Have you ever fallen in love with a liqueur or spirit and wished you could tour the distillery that made it?
Well, in April 2017, my husband and I had this very opportunity!
It all started while we were planning our most recent vacation to the Netherlands. Mark mentioned that we were low on Dropshot liqueur, and he wanted to buy more while we were in Amsterdam. We had been drinking our first bottle sparingly since we’d purchased it on a previous trip to Amsterdam in 2012. But after sharing the bottle with the four friends we’d be travelling to the Netherlands with, we were now down to the last few ounces.
Dropshot is a Dutch double-salted licorice liqueur that I previously reviewed here. It’s a lovely sipper all on its own, but as we quickly discovered, it’s also fantastic over vanilla ice cream!
While Mark searched the Dropshot website to mark off which liqueur stores in Amsterdam carried it, I was busy conducting my own research. Namely, making a list of alcohol-fueled excursions to do with the four friends we’d be travelling with.
As we both conducted our separate research, Mark asked, “do you think the company that makes Dropshot offers tours? Because that would be amazing!” Suddenly, our two ideas came together, and I emailed the distillery that manufactures Dropshot – De Kuyper Royal Distillers. After a few emails back and forth, we secured our very own tour of the facility!
You may not immediately recognize the De Kuyper brand by name. But chances are, you’ve tried at least one of their products. But I’ll get into those details a bit later.
De Kuyper Royal Distillers is located in a scenic little town called Schiedam, about an hours’ train ride southwest of Amsterdam.
During the Industrial Revolution, Schiedam was the premier producer of genever (Dutch gin). In the 17th Century, there were about 37 distilleries here. But by the 1880s, this number skyrocketed to nearly 400! The pollution from coal-field distilleries covered the buildings in black soot, earning Schiedam the nickname “Black Nazareth.”
Today, Schiedam only has a handful of distilleries left. If only I had a time machine to go back and see what this place was like then! (Schiedam is deserving of its own blog post, which I will tackle soon. It’s definitely worth a visit!)
The De Kuyper Royal Distillers building is in an industrial section of town. But I was thrilled to discover that the distillery itself wasn’t housed in a modern, concrete and aluminum facility. It’s in this amazing brick building from 1911! The heritage building-lover in me nearly swooned at the sight!
This is the entrance. Isn’t it gorgeous?
As we entered the lobby, our guide, Marja came out to greet us warmly. We started our visit in the newest section of the building; a stunning and unexpectedly modern room referred to as “De Kuyper Works!”
This is where practicing bartenders from around the world attend workshops to learn their trade. It opened in 2007, as an extension of the original building.
Marja graciously offered us a drink using any of the De Kuyper products behind the bar. But the variety was so great that we had a hard time deciding!
Seeing our indecision, Marja suggested we try Peachtree and 7 Up together. I love peaches, so this was an easy sell. Peachtree is a sweet but flavourful peach liqueur that I instantly took a liking to. I was quite happy to discover that we can buy it in Canada, too!
While we sipped on our drinks, Marja told us a little about the history of the De Kuyper family.
The De Kuyper company began way back in 1695, when Petrus De Kuyper and his wife Anna opened a cooperage in a town called Horst. (“kuiper” actually means “cooper” in Dutch.) The barrels produced were used for gin and beer.
In 1752, Jan, their third son, changed the focus of the company from making gin barrels to actually making gin. He purchased a distillery in Schiedam for this purpose. In 1769, two of Jan’s sons, Johannes and Pieter, purchased a distillery in Rotterdam. They quickly became one of the largest distillers in the city. In fact, they produced so much gin that they needed their own malt house!
Napoleon’s occupation of the Netherlands (1795-1813) put a huge damper on the industry. A ban on exports disrupted foreign trade, especially with England, and gin production slowed considerably. But instead of admitting defeat, two of Johannes’ sons, Johannes and Cornelius Petrus, saw this as an opportunity. Property prices dropped significantly during this time, so the brothers took advantage by purchasing four more distilleries between 1804 and 1816. Three were in Delfshaven, and one was in Rotterdam.
However, years of losses took their toll, forcing Johannes and Cornelius Petrus to divide up the business. Cornelius Petrus took the distilleries in Delfshaven, while Johannes remained at the Rotterdam distilleries. The company owned by Johannes is the branch that leads to the company today.
There’s also a Canadian connection to De Kuyper. Matthew Clark & Sons of London, an English company, introduced De Kuyper gin to John Hope & Co., a Canadian liquor agent based in Montreal. By 1870, these two companies were responsible for over 85% of De Kuyper’s business.
Advances in alcohol production in the mid-1800s meant cheaper products. But it also meant that cheap imitations and copycats entered the market. This led to the creation of trademark registration. In fact, the first De Kuyper trademark was registered in Canada in 1875. (If you want an interesting read, check out Canadian Criminal Cases Annotated starting on page 68. It details a Court of Queen’s Bench, Quebec case from 1897, where a grocer was accused of forging the trademarks and labels of John De Kuyper & Sons’ gin. De Kuyper gin is even referred to as “probably the best known in the market” in the court documents!)
England and Canada remained the largest consumers of De Kuyper gin until the early 1900s.
Maintaining close proximity to the sea ports was vital for distilleries, and the De Kuyper distillery in Rotterdam was no exception. When the Westzeedijk road was constructed, it effectively severed the distillery’s ties to the River Maas. So, in 1910, the De Kuyper family closed its Rotterdam location and moved everything to Schiedam. The new distillery began production in 1911. And this was the building we were about to tour!
In Part 2, we will explore the De Kuyper distillery in-depth, learn more about the gin-making process, and discover how De Kuyper became the world’s largest producer of cocktail liqueurs!