermouth or fortified wine? 

You can go even further and break it down into four even parts. The fourth part can be for example espresso or cold brew coffee.

I could go on and on about the possible variations, but why not try out some variations yourself? 

Disclaimer: All pictures and texts are copyrighted by Geert Conard and Esito Management & Communications unless stated otherwise in the article. While some items might have been gifted by the producer or distributor, these are in no way paid promotions or recommendations.

maandag 5 september 2022

Spirits Inn Beringen 2022

I live in Beringen (Belgium). Each year in September, our local whisky club organises the “Spirits Inn Beringen” Festival. It’s a rather small festival, but people join us from all around the country, to sample rare and special spirits. Each year the members of the club build up the tension and tease us with pictures of very old or rare bottles that will be available for tasting. At last year’s edition, I managed to sample a spirit from the year of my birth, 1968. 

Of course, as a spiritsblogger, I already know several importers and distributors. When I visit this festival, they will have me taste a few new and exciting bottlings. This year, on the 5th edition of the event, I intended to search for the two most special bottles at the festival. 

Wine4you, represented this year by Jos Mertens, brought a Cognac Prunier Lot 40 (55%), distilled in 1940. That’s a whopping 81 years ago, at the very start of the Second World War. Cask strength Cognac from just one single barrel. Only 168 bottles could be filled, the angels already had a large share. Rated at 91/100 by Whiskyfun, 92/100 by Whiskynotes. 
81 years... You really need a moment to take this in. Even my parents (both already deceased) weren’t even born in 1940. What a great discovery. 

But… at the same table I saw another bottle, Cognac Mauxion Selection Borderies, distilled at the very start of the first World War in 1914… 108 years ago. That was two years before my eldest grandfather was born. This is absolutely the first bottle I wanted to taste. These very old bottles are not always a treasure, but this one sure is. Cognac and brandy often have very strong alcohol “burn”, which makes it almost impossible to detect their fantastic flavours and aromas. This one doesn’t. The balance of this bottle is extremely close to perfection. All the fruity flavours and aromas are present. It’s been a while since I’ve tasted something like this. What a discovery. A very old cask, at a certain point bottled and stored in “Dame-Jeanne” bottles (=large balloon bottles), which functioned as time capsules to preserve this great spirit. Now bottled again by Ivo Drabs and his team, for us to explore and enjoy.

A few booths to the right, Pieter from Malternative had me sample his latest discovery, another Cognac, distilled in 1975. Great story, he was hunting for casks in the Grand Champagne region, when he walked into a Boulangerie. They told him the neighbour across the road had some old casks ageing in his basement, they were even handed down from a former generation. One of those casks is now bottled and presented at this festival. Lots of flavours, but also still pretty “kick in the face” on alcohol. I think this is a great find for the real Cognac afficionado.  

At the Cinoco-booth, I tried Indri whisky from India, distilled near the Himalayan foothills. A blend of three kinds of casks (ex-Bourbon, ex-PX Sherry and ex-wine). Very interesting taste profile. Halfway through your sip, you’ll detect the typical slightly tart grape skin popping up. Very nice bottle to share with friends.  

Very tempting, but I really wanted something different. For my second “find of the year”, I’m going to promise you a “part 2” to this story. At the booth of “Het Aerts Paradijs”, I discovered a local producer of beer, apple juice, gin, apple brandy (Let’s call it a young Calvados) and… a soon-to-be-whisky. I already arranged to visit the distillery somewhere in the next few weeks. I think this is very interesting and I will write another article about their products. Interesting fact, the distillery is only a 7-minute drive from my office… 

Conclusion: Spirits Inn Beringen is still THE festival for old and rare spirits. This festival never disappoints, you’ll always be amazed by the bottles you’ll find and the spirits you’ll taste. See you next year!

Disclaimer: All pictures and texts are copyrighted by Geert Conard and Esito Management & Communications unless stated otherwise in the article. While some items might have been gifted by the producer or distributor, these are in no way paid promotions or recommendations.