Our most recent visit to Amsterdam in April 2017 was a little different from all of our previous trips there. It was our first time travelling with friends. Oh, sure, we’ve made friends on group trips before. But this was the first time we were consciously travelling with people we already knew.
Mark and I had a mental list of the things we wanted to do in Amsterdam with our friends. We wanted to take them to the House of Bols; the Heineken Experience; lunch or supper at Het Hok, aka our “local”…. As you may have caught on, there was a bit of a theme going. I also wanted to take our friends for a drink or two at Wynand Fockink, currently my favourite tasting room in Amsterdam.
But I wanted the experience to be special; a step beyond just ordering a delicate tulip glass filled to the brim with liqueur, or a cold beer. So, before we even left Canada, I booked a liqueur tasting and a tour of their distillery for the 6 of us. The price was € 17,50 per person and is only offered on Saturdays and Sundays. For exact prices and times check here.
I’ve talked about Wynand Fockink before. It’s one of those little gems found on any great list of tasting rooms and historic pubs in Amsterdam. It’s also a little bit hard to find, tucked away down a narrow alley. But once you find it, you instantly fall in love with the place. It exudes a certain unpretentious warmth. Obviously, other people have fallen in love with it too – it’s been here since it opened in 1679!!
We got to the tasting room a bit early, so we milled around outside, since the inside is a bit cozy. Our friends passed the time by trying to pronounce Wynand Fockink; first by accidentally mispronouncing it, then purposely and cheerfully mispronouncing it. Oh yeah, this was going to a fun night!
Soon enough, our guide came to fetch us, and he led us into the small tasting room at the back of the building.
We were lucky enough to have the tasting room all to ourselves! It always feels extra special when you get a private tour. We felt so spoiled!
The price of the tasting included a 15-minute tour of their distillery, and a 45-minute tasting, consisting of 2 liqueurs, 2 genevers, 1 brandy and 1 bitter. Or, at least, this is how it’s advertised. You’ll see what I mean in a minute!
As an aside, how much do I love the tulip glasses? SO much!
Our server and guide started us off with the choice between a lemon or raspberry liqueur. I went with lemon, while Mark chose the raspberry. They were both wonderfully tart and tangy, yet flavourful.
As we sipped and puckered, our guide walked us through a succinct history of Wynand Fockink. This building has been a distillery since 1679, although Mr. Fockink didn’t become the owner until 1724. It quickly became one of the largest Dutch distilleries. After his death in 1778, his daughter, Maria took over the business. It remained in the family until 1954, when Lucas Bols purchased it. Thankfully, Wynand Fockink still maintains its small craft distillery feel.
Once we finished our inaugural drinks, our server poured us an orange-based liqueur. (My notes rather vaguely state “several orange-based liqueurs followed”. But they have two distinct orange liqueurs – one often served on King’s Day, and a Curacao.) This was followed by their “Half and Half” liqueur, which is a mix of orange and bitters.
We were already well past the “two liqueurs” promise that was described on the website, when we moved from liqueurs to their range of bitters. Wynand Fockink makes four different bitters, ranging from mild to strong. And we got to taste all four! We started with the Singelburger, the least-bitter-bitter. Herenburger is mild, Keizerburger is a bit stronger, and finally, Prinsenburger, the strongest bitter they manufacture. It was intense, but not unpleasant.
Somewhere along the way, I made mention that I love anything rose-flavoured. I’d had their rose liqueur before, and thought it was incredible. Before I knew it, our server was grabbing a bottle of their rose liqueur and pouring some into my glass! I loved how personalized the tasting became. He was pretty much willing to cater to any of our flavour whims, or make substitutions if there were certain flavours we didn’t like.
Halfway through the tasting, we were ushered off our stools and into the distillery itself. I like to think that this is to prevent a bunch of drunken tourists from body-slamming into any of the kettles.
We started in a room that I can only describe as the lab. Lots of jars and equipment.
The distillers here primarily use organic and natural ingredients in all of their liqueurs, with a healthy dose of experimentation thrown in. Below are whole almonds soaking in alcohol. We were allowed to take a sniff. Then our guide pulled out a jar filled with ground almonds soaking in alcohol so we could smell the difference. Interestingly, the ground almonds were a bust – it just didn’t smell that great. But the whole almonds smelled like amaretto. Yummy!
From here we entered the distillery proper. I swear, copper kettles just curl my toes with delight. *squee*
The copper kettles look especially gorgeous against the brick wall as a backdrop.
There were more tinctures soaking in the distillery. These are tonka beans soaking in alcohol:
More tinctures waiting for use in future liqueurs!
Genever, the Dutch precursor to gin, fills these barrels:
The distillery has a nice display of some of the Bols products on the wall:
After the distillery tour, our guide led us back to the tasting room to continue the flavour journey.
Before the tour, when we had been milling about in their shop, I casually mentioned to the cashier that we loved drop liqueur, a double-salted black licorice liqueur common in the Netherlands. We hasn’t tried the Wynand Fockink version yet, but we knew they made one. Well, before our tour began, she had told our guide to make that one of the liqueurs on the menu! And so, he poured us some of their drop liqueur next.
It’s probably not the best liqueur for people with high blood pressure, and it’s definitely salty, but not unpleasantly so. It’s smooth and well-balanced and doesn’t have an alcohol burn, even though it’s 20%.
After our first sip of their drop liqueur, our guide suggested something crazy. Had we ever tried mixing drop with another liqueur to cut the saltiness? Like, raspberry perhaps? Whaaaaaaat, that can’t actually be a thing, can it? Well, actually, it is! There’s a Dutch gummy candy called drop fruit duos. They are half salted black licorice and half fruit flavour. So he poured some raspberry liqueur into our glasses with the drop liqueur. It was…surprisingly not bad at all!
It was salty, sweet and tangy all at once. Not a combination I would get a craving for, but it just goes to show what flavour combinations work if you’re willing to experiment a little!
We then moved onto trying some of their wonderful genevers. By the end, I *think* I counted close to 20 different liqueurs we tried, but frankly I lost count!
Another bonus of the tour – the cost of admission gave us 10% off in their shop! We bought two bottles of the drop liqueur since we don’t get anything like it back in Canada.
After the tasting we decided to hang out on the pub side for drinks. Yes, we did get some beer. Their beer selection was…basically this one or that one. But you don’t come to Wynand Fockink for beer.
THIS is why you come here. To sample and slurp their hand-made liqueurs off the bar before taking your tulip glass and hanging out with friends, both old and new:
The shelves have bowed over the years from the weight of the bottles:
Our friends loved the tour and tasting, and it was a memorable and interesting experience. We really appreciated their personalized approach, and our guide was fun, knowledgeable and accommodating. The tour and tasting only reinforced my love for Wynand Fockink as a great night out in Amsterdam!