Well known for its genever, Rutte is a seventh-generation distillery in the Netherlands.
At the helm is Myriam Hendrickx, Rutte’s master distiller, with a soft spot for genever. Chilled speaks with Hendrickx about this pioneering spirit and her passion for creating it.
Tell us a bit about Rutte and your history there.
Rutte has been creating and distilling botanical spirits for almost 150 years. In 1872, Simon Rutte, a fourth-generation Rutte distiller, opened the distillery in Dordrecht near Rotterdam, where to this day, we make our spirits in the same hand crafted way. Our Rutte Spirits are all-natural, no added flavors or colorings are used. All of the flavor and color comes from fresh fruit, herbs, and nuts, something that is unique and sets Rutte apart in the industry.
Dordrecht is a town surrounded by rivers, giving distillers access to everything that the Dutch sailors brought home from their travels, and also close by to surrounding nature. The Rutte family was very creative and they had an intense knowledge of taste, smell, and nature. They experimented with everything they could get their hands on. Very “set in their ways,” they refused to modernize and kept their recipes authentic and real.
There is a renewed interest in all things gin and genever right now (as we’re sure you know). What do you think about this trend?
The Dutch started to distill grain and later redistilled this with juniper berry and other botanicals in the 16th century. It was taken to the UK, and the Brits made it into their own product over the years and it became huge. Dutch genever, however, used to be a huge product in the world as well at end of the 19th century, there were many times when there were more genever imports in the United States than gin imports, as (dry) gin was just starting and genever had already been around for centuries.
In the 20th century, the genever export from the Netherlands came to a halt, for many reasons, the two world wars being one of them. Only recently, a handful of Dutch producers started to export again, including the Rutte Distillery. I think it’s time for the world to be reacquainted with this historic father of gin.
As gin is now a worldwide trend, people automatically start looking at its heritage and then learn about the Dutch and their genever. Despite the shared history, they are two different categories today. Over the last few years, I have been teaching about the similarities and differences, giving master classes and seminars all over the world. It’s very exciting to me that so many young bartenders are interested in genever and want to know all about it.
Both categories are so popular, I think, because they are all about nature and craftsmanship-one cannot make a good gin or genever without understanding botanicals and how to combine these in the most perfect, balanced way.
Rutte’s flagship spirit is genever. Talk to us more about genever as a spirit.
The malted spirit that is present in genever is in another renewed category: whiskey. It’s a great bridge between the two liquids in the cocktail world.
The fact that the Martinez was a genever-inspired drink and that David Wondrich says, “The Martinez is to the Martini what Cassius Clay is to Muhammad Ali,” (they are essentially the same drink), shows a wonderful heritage to the genever and its malted base.
What is your favorite way to drink Rutte genever and gin brands?
Internationally renowned bartenders such as Jörg Meyer and Salvatore Calabrese appreciate and use our products. The Rutte Celery Gin in Meyer’s Gin Basil Smash adds a very special touch. The multiple-award-winning Italian “Il Maestro” Salvatore Calabrese, on the other hand, tracked down an original recipe from 1824 for the “Mr. Simon” and used Rutte Old Simon Genever. The drink is charismatic, aromatic, and especially historical–a perfect score for the tradition and the taste of Rutte.
As a master distiller, though, my prime interest is the spirit itself, so I must say my favorite drink is a Rutte Old Simon, straight, at room temperature, so I really get to taste the subtle, creamy balance of grain, juniper, and 11 other botanicals (including roasted walnuts and hazelnuts)… very unique!
Tell us about your background in distilling. Where did you get your start?
I’m a food engineer. I specialized in dairy, but from the beginning of my career, the spirits industry caught my special attention. I started to learn by talking to and looking at master distillers everywhere. I wanted to know about all spirits, but I had a soft spot for genever. When the last of the Ruttes, John Rutte, was in his early seventies, I was so specialized by then that I was asked to take over. For me it was the chance of a lifetime, as Rutte already had an amazing reputation in the Netherlands as the producer of small-batch premium spirits. Unfortunately, John passed away a month after I started, so I was forced to step up and learn fast to produce in his special way.
As the Ruttes did before me, I protected the old recipes and created new ones, always in the same way: respecting the principles, getting the best out of nature. I’m not part of the family, but I consider myself the eighth-generation.
In 2011, the distillery was taken over by De Kuyper in Schiedam, a family-owned company since 1695, respecting and using craftsmanship for many centuries. A world of knowledge and history was added to ours as well as a worldwide network. That’s how our international story got started.
What types of innovations have you incorporated to distilling gin and what have you kept traditional?
The Rutte family has been distilling for centuries. The beauty of Rutte is that many of these old recipes survived. Therefore, I have access to a world of knowledge and we’re still able to make these old products. The Rutte Old Simon is a true original recipe, created by our founder Simon Rutte. But when creating a new recipe, my colleague and I still use the old books. They serve as a base: the well-thought-out balance, the methods, the combinations of botanicals … they are an endless inspiration. Of course, I add my own ideas, and I get inspired by trends, plants, and fruits from all over the world. Still, I feel like we are still working together with the generations of master distillers before us. It’s an exciting journey.
This journey had a beautiful highlight, as the Rutte Celery Gin and Old Simon Genever placed as the only gin and the only genever in the “Best New Spirit or Cocktail Ingredient” category at the world-leading Annual Spirited Awards 2016, Tales of the Cocktail, in New Orleans. For me and my team, it was an amazing honor. Genever being an old recipe and the gin a new one, but based on the families.
What would you like bartenders to know about Rutte brands?
The most important thing: it’s real! I would like to invite everybody to come and visit our small place, where nothing has changed since 1872. We will show you everything; we have nothing to hide and are proud of everything we do. Many distillers talk about heritage even though they’ve just started, or maybe they’ve been around for centuries but modernized, like most distilleries did in the 20th century. That doesn’t mean they are anything less necessarily; there are many wonderful distilleries around the world.
What are some of your latest projects at the distillery?
We are currently working on three new genevers, and we created a limited edition recently: Celery Gin blended with aged genever from our American oak whisky casks. The two worlds coming together again!