Visiting The Best Kept Secret in Dutch Whisky - Cley

Published on 28 April 2023 at 09:49

The Best Kept Secret in Dutch whisky

(NL-CLE, no. 079)

On the kind of rain-sodden day that Holland specialises in, I visited a distillery hidden away in a quiet corner of Rotterdam. Together with my partner Laura and her American friends, we got a treat of a tour from Cley’s enthusiastic owners, Paul and Maria. 


While the Netherlands has many distilleries, not many are big names or producers of whisky in big quantities (Zuidam is the exception). As the industry grows and Dutch whisky gets closer to really making a name for itself, Cley is one brand everyone should pay attention to. We’re fortunate enough to have their whisky available in our tastings and sample packs, and now we can show you how it’s made!


Grain is everything here. The barley and rye all come from within two kms of Cley, malted at mills in historic Schiedam. Their logo is actually inspired by a nearby windmill: the radiating lines on the ‘C’ reflect those of the millstone. 

Cley is still small enough that their batches of mash are only 300L. Whereas Scottish distillers normally add 3 ‘sparges’ of hot water to their grist, Cley simply adds one sparge of 74C water for 150 minutes. This reflects older Dutch distilling practices, and leaves some unconverted starches and sugars in the wort. 


Someone at Macallan might be clutching their pearls at the unspeakable thought of not squeezing every drop of fermentable material from their mash this way - but Cley knows what they’re doing. Remember, they make gin as well as whisky - and this “inefficient” process produces a sweeter gin.


There are other ways Cley carries this distinctive character through their whisky making process. Unlike most Scotch whiskies, Cley doesn’t filter their wort through the grain husks of their mash (or in the case of Teaninch, through a dedicated filter). 

This unfiltered wort undergoes a 3 day open ferment - shorter than most distilleries we’ve featured on the EuroWhisky blog so far. This keeps the flavour profile fairly heavy, without so many fruity esters forming - the sweetness in Cley comes from other quarters.  


What happens when the spirit from Cley’s tiny Göppingen still is aged? Cley’s expressions start with a straightforward Single Malt - a 3YO ex-bourbon with a toasted Virgin (American) Oak finish. It's a light, 40% ABV, easy intro kind of whisky. Always nice to have a young double cask, like Glen Scotia Double Cask. This is sweet but with a younger whisky’s kick. Cley also has a ‘Cask Strength’ 52% ABV version of this single malt. 


After that, Cley releases their whisky with Oloroso and PX finishes. I also had the chance to sample their upcoming Palo Cortado release, made using the same casks as the fantastic Mosgaard in Denmark. It might be a bit smoother than that, but it was full of buttery macadamia notes, floral and sweet - I think Palo cortado is fast becoming my favourite kind of sherry cask!


Cley uses casks which are small enough to accelerate ageing without being so small that the whisky inside can’t age fast enough (looking at you, Eden Mill). Paul suggests the combination of heavier flavours from the malt’s youth and the sweetness from virgin oak combines to create peach notes reminiscent of Glen Elgin. 


If you don’t know this name, don’t be surprised - it's a Scottish single malt largely used for blends, and so rarely bottled or tasted on its own. That said, while I find Cley sweeter and more lively than Glen Elgin, the comparison certainly has something to it.


Cley also makes a Malt & Rye, in both regular and cask strength expressions. The mashbill is roughly 2:1 malt to rye, and the rye is unmalted. This lets this whisky be quite smooth and soft, as opposed to more punchy malted ryes made by others like Kyrö (which you can try at one of our tastings).


It's not hard to tell that we are big fans of Cley! They currently only produce about 6,000 LPA, but they also have big ambitions: low-carbon operation, integration with local farms, expanded operations and visitor facilities…


While the details of their expansion plans must remain secret for now, suffice to say that Cley will not stay so small for long. New stills and a new location in Rotterdam will be involved… more details will come to light over the coming year. 


What you don’t have to wait so long for is the special Cley bottling WhiskyLab will soon release in Eindhoven - a Quarter Cask Oloroso!


Stay tuned for updates, and try some Cley yourself to see what you’re missing!

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