Going Dutch with Toorank

Not many people in the UK knew Toorank Distilleries until a few years ago when it started winning awards and making waves with premium spirits such as Sloane’s Gin. But the business dates back 34 years and is the fourth largest distiller in its native Netherlands, with facilities producing about 1,000 different products for more than 40 markets around the world.

Visiting its plant in Duiven in the east Netherlands, you gain insights into the different drinks markets around the world. Here, it can handle up to an estimated 25,000 bottles per hour – and that’s not including the Polish production site it acquired in 1996. Rattling along the bottling lines you might see Ivanabitch – a leading US vodka brand – or shot-sized bottles of Flügel, a vodka energy drink that is big in continental Europe. These are among the brands made by Toorank on behalf of other companies, which also includes the likes of Babco Europe’s Agwa De Bolivia and Mickey Finn liqueurs and McCormick Distilling’s Tequila Rose liqueur.

But this should not distract from Toorank’s own portfolio which has been steadily gaining a profile in the UK on-trade. When the company started in 1978 as part of Greek drinks group Metaxa, it was focused on so-called “value brands”. Still a part of the business, these are what chief commercial officer Conre Oostrom happily refers to as “me-too products for selling to less developed markets where price is more the driver than the quality of the product”.

Toorank was acquired by the current team, headed by chief executive Toon Blij, in a management buy-out in 1990. It entered the UK market in 1994 and set up a UK office in 1999 under sales director Chris Lake who still heads the operation today. Conre says Toorank started to invest in new product development about seven years ago, going on to develop premium brands that are growing on-trade distribution in the UK. They include the six-strong ready-to-serve Coppa Cocktails, from a Mojito to a Mai Tai, and Sloane’s Gin which picked up medals within months of being launched in 2011. Other premium products include Miodula Presidential Blend, a vodka blended with honey from Toorank’s own farm in Poland and aged for 11 months in oak barrels.

The latest addition is Rebellion Rums, comprising Black, Blanco and Spiced – a 37.5 per cent ABV blend of Caribbean rums and exotic spices such as cloves, bitter orange, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and vanilla. Toorank says it created this because of demand from bartenders for a return to fuller-tasting spiced rums. Click here for the full story at www.barmagazine.co.uk.

Alongside the premium products are what Toorank calls “superior alternatives” such as the Polish absinthe Apsinthion, Polish vodka Akademicka, Di Antonio liqueurs and Old Samuel bourbon. “They are high-quality products that, in any blind tasting can beat Absolut, Smirnoff or Stolichnaya,” Conre explains, “but, as we are not a multi-national big company, we don’t have the millions and millions that those other companies put behind their brands.”

He adds that Toorank’s strategy is for quality and innovation rather than just volume. “We think that true growth will be in real products where real, natural ingredients are being used. We aim to be one of the most prestigious distilleries in the world, not the largest.”

Despite the company’s global growth, Toorank has not lost a sense of family. In June, it hosted a visit by the top-performing bartenders in this year’s Sloane’s Gin Twisted Traditions Cocktail Competition, including winner Robin Webb from 64th & Social in Clapham, London. It culminated in the annual “herring party” near Duiven, with views across the Rhine into Germany, where – like a big family get-together – staff and business partners enjoyed herring and Robin’s winning gin cocktail.

The posse of bartenders also went behind the scenes of Sloane’s Gin, visiting the Zuidam distillery in Baarle-Nassau in the southern Netherlands where it was developed for Toorank by master distiller Patrick van Zuidam. The distillery – which is open to visitors by appointment – was founded by his father, Fred, in 1974, and is best known for its high-quality Zuidam genevers – the original aged malt version of gin. “When my father started out, he wanted to do it the old-fashioned way,” says Patrick who runs the business with his brother Gilbert. “The aim of the distillery has never changed. Everything we do here is about bringing out all the flavour.”

Grandma Sloane’s Tea Time Tipple by Robin Webb

50ml Sloane’s Gin, steeped with Vanilla Rose pouchong tea for 10 minutes
25ml Lemon juice
10ml Rose syrup
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Egg white
Violet atomiser

Dry shake, then hard shake over cubed ice. Serve straight up in grandma’s best bone china. Garnish with a vanilla macaroon and a quick spray of violet essence.

Click here for a video of Robin making Grandma Sloane’s Tea Time Tipple.

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