In our My Gin Life series this week we hear from Myriam Hendrickx, the master distiller at the Netherlands’ historic Rutte Distillers. After beginning her career in food science, Myriam was drawn to the wonders of the spirits industry and eventually accepted a job at Rutte, where she has been helping to craft world-class gins, genevers and liqueurs ever since. She was inducted into the Gin Magazine Hall of Fame in 2020.
Gin Magazine (GM): Tell us how you got into the distilling industry, and how you got to your current position.
Myriam Hendrickx (MH): I studied food technology. After my studies I started with teaching and consultancy in the food industry. I got to know the whole industry, but spirits caught my special attention, for its history, its natural ingredients and craft. I wrote a book about spirits that was used in spirits education and finally I knew so much about genever, that I was asked to join Rutte.
GM: Rutte is known for its genevers as well as its gins – how do you find it working with both spirits? Does the way you distil your gins inform the way you distil your genevers, or vice versa?
MH: The Rutte distillery is almost 150 years old. A lot of gins and genevers we still make according to the old recipes. We have always made genever and gins, but also liqueurs and bitters. If we develop a new recipe, the one and a half centuries of botanical knowledge inspires us and makes it possible to make crossovers. For example, we’ve used an old gin recipe (Old Tom 1918) to create a genever and we’ve used distillates that we made for our liqueurs, to create a new gin.
GM: What advice would you give to drinkers who are new to genever and want to explore the category?
MH: Sometimes people start with a genever that is unaged and has 100 per cent malt spirit (a pot stilled alcohol with a very strong grain flavour). For a lot of people this is too strong; it’s like a white whisky. So I would recommend to start with something smoother, like our Old Simon Genever!
Also, genever in the Netherlands has an alcohol strength of 35-40% ABV. To resemble gin and to be accepted as a cocktail ingredient, some new genevers have a very high ABV. This is not the orginal Dutch tradition. The cool thing about genever is that you can use it in mixes and cocktails, but it is also fine straight, on its own or in combination with beer.
GM: Tell us one thing you are proud of in your career, and one thing that you may do differently if you had the chance again.
MH: I am proud of the fact Rutte still exists and successfully expands. When I joined in 2003, Rutte had a hard time. We renovated the distillery, developed new products, promoted the old ones in a different way and we hired a whole new team of great passionate people, whilst we stayed true to our principles and history.
What would I have done differently? I was an engineer when I started to run the distillery, not a manager. That means you make mistakes. I would hire a coach if I had to do it again.
GM: What is the best piece of career/life advice you have been given?
MH: My dad told me, “You have to use what you’ve been given.” He meant that you have talents for a reason. So don’t be afraid, but dare to walk and go for your passions.
GM: What do you find most exciting about the modern gin industry? What part of the industry should we be watching for interesting developments in the near future?
MH: Most exciting is the fact gin and botanicals are fashionable. People are interested in good food and drinks, and in their heritage. I find this urge to learn and know very exciting. Of course, we in the Netherlands all hope that genever will find its way to every back bar.
GM: Are there any other gin/genever producers that you really admire?
MH: I admire Bols for being the first Dutch distiller in recent times to export genever after a century of absence in the international bar world (talk about Dutch Courage!). When it comes to ingredients, craft and creativity, I like Maison Ferrand a lot. They often come out with interesting high-quality spirits and they like experimenting, which is the key to progress.
GM: If you were a gin style or gin cocktail, what would it be and why?
MH: That’s a funny question: I’d say Basil Smash – a bit unusual, but refreshing (using the Rutte Celery Gin of course!).