de Molenberg distillery in Blaasveld, Belgium, number 59 on our list of visited distilleries since the start of our crazy adventure in April 2012.
The distillery is located in an old millers farm, and only houses the stillhouse and visitor centre. The rest of the mashing, fermentation and warehousing is done at the brewery het Anker located in Mechelen, just a 10 minute drive from each other.
From 1637 to 1927 the mill was used by the Van Breedam family to distill jenever. In 1872 Louis van Breedam and his sister leave there and become brewers in Mechelen. The location remained in the hands of the family and the tradition of brewing and distilling was handed down to the next generations, although the Belgian brewers-blood was stronger than the distillers-blood.
So it came to be that Charles Leclef, who grew up in the brewery, after his uncle with the same name modernizes the brewery, and came up with a daring plan in 1990. In the Molenberg, he wanted to distill his beer to a higher alcoholic beverage; whisky. With this he made the two family traditions of brewing and distilling come back together. Besides a lack of space in the Brewery, the use of the millers farm was logical and it came to be that they ordered a set of stills with Forsythes in Rothes, Scotland, and started to distill, under the guidance of renowned whisky expert Dr. James Swan.
They produce a whisky from the mash of the “Gouden Carolus Tripel” beer. The mash is transported from the brewery to the distillery by truck and pumped into the stills for distillation. The wash still can handle about 1000 liters of wash, the low wines are collected in an intermediate tank, and when another 1000 liters are reached, the spirit still is filled and fired up to do its magic. The cutting points are from 74% to 69% and is diluted to the optimal strength of about 65% to fill the casks. After distillation they collect it and transport it back to the brewery for warehousing, where they now have approximately 1500 casks stored.
The maturation starts in American Oak ex-Bourbon Jim Beam casks for 2,5 years. After that they finish it for 6 months in ex port casks that are recoopered and recharred using the distillery’s recipe.
At the location “de Molenberg”, what roughly translates in “the mill mountain”, the history can still be felt very clearly. At the moment of our visit they were in the middle of reconstructing the site, leaving the old features in tact. The one hour tour starts with a little history, briefly showing the old parts of the (dismantled) mill and instruments from a long gone era. They explain the processes with video and information boards that are situated all through the distillery so you do get the idea of the processes needed, so when you only visit the distillery and not the brewery (tickets sold separately), you can still get a little understanding of the brewing process that is needed before the distillation.
We ourselves did not have enough time to catch a tour at the brewery, and although they try to make up for the “missing” parts from the brewing side of the equation, it feels to us that it does not give a complete experience. There is something missing in the total package you get when walking through a distillery and scent the freshly milled barley. The visitor centre is brand new and it all has to grow a little, but we are sure that with a little time, the visitor’s centre will feel as though it has always been and belonged there.
That same feeling overcame us too when we were tasting the Gouden Carolus Single Malt. With her three years, she is still very young, and - although the cask recipe seems to work, being bottled right after her coming of age is still noticeable. The ages old recipe for the “Triple” beer is very solid, and from that sturdy base and a proper work process in the distillery, a good liquid trickles out of the small stills, some more years in the casks could provide in an even more pleasurable result with more body.
Under the guise of safe and responsible driving, we only sipped from our drams at the distillery, and brought home a bottle of the Gouden Carolus Single Malt and the Gold Fusion - a limited edition created for the 1st birthday of the distillery, to taste it better and make some notes on it. So watch this space, and our tasting-notes blogs.
All in all it was a very nice place to visit. We had only a flash visit at the brewery (we drove to the wrong address), and what we saw there was a nice visitor’s centre, a small shop, a brasserie and hotel. Something to come back for and take a tour and see the other part of the process, in a few years perhaps, with the possibility of an older version of this already very promising whisky.
Some pictures our visit can be found on our facebook page