Visit Ketel 1, 2008

a special visit...

With a company of 13 men/women we stand in front of the large doors of “De Nolet” on January 8th 2008. “De Nolet” is quite a large windmill dated from 2005. It is already for quite some years that the Hercules used to have her homeport at the same quay, but it seems that the windmill did stay here for always.

Pim Kriek, our host for this afternoon, opens the door and when entering the mill we are very amazed: of course the “genever noses” in the company did see the inside of the “proud of Schiedam” more often, but the design of “De Nolet” is beyond every imagination. Instead of the usual dusty space with a floor of bricks, mill stones and accompanying equipment we are now standing all of a sudden in an elegantly furnished trendy reception space with chairs with red leather upholstery and with a round dancefloor in the centre. No brick walls inside, but noise damping panels and a ceiling with thousands of small lights are creating a fairytale like atmosphere. It makes us speechless. Except Leen of course.

Pim tells us all insides/out about distilling genever in the past. Of course how it is produced nowadays as well and how the Nolet family succeeded to maintain themselves in Schiedam for 10 generations meanwhile. He told us about the successful last years in the growing market of the United States resulting in investments like “De Nolet”, expansions to nearby buildings, the tunnel under the Buitenhaven and the enormous silver coloured wharehouse at the other side of the Buitenhaven.

 


 

Deeply impressed by Pim’s story, punctuated with anecdotes about the family and the first experiences in the USA, we commence the tour. An elevator (an ELEVATOR!) brings us obliquely to the 6th floor, the stage floor. We are lucky: the vanes are not turning, so that today the skyline of Schiedam can be viewed from the stage. The vanes itself however are worth to have a closer look at: these are aerodynamicly shaped like airplane wings especially designed for rotating in a most efficiŽnt way. These are even equipped with flaps, which can be turned for 90 degrees enabling to brake the rotation of the vanes in case of an emergency. The true born Schiedammers are happy with the fact , even when it is reducing the optimum performance, that the grid constructions are mounted on the “wings”, so that these are still recognizable as windmill vanes. And there is understanding for the fact that most probably sails will never be seen on the vanes… When the vanes are rotating quite considerable, “De Nolet” can provide the factory with 30% of their required energy. That is not a to be underestimated issue nowadays.

After getting a breath of fresh air outside it is comfortable inside: by Pim we are guided downstairs to the 4th floor. Here the oh’s and ah’s were poured in. The illusion is complete and we are no longer inside a windmill, but in a circular theater. Large curtains are covering an enormous moviescreen, on which we are presented with the film ‘Generations’. It is a fine promotion film for Ketel 1, wherein the various generations of the Nolet family are presented in their own spirit of times. Costumes en surroundings are perfectly tuned to the developments in the industry. As soon as the industrial revolution in the film is a fact, we see our own Hercules in the foreground at the Nolet-headoffice. After this party of recognition it is about to be time for the holy of holies: a visit to the distillery.

 


The men are not caught red-handed for a fine drink and Pim is, thanks to his 30 years experience in the company, able to tell fascinating stories about it. About the process and the developments from old genever to young genever, but with the most warmth about the first still and origin of the brand name: Ketel 1.

And then we see the magic Ketel 1 with our own eyes. A few sacks of coal have been randomly placed against the circular brick wall. The oven door is opening and the heat is coming towards you. The most of us do a step backward in order to admire the gentle glowing coal from a small distance. At the boiler men in our company the eyes start shining desireble. And yes: all three of them are allowed to throw a shovel with coal into the fire. The fire flares up greedy, but regains control of its optimum working temperature. The boiler men of the Hercules know what’s what when talking about maintaining a fire!


A tour around the factory is a special experience. Who ever has been in the French Cognac district and has taken efforts to visit a “house” there, knows with which attention and devotion is worked for the product. In the house of Nolet they do not go for less. Of course, the bottle factory just is a bottle factory and the warehouse is an enormous three-dimensional four-at-a-row game, from where large orders can be distributed world wide. In that respect Nolet is perfectly prepared for the future. It is a real treat however when the only real moutwijn in the sealed barrels is seen, the “angel’s part” is smelled with your own nose and the authentic pub-atmosphere from roughly hundred years ago can be experienced.

And at the end of the tour, when you walk through the rural set up offices of the ‘old sir Nolet’ over the nice floors and you see the curtains, the panneling and the special, wooden six person desk, on which one was many generations ago started, then you can imagine yourself back in time and expect to hear the hoof stamping sound of horses and horsecarts on the street any time. Then there’s no denying the impression that: the old generations of the Nolet family are still looking over the shoulders of the younger generations safeguarding “the angel’s part”. So that the Ketel 1 genever will be preserved for many generations to go world wide….

With thanks to Pim Kriek, for his warm welcome and nice story!