Distillery Visit - Distilleerderij Keuris

Published on 11 November 2022 at 21:20

A small distillery in the green heart of the Netherlands. A couple making unique Dutch products from a unique still!

(NL-KEU, no.84)


On Saturday, I visited another small distillery in the Netherlands. The name comes from John Keuris, the distiller himself, who showed me around together with his wife Els. 


Keuris lies just west of Woerden, a town on the edge of Utrecht province - You can see it at no. 84 on our map. It really is in the heart of the Netherlands, accessible but easy to miss. The town has a lovely canal, a windmill from 1785, and a fantastic bakery.


Getting to the distillery meant a walk out of town, a few kms which I could have done easier by bike. It was hardly a bad view though, finding myself in the fields and walking down a track to reach the farm… You wind your way down the canal, down this track, and follow the signs to reach a small unit sandwiched between two farms, which Els later told me were owned respectively by a pair of brothers. 


Name: Just ‘Distilleerderij Keuris - whisky’

Age: NAS (approx. 5 YO)

Distillation: 2x - Homemade Still & Condenser

Maturation: Hungarian oak, 30-50L 



Like Bossche Stokers, Keuris distillery is essentially one large room (split in two), with casks and bottles lining the walls. Barricaded in by apple crates (more on those later), these barrels are a mix of French and Hungarian oak. The stained cask you see on the left (below) was a French barrel that John wasn’t very happy with, just about holding some rum inside (more on that later too!). 


There are some private casks too - see the names below. One includes a corn whisky, so there’s some distilling on commission happening here. Els told me how her and John often go on holiday to Hungary, and they simply take a barrel back with them each time. You get to check it in person, and that provides enough for such a small operation. It's inspired!


Despite reusing this small number of barrels, their small size (and maybe their Hungarian variety of oak) seems to provide a strong amount of colour and flavour over repeated use. Look at the first batch Keuris produced - it aged in red wine seasoned casks, and it shows.


These batches got darker over time, as the wine influence declined, and the batches were aged for longer. Still, what a rich colour for a whisky that is only around five years old!


Using Hungarian oak is already pretty special, but what else about the Keuris distilling set-up is unique?


John used to brew beer before moving into distilling - a not uncommon history among distillers. His speciality, as it were, is yeast strains, something that Scotch distillers are only just coming round to but which many European whisky makers are already wise to the power of. 


Furthermore, while being totally different from what I saw at Bossche Stokers, Keuris also uses a unique, homemade still designed by John himself. What is it with Dutch distillers’ insistence on DIY? 


Of course, I’m not complaining - this is what makes these distilleries so interesting! John’s still is very unusual - all stainless steel, with only a tiny amount of copper in the condenser. The well-insulated still has very precise controls, and is right next to the mashing vat for easy connections. 


That little box on the top? That’s the condenser! No arm- or torso-sized tubes of copper here - I could have held this condenser in one hand.

So - what does all this end up producing?


Looking across the whole European whisky industry, I naturally look for trends and styles. For example, is there a typically ‘Dutch’ style of whisky emerging - or are there regional differences within the Netherlands, maybe? 


What I’ve seen of Dutch whisky so far - Cley, De IJsvogel, Bossche Stokers, Passion & Spirits - seems to really emphasise the taste of the grain you start with. Dutch distilling has historically made a very malty distillate for jenever. While this influenced English gin-making, that ended up moving to more light, neutral spirit: Dutch styles kept that grain-forward flavour. Cley in particular make a lot of hay about it. 


My pet theory is that the Dutch whisky style is therefore more grain-focused - it's something where you can taste the malt coming through.


John and Els compare Keuris whisky to a Speyside style - maybe Aberlour most of all, they suggest. I asked John about my theory - does Keuris try to bring grain flavours to the front with their whisky? I thought with his comments about yeast and brewing, that would make sense.


However, John said no - he sees his role as creating a light spirit without that grainy, malty edge. In his words, John doesn’t really make the whisky. He makes the raw spirit, but the cask makes the whisky. In fact, rather than a long fermentation to fully convert all sugars into alcohol and produce more fruity esters, Keuris uses beer yeasts which are less efficient than distilling yeasts, and stops fermentation before the yeast finishes eating all the sugar. Supposedly, that’s all to focus on quality rather than quantity. Not a unique approach, but not what I expected to see here. 


If you want to try Keuris’ whisky in its raw state, their Korenwijn is simply their whisky without any ageing: it's their new make. Interestingly, they say online that this has ‘a unique full-malt, strong taste’ (‘een unieke volmoutige stevige smaak’), but the final taste of the whisky is (as John claimed) not really very malty.


OK, that’s enough preamble. Short, beer-yeast fermentation - distillation with almost no copper contact - five years’ ageing in Hungarian oak. 


What is the final whisky like?


I caught very light pear and apple notes. Some aromas overlapped with the apple brandy I had tried minutes before (see below). Keuris’ whisky had a sharp tang on the palate, which at first I was worried was a sign of rough spirit underneath. 


However, that faded quickly. It left only a light astringency behind, like eating fresh apples. It reminds me of a Glengoyne 10 or 12 in those ways - I always think Glengoyne 10 tastes like green apple. 


The finish was very smooth, showing again that the initial sharp hit wasn’t a sign of roughness. Indeed, its a combination of sharpness and smoothness I’ve not seen in any other whisky. 


The best explanation I can think of is the Hungarian oak giving a lot of tannins, which for a relatively young whisky are strong but not overpowering. Its definitely a darker taste than Aberlour in that way, but at the same time it has such a light body to it: no strong maltiness. 



I have to admire John for being clear about making what he wants. While it's a shame that they don’t have more than approx. 150 bottles of whisky per batch, he’s not worried. John and Els want to try new things rather than churn out large quantities - that’s also why their whisky comes in batches. They make barrel-aged Jenever (approx. 1.5 YO), liqueurs such as Koffielikeur, which comes in a ceramic bottle like those classy Bols bottles you may have seen elsewhere. 


Keuris also makes rum, which you don’t see too often in the Netherlands. More than that, it's a very good one, made from Indonesian palm sugar instead of molasses and aged for 5 years. John let me smell a tub of the sugar - very similar to coconut sugar. The result is a dark rum which smells almost identical to the sugar it came from. Smooth, molasses-y flavour with dark berry aromas on a long finish. This one is 40% ABV - and apparently it has to be under Dutch law.


Their Beetroot Vodka is exactly what it sounds like - and I was surprised that when I smelled a sample, it really smelled just like a fresh cut beetroot. While I can’t say that’s something I’d want to drink on its own, they also make a liqueur, where 10% sugar balances the literally vegetal flavour and apparently makes for some good cocktails. 


Fermenting and distilling a root vegetable involves some pretty different chemistry to grains like barley, and John showed me how it took him a while to get it right. A photo from earlier years shows a vat overflowing with bright red beetroot mash, the victim of overactive yeast. 


Maybe the most special thing Keuris make besides whisky is their ‘Walvados’ - a wink at the protected status of Calvados with a ‘W’ for Woerden. This is an apple brandy made using local apples, aged for 1.5 years. 


It’s a delicate apple spirit, only 33% ABV to keep it easy-going. The whole point is that you can have a few, rather than wincing at a strongly alcoholic sip. In that sense, it’s like a light grain whisky that you can drink more easily. I’ve only had apple brandies a few times, from France and Jersey, but this was far better than both. Well worth a try!



I am very grateful to John and Els for showing me the distillery, for coffee and stroopwafels, and for making such great spirits. I would recommend any of the products in their range: the rum and Walvados were at least as impressive as the whisky!


While their last batch is sold out, the next batch of whisky is coming very soon. Roughly half of the 150 bottles have been pre-ordered - or at least, interest has been registered. You can also register your interest via a contact form here.

I’ll be at InterWhisky in Frankfurt next weekend, so look forward to a blog about that too. Keep watching this space, and share this blog to any friends who might like some interesting Dutch spirits!

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