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Issue 80 - Weighing the Anker

Whisky Magazine Issue 80
June 2009


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Weighing the Anker

Ted Bruning looks at the latest distillery to open its doors, this time in Belgium.

Whisky and gin are the chalk and cheese of the world of spirits. But actually, they aren't as different as they seem – not historically, at any rate. For both were originally distillates of the unhopped barley-derived ale of the late medieval period – wash to all intents and purposes – and their divergence over the centuries has more to do with economics than anything else.

Once the art of distilling had seeped from the Arab world to the West in the late 14th century or thereabouts, inquisitive monks – the first scientists, in effect – enthusiastically started pouring their ale into alembics to see how it would come out. And it came out undrinkable: a clear, fiery liquid that burnt the lips and gullet and would clearly have to be processed in some way to have any value whatever.

In Ireland and Scotland, where distilling was first practised, no-one was in any rush.

Their solution was to lay the new spirit to rest in oak tuns, to mature and mellow and eventually turn into a potable whisky. But in the Low Countries and, eventually, England, long maturation was simply too slow.

Distillers in these much more industrialised and urbanised countries had invested big sums in large-scale production and needed a quick return. Their solution was to flavour the spirit with herbs and spices, redistill it, and sell it young... as gin.

The relevance of this brief history lesson to the genesis of Belgium's newest distillery is simple. When Charles Le Cleef of Het Anker Brewery ...

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