Latest update: November 8th 2009
BELGIAN OWL DISTILLERY
This is the story of an investor, a farmer and a distiller. The investor supplied the money, the farmer his land and part of the farm and the distiller to do the rest of the work. When visiting the distillery, I met up with Etienne Bouillon, the distiller. The first thing he did was taking me out to the fields where their crop of barley is growing. About another 2 weeks and the barley will be harvested. The area Hesbaye is known for its rich loess grounds, which are lying on a layer of chalk. Underneath the chalk there is water. This water is used for their whisky. Around the field of barley there is an area of 5 metres with the original vegetation of the area, including the “wildlife”. The beetles and other insects in this vegetation make sure that negative influences for the crop are kept away. All of this makes that the barley can grow in a rich environment. Instead of using a six-stain barley, they use a two-strain to get a higher yield. There are about 20 hectares used for growing barley.
At the farm there is some space where empty casks are stored and a washback for fermenting the malted barley. The malting takes place at Malterie du Château in Beloeil, where it is stored in a separate container for use by Belgian Owl only. The mashing is done in Namur.
The farm will in the future house the complete distillery; plans are to within the next year move all equipment to this location. The farm is set in a former monastery and it looks like there is a kiln set on top of the gate. It surely is a beautiful setting for a distillery.
Back to the distilling section, this is still at Etienne’s place in Grâce Hologne. When you enter the stillroom, you are surely in for a treat. The two stills are about 500 litres and were built in the 1880s. Both stills look alike, one of them is seated on a cart and has a one-piece cooler. The other has a two-piece cooler and some container attached to the cooler that is of no use but is also a shame to take away. Both stills are used as low wine and spirit still. Out of 2000 liters of wash, there are about 500 litres of low-wines distilled. It takes about 12 days, running 24 hours a day to distil the 24,000 liters of wash. After that both stills are used to distil the spirit, which will give about 150 litres per day. This takes about 10 days, only working during daytime. This is due to the fact that during this part of the process, excise has to be on the premises. The cut is rather small, as they chose to rather make a high quality whisky, towards making a high quantity.
The casks are filled on the premises; the casks used are first fill bourbon barrels from Heaven Hill distillery. The casks are then taken to the warehouse in Bierset. At the warehouse, the Belgian excise is in charge, and they are not allowed to enter without excise present.
Bottling takes place in Grâce Hologne, where they have an 8 headed filling station. They bottle at 46% vol., which means that they don’t need chill-filtering. It takes a team of 7 people, containing of the owners and their family, a whole day to fill the amount coming from the chosen casks. This of course, includes labelling and packaging.
There are a few bottlings out of Belgian Owl, of which currently the 3 year old is the only whisky. The other bottlings are spirit bottlings with which you can follow how the spirit develops into whisky.
Although currently split up on a few locations, it was a very nice visit and they old stills made a great impression. Sadly enough, during July and August there is no production. I will have to go back to see the distilling in progress when they are set at the farm, I am convinced that the still will make an even bigger impression in this beautiful setting.