Making people enjoy life, that’s the reason we do it

If there’s something we know how to do here, it’s enjoying the good things in life. Is that typical of Brabant? Or the Brainport way? Is it in our DNA? Is a Burgundian meal generous or exclusive? And are we actually more welcoming here than in other parts of Holland? Bart Houben – of the sausage rolls – asks these questions and more to professional epicureans.

Text Ine van de Laar 
Image Charlotte Grips

Along the Eindhoven Canal I dive into the distillery world: at the Bottle Distillery located on the former Campina plant, where craftsmen are busy distilling gin, rum, beer brandy and liqueurs in the traditional way. I’m visiting Mark Migchels and his wife Dianne, who took the gamble back in 2015: “We wanted to make a living doing something we think is super cool.”

Why did you choose a distillery and not a bakery or something?

“Making people enjoy life, that’s the reason we do it. If I wanted to get rich, I would have been better off staying in the business services sector. Why spirits? Don’t get me wrong, I like bread. But it isn’t something you can’t wake me up for in the middle of the night. But you can for special distillates.”

I’m not really familiar with the art of sipping whisky or liqueur. But there must be a whole world behind it, right?
“Compare it to wine: the deeper you go, the more depth you find in the flavours. Our enthusiasm started when we visited a distillery in the States. When we decided that this is what we also wanted to do, we had to a lot to learn: about distilling processes, excise duties, risky business processes and many other things we had never thought about before.”

Weren’t you at all worried?
“The worst that could happen was that we would lose everything we owned. We were prepared to take that risk.”

I started with sausage rolls, a staple for many in Brabant. Isn’t your market much more complex?
“We are in a pretty tough market. We choose to set ourselves apart by never compromising on quality. That may sound simple, but in practice that means spending 50,000 euros on a boiler instead of 10,000. Or refilling a thousand bottles because the labels were on crooked. But in the end it pays off.”

Is a good drink part of the Burgundian lifestyle?
“I think it’s strongly linked to the joy of life. Like food, a drink evokes a kind of enthusiasm. You don’t have to take a lot to enjoy something. Three sausage rolls taste good; twenty makes no sense at all. Every word with ‘too’ in front of it has very little to do with what it’s all about: enjoying a great product.”

How do you know how much to make of something?
“We were immediately convinced by our rum: we wanted to invest in it and be good at making it. But it’s a continuous process of trial and error, and sometimes you have a few litres left over. That doesn’t mean we’re in low spirits, though.”

The space you have here is enormous. What else do you do?

“We organise workshops, tastings and we like to work together with local entrepreneurs from Eindhoven. For example, we created a lovely beer brandy with Stadsbrouwerij Eindhoven, and with Lucifer a coffee rum to remember. We’re also doing more private labels: we can develop a unique spirit or liqueur for a company whereby we supervise the process, from ingredient to label. We currently make about fifteen of our own products and almost as many private labels.”

Time for a taste! I used to sneak sips from my father’s bottle of Bols jenever. That quickly cured my curiosity. How does it work? Smell, swirl, taste?
“Smelling is about seventy per cent of tasting, so that’s a good idea. The first tasting is Lucky Bastard Coffee Rum. Especially suited for after dining, with or without coffee. Next up is the first brown rum we ever made: our great pride Treasure No. 1. It’s a limited edition, so gone is gone. It goes really well with a sausage roll.”

Very nice! On the side or in?
“Both are fine. I think you can also achieve wonderful effects with gin in sausage rolls. Gin, like wine, is ideal for food pairing.”

I’m loving this more every minute, or is that the alcohol talking? No, it’s because you’re taking me on a journey. You’re a true Burgundian and a wonderful host.
“Burgundian to me means: with one another and for everyone. The emphasis for me is enjoying life today, on what there is and what we have.”

Cheers to that!

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