It all starts with grain. For the barley, this is malted in the Dutch province of Limburg. As with single malt scotch whisky, the barley must be malted to release the enzymes that are important for fermentation. Firstly, the barley is moistened with water, spread out as it germinates while gently heated. At the right time, when the enzymes have converted the starch to sugar, it is dried. Strangely, even though The Netherlands have an abundance of peat, this has never been used to give it the peaty taste as in some scotch whiskies. Rather this Dutch peat has traditionally been burnt to heat homes. As Dick Jansen explains, ”there simply was no time for experimentation, as product was flying off the shelves.”
The malted barley and other grains are collected in Schiedam, and milled in the mill “De Vrijheid” (The Freedom) across the street from the Branderij.
After milling comes fermentation. As Mrs. Jansen states, “the importance here is that we use the natural enzymes from the malted barley, that gives its name to the maltwine. However, there is nothing preventing a producer from simply buying enzymes to create a more neutral and less expensive product. To use real malted barley is a sign of quality, only very few genever producers still do this!”
All grains, including maize (corn) may be used. Notaris is very forthcoming in its mash bill; (for all except the Bartenders’ Choices and Black Nazareth) it is 1/3 maize, 1/3 rye and 1/3 malted barley. In the Bartenders’ Choice the mix is slightly different, and less botanicals are used, for the Rome edition a larger part of rye is used, and for Black Nazareth spelt is additionally used.
Unlike almost all whiskies, where the mashtun is also a filter to create a clear liquid, all the grain in the malt wine distillery goes into the fermentation tanks. Because of the presence of all the particles of the grain during fermentation, more flavour components are formed resulting in a richer end product.
To be true Schiedam genever, the Branderij or place of distillation, must be in a separate location from where other products are distilled. The malt wine distilleries in the last century would lose their right to be called Schiedam malt wine or Schiedam genever if any neutral alcohol, or if any other products were made on site. Therefore, the Notaris Distillery is in a separate building from the “distillery” where other products are distilled. This traditional quality check, that was introduced over a century ago, was needed in those days but with the possibilities of today to check upon an correct way of following the original recipe, Herman Jansen will not continue this separation in the future and the “burnery” building is exclusively for the production of Notaris.
Notaris is distilled for four times.
The first distillation, called ruwnat (first liquid), is distilled in two traditional 3000 litre copper pot stills. The still has a short neck, to maximize the flavour of the distillate. Importantly, there is no separation of heads heart and tails in the first two distillations. However, the run is finished usually before all possible alcohol is distilled. The reason for this is part economic and part best practise.
Economic because “at a certain moment the cost of heating exceeds the value of the alcohol obtained” Mr Jansen comments.
Additionally he says: “In history sometimes the stillman wanted to go home a little early without telling his boss, to find the next day that the distillate made was of a different quality. This is fine, as long as he makes note of it. Sometimes we find these little accidents result in a better tasting product, hence it becomes best practise.”It was Mythbusters that stated “the only difference between goofing around and science is taking notes.”
The second distillation is in a similar 3000 litre still, that has a plated head that can be ‘open’ for the second and third distillation but ‘closed’, using one to four plates, for the fourth distillation. After the second distillation the liquid is called enkelnat (half liquid).
The third distillation is in the same still used for second distillation but with a cut from head to heart and heart to tails made. After this distillation the liquid is called Bestnat (lit. best liquid), malt wine or malt spirit. This was in the old days the finish product of the “branderij” or malt wine distillery.
The fourth distillation was done in the past by the distiller who bought maltwine from a maltwine distiller. In the Notaris distillery both functions are in the same room and this fourth distillation takes place in the same still as the 2nd and 3rd distillations but using the plated column on top of it. This type of still helps make the cuts and is a relative newer addition.
In the Notaris Distillery there are three different fourth distillations:
- one with a range of botanicals. After this distillation the liquid is called “Korenwijn” “corenwine”, which is almost an infuriatingly misconceptual name, as it has nothing to do necessarily with “corenwine” as a category, but is the half product made by many distillers in Holland to give the flavour to their young and old genever.
- one that brings the alc./vol. up to 75% to enable aging without a dominant wood flavour. This liquid is called strong malt wine and
- one with only juniper berries after which the liquid is called Gebeide. This is done on a relatively small still, as each of these batches consisting of the equivalent of 450 litres of finished product per run.
The four distillates, Original maltwine, Korenwine, Gebeide and the strong maltwine are blended to the final Notaris.
Herman Jansen refuses to use chemical essences in any of its Notaris products, and all grain and botanicals used for Notaris are biological.
Blending the batches is done throughout the process. They estimate that a single bottle is the result of the blend of 32 batches on average.
There is a fourth still present in the distillery room that is a pure column still. It is however no longer in use. “When we restarted production we used this still for the third fourth distillation because I found the taste too bitter otherwise” Mr. Jansen says. “However, as soon as we switched to biological grains, we could replace it with the pot still with the plated column on top.”
Depending on the purpose of the liquid it is aged or not. Ageing of genever is a relative new practise. In the 1900s, the popularity of all genever was so high both abroad and in the Netherlands there simply was no time to age!
All types of wood for ageing are allowed to be used and are currently either used or experimented with.
Much care is taken to ensure the wood does not overpower the spirit. The refill of older Asbach barrels to achieve this for instance, as well as putting the liquid in barrels at a higher alc./vol. then is usual for whiskey. “Imagine putting pure water in a barrel. It will assume the taste of wood in a matter of hours. The higher the alc./vol., the less intense the conversation with the wood.”Mr. Jansen informs us.
Some barrels and vintages are deemed so exquisite they are left for prolonged ageing to become vintage bottlings, whereas others are used for the unaged, 3 year old, 10 year old or the Bartenders’ Choice genevers.
All ages statements on the bottles state the minimum age of the liquid in that bottle, and vintages contain liquid exclusively from that vintage. After removal from the cask or from the still (for the unaged) there is a resting period in stainless steel.
“Every genever producer has a signature flavour, once you pay attention. We believe in making an honest, crafted product.”Mrs Jansen adds.
When tasting aged products, Herman Jansen believes in a family tradition: the so called “Double Jansen”. Dick Jansen’s father used to pour a glass of spirit and leave it for weeks, sometimes months to judge the quality over time by smelling it. With that in mind Master Distiller, Ad van der Lee, started to taste the aged products by pouring a glass then pour the content over in another glass for the actual tasting. The empty glass gives away the flavours of the aged product. This is a great way to judge the quality of the aromas and the effects of ageing. The idea behind the Double Jansen is to serve an aged product in the bar with a second glass in which you can pour the liquid and enjoy next to the tasting also the flavours of the empty glass.
Perhaps one of the most well-known other products Herman Jansen produces is Bobby’s Schiedam Dry gin and genever, a triumph in the gin market that mixes Dutch courage with Indonesian spice.
However, you will be surprised to find how many quality brands this company produces in collaboration with passionate brand owners!