Kentucky has its Owl. Now Belgium does too. And its own Weasel.
Having given other distillers a head start, Belgian whisky makers are catching up fast. And making a splash.
Fexhe-le-Haut-Cloche’s “Belgian Owl” distillery was founded in 2004 by Etienne Bouillon ( the distiller), Luc Foubert (financier), and Pierre Robert (the farmer). Bouillon opened his first distillery in the Liege area at Grâce-Hollogne after acquiring two handmade, century-old Scottish 500l stills, one of which was used by a “bouilleur de cru”- a door-to-door Eaux-de-vie salesman.
In 1997, he won the Gold Medal at the Brussels “Salon des Arts Ménagers” 1997 for his pure malt distillate made exclusively from malted barley. He chose the owl as a symbol of the knowledge and wisdom required to make a proper single malt whisky. His first barrel was filled in October 2004 and was bottled three years later. Sebastian barley from Haspengouw is used with double distillation in a traditional pot still. The aging takes place in 1st fill bourbon casks. There is no cold filtration.
According to educated noses, “Belgian Owl Whisky” is florally jasmine, opening up malted notes with plum and pear. It’s a molten-scented whisky with a distinct aromatic richness. In its finish, connoisseurs detect a softness but with a pleasing persistence of vanilla.
“Filliers” makes “Goldlys” while the youthful “Kempisch Vuur” ( Campian Fire) matured for three years in a single ex-“ Laphroaig” quarter cask to give a sweet and smoky buttery caramel, Scottish shortbread, new leather experience! It is made at Brouwerij Pirlot Stokerij distillery.
‘Whisky à la Belge’ was created to create a single malt with Arran casks and artisanal Lambic beer barrels. ‘Arran à la Belge’ is the lovechild of Jean Van Roy of Brasserie Cantillon, to Ken Van Eesbeek, Jori Aerden and Jeroen Van Dyck. East Belgium’s Radermacher Distillery founded in 1836 makes “Lambertus” single grain whisky.
Belgian has a long history of distilling grain in jenever production and malt wine. “Korenwijn” or “moutwijn” — which is the base for “jenever.” Founded by Charles LeClef of Mechelen brewery Het Anker, the “Gouden Carolus Distilling Co” in Blaasveld is at the forefront of the blossoming Belgian whisky sector.
“My family used to be distillers of Jevener in a cottage just outside of town. By making whisky, we wanted to bring those two family traditions of brewing and distilling together,” says son, William.
“Whisky is made out of malt, which allowed us to use our beer as a wash. Launched in 2013, the Gouden Carolus single malt is a meeting point between Belgium’s brewing heritage and a new expansion into the whisky world. We use our Tripel as the base.”
Adds Charles: “We aimed to respect the traditions the product calls for and use the correct distilling methods and to obey process. We worked with the renowned still makers Forsyths in Scotland to create a pot still to the specifications they wanted.
Continues The Owl Distillery’s Etienne Bouillon: “The only two ingredients we need, water and barley, come directly from our terroir. We work with six farmers and four stills; two s from the now-closed Caperdonich Distillery in Rothes, Speyside, Scotland.
The Wilderen brewery and distillery in Sint-Truiden launched “Wild Weasel” single malt m the first whiskey produced in Limburg’s province. Matured in oak for three years in barrels bought from three American distilleries- Jack Daniel’s, Buffalo Distillery, and Heaven Hill- the brewery’s first whisky is cask strength (or barrel proof): a pure whisky of 62.4 percent strength. Each barrel yields only 20 bottles.
“My wife Roniek discovered a nest of weasels in our main chimney. Thus the name,” explains owner Mike Janssen who bought the 1890 distillery, which closed in 1939. The building holds the largest remaining 19th-century distilling column in Europe.