Of all the genever distillers in the Netherlands, Hooghoudt has been making quite a few waves as of late. To celebrate their imminent return to maltwine distilling, they’ve released two premium single cask genevers, both aged in ex-solera Oloroso sherry casks. The new Hooghoudt Aged 16 Years and Hooghoudt Aged 23 Years were part of their last ever maltwine distillation run in 1998.
For clarification, unaged maltwine is basically what a whisky drinker would call new make. Except it can be (and often is) made from a variety of different grains, such as malted barley, rye, corn and wheat. You might wonder: Why did Hooghoudt ever stop distilling their own maltwine?
Well, at the end of the 20th century barely any genever distiller made their own maltwine anymore. Instead, most of their revenue comes from Jonge Jenever, a style of genever that generally includes the tiniest bit of maltwine. So, from a commercial point of view it made sense to outsource maltwine production.
Although still not all Dutch genever distillers like to communicate about it openly, it’s not a big secret that many of them source their maltwine from Filliers. Hooghoudt too buys their maltwine from this Belgian distillery, but ever since managing director Arno Donkersloot joined Hooghoudt in 2011, his ambition has been to bring back maltwine distillation. Finally, that moment is edging closer and closer.
After years of work they’re at the precipice of opening a new distillery in the north of the Netherlands, not far from the German border. Located in Bad Nieuweschans, they’ve repurposed a former train depot together with other grain-processing businesses, such as a bakery, brewer, pasta maker and malting company.
They’ve named their collaboration with local farmers De Graanrepubliek, which translates to The Grain Republic. Together they want to be a catalyst for growing and processing grains in the province of Groningen. The farmers are already growing different grain varieties selected for flavour (including well-known distilling varieties such as Golden Promise and Maris Otter).
The new distillery will be a playground for Hooghoudt’s distillers, where they’ll be able to conduct experiments with fermentation, yeast and grain varieties. And with botanicals also. Hooghoudt expects to release the first unaged genever from their new distillery sometime next year. But to celebrate this important new chapter in their history (which goes back to 1888), they’ve harkened back to some of the oldest stock in their warehouses.
Both the Hooghoudt Aged 16 Years and Hooghoudt Aged 23 Years were distilled fully at the Hooghoudt Distillery in 1998. Just before they retired their pot still, Hero Jan Hooghoudt (third generation family member) produced a final batch of maltwine. It was made from 100% malted barley. Unusual for genever, which is commonly made from a variety of grains.
The maltwine was distilled four times, and during the last run some juniper berry was included as well. Hero Jan Hooghoudt filled his maltwine in 34 ex-solera Oloroso sherry butts. He had bought them from a bodega shortly before, where they had served in a solera system for up to 80 years.
First things first: How is it possible for a 16-year-old spirit to be distilled in 1998? Well, let’s call it a happy accident. Seven years after the 34 sherry butts were filled by Hero Jan Hooghoudt, a new distillery employee noticed that the casks were, shall we say, less than full.
So he took the initiative to fill up the empty space in those casks with unaged maltwine sourced from Filliers. The distillery manager intervened as soon as he noticed what was happening, but by then seven casks were topped up. So the Hooghoudt Aged 16 Years is largely made up of Hooghoudt’s own 23-year-old maltwine, but there’s some 16-year-old maltwine in there as well.
The Hooghoudt Aged 16 Years includes botanicals such as hop, licorice root, juniper berry, orange peel and orris root. It’s bottled at cask strength and 430 bottles were made available. The retail price sits around 90 euros.
Hooghoudt Aged 16 Years (59.2%, OB, C#598)
Nose: Touches of damp oak and juniper, followed by some furniture polish and sandalwood, but also elegant notes of sultanas, orange peel, licorice and sage. Then a whiff of red berries and vanilla, with finally a touch of soy. Taste: A somewhat aggressive arrival highlighted by oak spices, a touch of fennel and some laurel. Sweet, syrupy honey, subtle notes of raisins and a sip of cough syrup. Finally a sliver of rye bread, caramel and figs. Finish: Lingering oak spices, raisins and dates. Long.
In a way, this has some elements reminiscent of sherry-matured single pot still Irish whiskey. A bit unpolished at times, yet rich, flavourful and powerful as well. It takes water very well too.
The Hooghoudt Aged 23 Years is one of five casks that was picked by Billy Walker (yes, that Billy Walker). He was sent samples of all 34 casks and according to Hooghoudt he was impressed by all, but labeled five as standouts. The other four casks will be bottled in years to come. Some of the botanicals included in the Hooghoudt Aged 23 Years are orange peel, juniper, gentian root, licorice root and orris root. There are only 225 bottles available of the Hooghoudt Aged 23 Years, which is priced at 210 euros.
Hooghoudt Aged 23 Years (64.1%, OB, C#577)
Nose: Richer in traditional sherry notes than the Hooghoudt Aged 16 with touches of coffee, dark chocolate and rum raisins, but also pecans and a whiff of aniseed. Finally a few gentle touches of orange peel and oat cookies. Taste: Thick, syrupy mouthfeel. Remarkably drinkable at its original strength. Notes of coffee grounds, licorice root and burnt toast, but also quite a bit of oak spices again (pepper, cloves, nutmeg). Dates, raisins and cloying dark fruits too. Similar to its younger sibling, this too displays some touches of cough syrup. Finish: Interplay between the sherry influence and botanicals. Long.
This'll appeal more to the whisky drinkers that likes their whisky heavily sherried. There's some of that single cask GlenDronach vibe, although with more spices. And the comparison with single pot still Irish whiskey still stands.
Regardless of their quality (which is nothing to sneeze at), the release of the Hooghoudt Aged 16 Years and Hooghoudt Aged 23 Years is one of the most exciting things to have happened to the genever category in years. We’ve seen long-aged genevers before, from Filliers and Zuidam for instance, but it is more about what these new Hooghoudt releases represent.
Hooghoudt is one of the bigger names in Dutch genever, and for them to finally return to distilling their own maltwine is a BIG deal. I can only hope some of the other big brands will follow suit, but for now I’m very happy with this development, which is a victory for genever enthusiasts everywhere.