Sloe Picking and the Rutte distillery – a travel report (part 1)
On October 17 and 18, the fine folks at the Rutte distillery in Dordrecht (Netherlands) invited me to join a group of 10 journalists and bloggers for a two day trip packed with lots of educational and fun activities. This is a report on the first day. The second day will be talked about in another article in a few days.
Day 1: Sloe picking, Cocktail workshop, food pairing, and the New York Hotel Rotterdam
Hamburg to Amsterdam
My trip started even before I'd taken off from Hamburg airport. I met Yvonne Naber, the global press representative for Rutte, and we were able to chat about Rutte, gin trends, and Genever before the plane left.
In Amsterdam, we met the other participants, who came from Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Milan, and Rome. While we were being taken to a wonderful estate outside Amsterdam, everyone got to know each other and we chatted about the upcoming activities.
Land van Belofte
Upon arriving at the Land Van Belofte estate, we were welcomed by the wonderfully cosy interior, a pretty and park-like garden, and of course, more lovely people from the Rutte distillery. And although the weather forecast was a little uncertain, we had amazing sunshine and blue skies. The estate is a family-owned and -run destination where many wedding parties are held and one can have a relaxing stroll through the park. More about that later. Here at the estate, we met three journalists / bloggers from the Netherlands.
Sloe gin basic knowledge
Since we all had different levels of knowledge about sloe gin, Myriam Hendricks, the master distiller of the Rutte distillery, introduced the basics to us and showed us the distillates and a sample of the macerated sloe berries. The special thing about Rutte sloe gin is that the alcohol is mixed with sloe berries and left for a few weeks to macerate. Then, this mix is distilled. The distillate is then mixed with some of the macerated sloe "juice". This brings the colour back into the product, since the distillate is obviously clear. The colour, by the way, is not a glaring red but rather a warm one, with a hint of brown. This is due to the oxidation of the sloes. Any sloe gin with a bright red colour is probably not all natural, and likely uses some artificial colouring or preservatives.
Until recently, Rutte sloe gin was limited to some 700 bottles, and people asked to be on a waiting-list to buy them. This limitat was due to the fact that the sloes were picked locally, and so naturally the amount was limited. But with the decision to make the gin available internationally, more berries were needed. This demand is now covered by importing sloes and producing the gin just as before, but this time with the imported sloes. To have some local fruit in the gin, we visited a private garden where we could pick some sloes. And of course, we went there by bike. How else would you travel, but in the true Dutch style?
Sloe gin picking
Foraging sloes is a demanding and time-consuming task: The sloes grow on bushes with thorny little twigs. Just ask some of the group where their scars and scratches came from ;) The berries nearest the ground should be left alone, as there might be dirt and urine from wild animals on them. Anyway, leaving some berries for the birds and animals is a good idea as they provide food during autumn and winter.
To pick approximately twenty kilograms, it took 15 people between 45 and 60 minutes. Not that much if you think about it. The next time you pour yourself a sloe gin, stop for a second and just think about the work that went into the sloe picking, let alone all the other steps in the production process. It was a great experience to go and forage botanicals for myself, and even more so to know that a tiny fraction of the next batch of Rutte sloe gin will probably use a few of the sloes we picked. I hope you'll like it!
After our return, our botanist Dimitri took us through the vast garden of the estate and showed us a multitude of plants and flowers, wild carrots, tiny wild apples, pond mint, herbs, you name it. It was amazing to find out how many things could be used to distill them, use in dishes or simply eat as a salad. With the Rutte distillery being very proud of their distilling of botanicals for generations and not simply buying them, it was great to hear how much they forage and use in their products. We picked some of the herbs and collected fruits to decorate our cocktails, which we would learn to create next …
After a delicious winter cocktail with apple juice, whipped cream and some Rutte Old Simon Genever, which was even loved by the estate's cat, we were given a quick introduction to the basics of cocktail creation by Laura Schacht and Alberto Matallana. After that, we got started on creating our own cocktails based on what we decided to use from the vast range of sour, sweet and spicy fruits and liquids. Some creations looked great, but tasted … let's say below average (those would be my attempts), and others created wonderful drinks. Let me sum this up quickly: The art of cocktail creation is not something to be underestimated. Not that I did not already know that, but this session has actually increased my respect for a great recipe. So instead of my recipes here is one that worked:
The Hot Dutch apple pie
- 60 ml Rutte Old Simon Genever
- 100 ml apple juice, naturally cloudy (alternative: plum nectar)
- 10 ml vanilla syrup
- Whipped cream
- Cinnamon stick
- Apple slices
Heat all ingredients, serve hot and garnish with whipped cream, cinnamon stick, and apple slices. Delicious!
Pairing food with drinks, the nerd's way
It's science, b§%&@! That would be a good way to summarise the next step on our agenda: Dinner. The theme was pairing food and drinks, based on a gas chromatographic analysis. The food ingredients and Rutte drinks had been analysed before using the aforementioned method, and matches or opposites were chosen to bring us exciting cocktail creations that would go with each dish. A great experience, but admittedly quite nerdy, though you might well know that I am a sucker for such things by now. From the entrée to the desert, we enjoyed wonderful pairings with Gin Celery Smash, Martinez, and a champagne-based cocktail, the Sloe Royale.
The menu in detail
- Celery Basil Smash: Rutte Celery Gin, Lemon, Sugar. With foraged carrot green, water mint and dill paired with …
- Granite of fennel with sea micro greens and goats cheese dust
- Martinez: Rutte Old Simon Genever, Sweet Vermouth, Bitters. With Rutte Sloe Gin, cloves and crab apple paired with …
- Pate of mushroom with fermented garlic and breast of duck with jus made from star anise
- Sloe Royale: Rutte Sloe Gin topped up with Champagne paired with …
- Cremeux of sea buckthorn with beurre noisette ice cream and hazelnuts
Next stop: New York Hotel Rotterdam
After dinner, we took off to Rotterdam to hit a bar in the New York Hotel's basement. Staying at the New York Hotel for the night was great: This hotel is a building with an industrial charm and certain uniqueness to it, but at the same time, it is super modern and stylish. Lots of space, old meets new wherever you look, and a touch of history in every corner. Should you make it to Rotterdam, see if you can stay at this hotel. After a long day like ours, I can tell you that there was nothing better than going to sleep in a nice, comfortable bed.
Instagram video stories
In addition to these articles you can visit my Instagram video story highlights from the trip as well to virtually join the fun.
Read on in the second part of the travel report …
For transparency reasons I'm happy to let you know that this trip was paid for by the Rutte distillery, with no further obligations from them. Due to the naming of brands, I want to make it clear that this is advertising, though it is not a 'paid for' article.