Myriam Hendrickx is at the helm of Rutte in the Netherlands, a 7th generation genever distillery that has been causing a stir with its Celery Gin which was shortlisted for Best New Spirit of the Year at Tales of the Cocktail 2016.
How did you start out in the business?
I’m a food engineer and I decided to specialise dairy, which as you can imagine is a big thing in Holland! Cheese really fascinated me. I then moved into consultancy and training which I did for a very long time. During that part of my career I got to see was the spirits industry and it caught my attention and I thought it more magical than cheese! In Holland we know so much about cheese, everyone is very open about what they are doing, how they are doing it and the machinery they are using. There’s no mystery, unlike the spirits industry which is full of it! Using ancient ingredients and recipes really ignited my passion.
I became a distiller when I joined Rutte. Initially they wanted someone who knew about genever. After I met them I liked the company so much I cheekily asked them if they would hire me. It’s a really small distillery, so when I joined I was PR, marketing and technology manager. John Rutte (the last of the Rutte family) was still alive and in his 70s so I started learning from him but unfortunately he died a month after started.
All his knowledge was in John’s head, so after he died we started sorting out the recipes and the archives. Then a couple of years later I was asked to run the distillery.
Rutte is well-known for it’s Genever. Did they have gin in their portfolio?
Yes, they did, but it was a very small product line and there wasn’t really a focus on it. We made it everyone now and again. There are old recipes from the ‘30s and prices lists featuring gin and bottled cocktails including martinis.
Gin was so small when I started that I just used to play around with it as a side project, but then this whole gin craze thing happened and then De Kuyper (of which we are a part) , were like “Hey, how about it?” The old gin recipe we found had celery in it and it was funny as De Kuyper were asking for something that bartenders could use in Red Snapper and I said – “we already have something!”. We updated the recipe and here we are!
What did you do to update the recipe?
The recipe in the archive was very, very complex featuring 40 botanicals. Celery gin is a much more straightforward and has only 6. We wanted to highlight the celery and lifted it with cardamom,there is also juniper, angelica, coriander, and sweet orange peel.
How long did it take to perfect the recipe?
It’s difficult to say as I wasn’t working on it for 8 hours a day every day, but it was certainly a few months.
So what’s the most challenging thing about distilling gin?
I think putting the recipe together and making it balance. How you use the natural ingredients together and creating top notes and heart notes and base notes. After you have created the recipe it’s about maintaining the consistency and as a small distillery that is sometimes difficult as some of our ingredients are seasonal.
For example, once a year we drive to the sea coast to collect these fresh berries from our genever and have to put them in alcohol to preserve them.
That said, it’s great fun! This whole search for botanicals, picking and foraging in the wild is wonderful.
How do you choose which botanicals to use?
The great thing about Rutte is that it’s almost 150 years old and we have this amazing treasure trove of old recipes. They were stubborn and didn’t want to modernize unlike other distilleries. In 2003, Rutte was still using copper scales with weights and only had one computer. In some ways it needed a little renovating but the recipes had remained unchanged and there was this fantastic archive. So every time we do something, we take out the old recipe books and have a look and talk about what they meant and what they used. And we’ve build from there.
I’m working in 2016, but I still feel like I’m working alongside the generations before me.
What is the best things about your job?
I love the smelling and tasting, putting my nose in everything! I love sharing the story of Rutte and my passion. I think also taking our ancient recipes out into the world and showing them to modern bartenders.
Who or what inspires you?
I really like nature. I like to see how things grow. The first time I visited the tropics I wanted to see how cacao and pepper grow. I’m fascinated by plants and the smells and flavours they give. What amazes me is that if you speak to a chemist and talk about the aroma of orange they explain that there are hundreds of compounds in the orange group, all offering different flavours.
We had our gins and genevers tasted and tested to analyse their molecular structure. The researcher came back said he found popcorn molecule, which he had never found in a gin! We discovered it was the walnuts and hazelnuts that we roast. One of our genevers had lots of woody notes even though it’s unaged. The woody flavour was coming from the angelica.
I am also inspired by perfume. I went to Grasse recently and I loved seeing how they work. There are so many similarities with what I do, even using some of the same ingredients like orris root.
What’s your favourite gin cocktail and why?
What’s your favourite bar?
We work closely with Drs in Rotterdam, which is great. The Dutch aren’t really into cocktails, we tend to drink things straight up ~ Beer, wine, genever.We do have some good bars in Rotterdam and Amsterdam though, and the cocktail culture is slowly emerging. Gin and Tonic is now a super-hip thing there!
Any future plans?
If it was up to me I would make something new every day! But really it’s lots more experimenting like comparing results of distilling on big stills and small stills. At the moment we’re trialling distilling botanicals separately and together and comparing the difference in flavors. It’s fascinating.