Filliers Distillery: Single Malt, Rye Whisky, and A River of Gold

Published on 26 February 2024 at 12:46

Hot on the heels of the Ghent Whiskey Festival 2023, I went to visit Filliers from the beautiful city of Ghent. While I ended up taking a bus, it's especially easy to take a 4 minute train to Deinze and then walk the 2km to the distillery. 

Who are Filliers?

Filliers is the largest distiller in Belgium . They not only distill their own products, but undertake a lot of contract distilling for other brands too. This even includes other big Benelux brands like Bols , who get some of their base malt wine from Filliers. For perspective, Filliers produces twice the capacity of Bols , and Bols is no small company! There are distinct brands like Copperhead Gin . Even people who know Filliers, Bjorn says, don't realize just how many different brands and styles of alcohol they produce. 

François, who was due to show me around, was sadly delayed on a flight, so Bjorn showed me around instead. I have to wear a lab coat while walking around - good for health and safety concerns, but a strange feeling. I haven't worn one since 2010!


Filliers also produces Goldlys (more on that below) and acts as Belgian importers for Scottish brands like Tamdhu and Glenfarclas . They also import the potent Austrian rum-like drink Stroh , which is apparently quite popular in Belgium. 

Family History

The distillery has been family owned for 6 generations now , with the most recently embodied by current production manager Benoit. Many other family members work throughout the Filliers company. “When you're born with the name of Filliers, you're lucky” he says. You get your own cask at birth.


Bjorn stresses that it's not nepotism, and there are restrictions making sure the brand isn't being run by unqualified people. Naturally I'm skeptical of such claims, but in fairness, if any issues are present then they aren't visible from an outside perspective.

One great thing about Filliers is how long they've been around - they've had the chance to age spirits for much longer than most other European distilleries. Their gin can be aged as much as 30 years ! At Filliers, everything happens on one site, across the road from an old farm where the Filliers family lived until the late 20th century. The local area had 1000 distilleries in 1900 - a reminder of how even in the twentieth century, distilling could be a common small scale process like home cooking or brewing. 

Outside, I see a little model of the Atomium and a Belgian flag . Despite its location, Filliers doesn't seem to be overtly Flemish so much as thoroughly Belgian in character. Filliers' jenever was essentially the national drink of Belgium in the early 20th century. Imported whiskey only became more popular later.

The Details & Production

  • Hammer mill, allowing wholegrain fermentation
  • Baker's yeast
  • 72 hour fermentation
  • Pot stills for single malt, column for other grains
  • 5000L Stainless steel mash tun
  • Two 10,000L batches of mash per day
  • 2 Forsyths pot stills (5000L Wash, 4500L Spirit)


I look down into the mash tun, full of paddles and coils capable of heating and cooling the mix inside. It's a rapid fermentation of only 72 hours. Filliers' trot goes to pig feed, specifically to a local breed called the Brasvar pig


Goldlys is made from a mixture of rye, corn, and malt. Where does the name come from? The area around Deinze was historically known for linen making , and the local River Lys was used for retting flax. If you're sadly not up on your linen making knowledge, this means leaving flax stems in water (for around a week) to start the rotting process. That way, you can separate the fibers which become linen from the rest of the flax stalk. 


Imagine a river shimmering with golden sheen of flax stems and fibers: hence the gold river, the Goldlys.

Anything that's not single malt at Filliers goes through old steam heated column stills . Incredibly to me, these are fed with unfiltered wort, so the crushed grains are tumbling through the still! You'd think the continuous run of grain through a column still would clog it up, but apparently the cascading action of wash through the still means that everything keeps moving. 

Spirit emerges from here at 25-26% ABV. These column-distilled low wines then get a second distillation in pots ! These look more like cognac stills, old-fashioned with worm condensers crammed into what looks more like a shell-and-tube from the outside. 


The stillroom is hot , even more so than I expected! A quick Flemish lesson for you - the heads, hearts, and tails are known as the leading , middle running , and trailing respectively.

Their gin, '28' , is produced using Holstein stills and is named for the number of botanicals in it and the year the classic recipe was created.

Filliers practices a kind of quality control called triangle tasting . You keep 2 old samples showing what you want to maintain, take a sample from a new batch, and everyone on the tasting panel has to agree there is no difference between the three of them, literally triangulating a consistent flavor . Maybe this is standard elsewhere, but no-one else has told me about it, so I thought it was a fun thing to add!


Because Filliers has a custom rep on site, we are allowed more freedom to enter warehouses than most Belgian distilleries. They have this charmingly old-fashioned Belgian way of locking warehouses using eighteenth century locks, with paper slips signed by excisemen held inside to preserve the seal. 


Filliers whiskey goes into casks at 65-70%. There are tonnes of bourbon barrels here, used exclusively to age Goldlys and jenevers . I could see that many were marked by their point of origin at Jim Beam . They are racked five-high and (apparently) rarely moved. Their single malts age in sherry - mainly oloroso but sometimes PX. Filliers produces the only 10 year old Belgian whiskey fully matured in sherry. 

Even more than usual, the smell of the angels' share seemed strong and heady to me. The new warehouse is only one year old, and it provides this amazing chance to see the difference between new brickwork and the effects of years of alcohol vapors blackening the walls via the growth of Baudoinia compniacensis , the Whiskey Fungus .

Filliers produces around 200-250,000 LPA of single malt and a tenth that amount of rye . That's about equivalent to Kingsbarns or Edradour. For a European distillery, that's a lot, especially as whiskey is far from Filliers' main or only product. 


Bjorn showed me to the excellent tasting space at Filliers, with old distilling equipment under the rafters and a wall lined with bottles.

I was surprised to be starting with a gin instead of a whisky. Bjorn produced a 17 year old barrel-aged gin (44% ABV). For reference, this is €65 in shops - a very favorable price for its age compared to whisky. It's sweet - the little spice it has is confined to the palate. The nose has toasty crème brûlée and caramelised hazelnut notes . The juniper only comes through on the finish, but I'm pleasantly surprised how this tastes. It's surprisingly sweet , with vanilla pouring out of the glass. You could believe this was a whiskey at a blind tasting.

Bjorn notes that this kind of gin really has to be barrel-aged. Whether a gin is called jong or oud actually relates to the ingredients rather than the age . This would be an old gin - it has to be aged to some extent, but not 17 years!


Apparently gin is experiencing a slight resurgence among younger demographics , primarily for cocktails. You'd be surprised how much jenever goes into Jenever and Coke (!), Bjorn says.


Filliers have apparently won design awards for their bottles , and I can see why! The gin has a smooth curve up to broad shoulders, almost like atrophy. The single malt has a lined look which stops just short of looking pretentious, and the rye has a charmingly simple, rustic look : like a bottle thrown into the ocean by a marooned pirate.


The rye was next, specifically their 46.5% 5 Year Old Rye . Filliers are apparently leaning more into rye now . While they produce more single malt by volume, positive feedback is leading Filliers to focus more and more on their rye. They started with a three year old aged in new American oak, but now they have 5 and 8 year old expressions available aged in both new and used American oak. 

While Bjorn claims these whiskeys are smooth, I notice some spice immediately. The rye grain used here comes from the Netherlands, and it's 100% malted . The earthy spiciness it bears is definitely recognisable, and after the old, refined gin this seems to have quite a rough palate. However, that makes sense for a young 100% rye malt , and after a minute the rye returns with plenty to explore. Very interesting! It might be missing a little something, but absolutely worth a try. 


Both 5 and 8 year old Filliers rye whiskeys were only launched in August 2023 , weeks before my visit. A bourbon aged Filliers single malt and even a 15 year old sherry cask should be coming in the future!


Trying the 10 year old sherry cask single malt , it is (unsurprisingly) different straight away. It has a mustiness that reminds me of Zuidam sherry casks. At 43%, it shouldn't be strong but the sherry notes are quite dry . It's not a sweet or fruity style of malt. It really fits into a kind of grainy malt style

My final impressions? Filliers has an impressive scale for a European distiller. While Belgian Owl and Gouden Carolus are more often cited as 'the' Belgian whiskey maker(s), Filliers increasingly deserves that position . Their gin and contract distilling is big business, sure, but the distillery's multiple lines of whiskey are only growing. 

I really enjoyed their rye, especially after getting the chance to review their 8 Year Old for Whiskey Monkeys (which I think is head and shoulders above the 5!). The single malt fits into a broader style similar to Zuidam, but has a distinctive subdued character for sure. If you haven't, try one of their older gins . You might get it at a relatively low price and really enjoy it!

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