The Stillery Vodka
Words Marco Barneveld Photography Ming Chao (Portrait)
Even Walter White could make meth based on his high-school chemistry lessons, so what was to stop Pascal Peeters and Robin Karels when they set out to create their own vodka? Six years of self-study, experiments, and conversations with experts resulted in The Stillery.
Their first vodka, aptly named First, is made from dinkel wheat. “Dinkel what?” It’s just a funny word for spelt. Not to be mistaken for dinkelberry, which, according to the Urban Dictionary, is rather nasty. Don’t look it up.
Spelt is a kind of grain the Romans and Greeks used to eat before the easier-to-grow wheat took over as a staple food. It is said that spelt is healthier and contains more protein and dietary fibers.
But back to The Stillery. Curious about the distillation process, Pascal Peeters, who has a background in molecular biology and is currently finishing a master in neuroscience, dedicated himself to the study of liquor six years ago. He is mostly self-taught but also gained invaluable knowledge from distillery masters. Arthur Kruijt of distillery De Tweekoppige Phoenix in Uitgeest (where First is distilled) has been instrumental, along with Patrick Zuidam, who offered insights on the right equipment, and VL92 Gin’s Sietze Kalkwijk, who gave masterclasses on setting up a label.
“The Stillery’s First is a darn smooth vodka with a highly personal flavor and style”
Peeters eventually teamed up with Robin Karels, who has a master in Integrated Product Design. They tried every distilling method in the book—experimenting with unmalted wheat, oats, rye, and all sorts of mixtures—and different kinds of yeasts. They discovered fermentation is key; this is ultimately where true flavor and character develops.
“In the beginning, discovering fermentation was all about garden-variety experiments in Pascal’s attic,” says Karels. “First we tried fermentation from sugar, then from cornflakes, and then different wheat recipes. Sugar resulted in ‘distiller’s beer,’ to distill a neutral product from. Wheat can drastically change the flavor. For example, rye gives a subtle hint of anise, while barley adds floral tones to a distillate. And by experimenting we learned fermentation of oats results in one of the most disgusting distillates we’ve ever tasted. Never again!”
The final result of their experiments is on par with Walter White’s meth: A-grade. First is a darn smooth vodka with a highly personal flavor and style. It’s so smooth it doesn’t even need ice. Its silky texture caresses the tongue and is enhanced by sweet hints of marzipan and buttery white chocolate—a grand and very civilized companion on any occasion. Might cause longing for the undiscovered.
But who cares? As long as you don’t look up dinkelberry.