Diving into the history of Van Kleef - The Hague's original distillery - with proprietor Fleur Kruyt
So, in a nutshell, what’s the history of Van Kleef?
Van Kleef is tucked away in the old quarter of The Hague – we’re the only city’s only remaining original gin and liqueur house. From 1842 to 1986, all the spirits were produced in the Van Kleef distillery before we closed our doors as the last distillery in The Hague.
Due to the obvious fire hazard associated with the storage of more than 37,000 litres of alcohol in underground cellars, it was decided that distillation should no longer be allowed within the city, so the Gin Museum opened its doors in 1999 after a thorough renovation.
The range of drinks were also revisited, with almost forgotten drinks such as ‘Tears of the Bride’ and a vast range of fruit-based liqueurs returning to their full glory again. Of course, the ever-popular Salt Butter liqueur and Pepper vodka remained as core products.
How did you become involved personally in the business?
In 1986 – Van Kleef – the last distillery in The Hague, closed its doors and the former distillery became a museum to the distilling history of the city. With help from – amongst others – The Hague’s city council, the distillery became a museum and my late husband Louis Centazzo took the initiative to redesign the Van Kleef distilled drinks based on the many historical recipes that we inherited.
Louis and I worked together to weave together Van Kleef’s craftsmanship, quality and history. And the result? I like to say, ‘the taste of the past in the glass of today’.
Why was the distillery industry so important historically in The Hague and elsewhere in Europe?
Historically, the function of distilleries in the past was much broader than what we think of today. Distilleries also produced lemonade syrups and perfumes. In fact, many alcoholic drinks have evolved from one-time medicines to the spirits we all enjoy today.
Back in the day, medicines were often a combination of medicinal herbs, plants and alcohol that were produced in distilleries. Names such as aquavit, eau de vie, vodka and whiskey are not, without reason, all derived from the term ‘life water’…
The importance in which distillers were regarded is clear when you look back to the first telephone book published in The Hague from 1883. Van Kleef could be reached at that time under telephone number 1, so Van Kleef was the very first telephone connection in the city!
How do you keep Van Kleef relevant to the contemporary drinks market?
We have always believed that we have a really intimate relationship with our customers and we are also custodians of a trusted product. We really can't get much closer to the original recipes for our spirits and liqueurs.
For us, this means that all Van Kleef liquors are made with a base of pure grain alcohol and use natural ingredients: we make a ginger liqueur from ginger, chocolate liqueur from cocoa beans… the content of every bottle of Van Kleef liquor speaks for itself.
We also think it’s important that our high-quality products should be accessible to everyone and we are now looking forward to engaging with a wider audience of consumers – ‘enjoyers’ – who appreciate our product and passion.
How can people visit you, and sample your range of gins, jenevers and liqueurs?
Walk into Van Kleef and imagine yourself in a bygone era; where you can taste the many Van Kleef distillates surrounded by an atmospheric setting of vintage steam boilers and 150 year old barrels. We’re more than happy to be able to offer guided tours of our history, along with a tasting of our drinks.
If you want to be sure of a table, make a reservation for a tour and tasting or a cocktail matching, both of which – of course – include some snacks.
For more information on tours and tastings, visit https://www.museumvankleef.nl/van-kleef-arrangementen
Van Kleef, Lange Beestenmarkt 109, 2512 ED Den Haag
070 345 2273