Words by: Theodora Sutcliffe
Bartending just happened for Dennis Tamse, the veteran barkeep who's now ambassador for the Nolet Distillery. “About 30 years ago I brought my ex-girlfriend into work, and found that all her colleagues were calling in sick on a Saturday and she was alone in the bar,” he recalls. “I said, 'I'll clean up after you, I'll help you out,' and I never left.”
The laws of hospitality held true in 1980s Holland, but there wasn't a great deal going on in cocktail terms: beer, genever, and basic highballs with an ice cube and a lemon slice were pretty much the limits. Even in the 90s, information was hard to find.
“I try to tell young bartenders – because in their minds I'm a dinosaur – that in my time there wasn't internet, so we actually had to fly to London to buy books,” he says. “We'd come to one of the bar shows and empty the book stores, stock up with as many kilos as you could take on the plane, basically.”
While he values the accessibility of the internet and the worldwide knowledge it brings, Tamse waxes a little nostalgic for the days before social media. “There were just a few guys, and one would connect you to another: everyone had some experience and was willing to share it,” he says. “I remember the first time I met Gary Regan, or Henry Besant, or Salvatore: the keyword back then was sharing, and I try to keep that up.”
Over his career, Tamse has run a nightclub in St. Petersburg – “super-cool but crazy dangerous, I left after seven months” – lived in Spain for rising two years, and had a profile-raising stint at Amsterdam's iconic Door 74. He's consulted on menus, supplied bartenders for events and fashion shows, run bars at every level from VIP to rave, and was one of the Fabulous Shaker Boys, the groundbreaking cocktail consultancy started by Ricardo Sporkslede.
And, in a niche that many would kill to get into, he worked with Misja Vorstermans, another Fabulous Shaker Boy, training staff and making drinks on superyachts, criss-crossing the globe to wherever billionaires had moored their favourite toys.
“I probably can't say this, but these people in their billion-dollar yachts drink shitty drinks,” he says, recalling evenings spent knocking out unironic Blue Lagoons. “It's funny, you'd think that if you had all the money in the world you'd get the best stuff, but they're not there yet, or they weren't six years ago. Having all that money doesn't mean you have taste or class.”
While he can't name names – thanks to fearsome legal secrecy agreements – he cites the huge disappointment when three separate rock deities failed to order decent drinks. A pair of global icons ordered champagne and a Grolsch beer; when a famous 80s rockstar requested a white wine spritzer, Tamse literally had to turn away to hide his disappointment. Although, he says, with hindsight, the guy did at least order his own drink, which made him pretty cool.
That said, as a gig it was hard to fault: whatever their taste in liquids (and a number of moguls don't drink alcohol at all), superyacht owners can put on epic parties. “It was an amazing time,” he says. “Going to St. Barts, sitting on a plane for 12 hours to make drinks for New Year's Eve on an 8-storey high superyacht is kind of fun.”
While superyachts may be out of the picture, Tamse still does a reasonable amount of travel, promoting the distillery, going to business meetings, judging competitions and the like. Now he has a 7-month-old daughter, who's changing every week, he's more cautious about how much time he spends on planes, but he still enjoys hanging out with chefs and bartenders.
To a great degree, Tamse has managed to shape the role to his own requirements and skills. When he started, almost six years ago, he was, essentially, a tour guide, albeit one with an expertise in booze and bars.
“I'd help with the international tours, getting them in hotels and restaurants, showing them around the distillery, then showing them around town,” he says. “That was the start. Now there's a lot more work with the global and US team to think about where we should go with it, and a lot more of a focus on PR.”
Today, he reports only to the Nolet family, and travels with Bob, Ketel One's eleventh generation distiller, wherever he goes. “It's amazing to work with their father – it's such a different work ethic than what you come across nowadays,” he says. “The tenth generation of Nolets, and he's still running the company at 76 years old!”
At heart, Tamse says, the Nolet Distillery remains a family company from Schiedam. And, while some family-owned businesses stifle opportunities for progression, he doesn't see it that way. “I'm so close to the fire that I'm actually allowed to help out in all sorts of things,” he says.
Landsmeer, the Netherlands
Schiedam, nr Rotterdam