The Belgian Owl is a single malt whisky that is the first to be produced in Belgium. The Belgian Owl distillery is located in the town of Grâce Hollogne, near the city of Liege, and was founded by Etienne Bouillon, who also owns a fruit liqueur distillery and business named Lambicool. The distillery was originally named Pure and the company was set up by Bouillon and two partners in 1997, although the first spirit did not flow until October 2004. The name was later changed to The Belgian Owl Distillery - the name being chosen as the owl symbolises wisdom. For further information on the distillery and their whisky, visit the website at www.belgianwhisky.com.
The barley for the whisky making is grown in the fields around Liege and the malting, mashing and fermentation processes take part in an old converted farm on the city's outskirts. The fermented wash is then transferred to the distillery for its double distillation, before the new spirit is put in to first fill ex-bourbon casks and then matured. The single malt is matured for three years and then bottled in small batches at an alcoholic strength of 46% ABV. The current annual production capacity is approximately 50,000 litres and the bottling programme has five batches of single malt released each year. They also release new make spirit and part matured spirit within their range. The Belgian Owl is currently only sold in Belgium, France, Germany, Holland and Sweden, with the single malt selling for around €45-50 for a 50cl bottle.
For a further insight in to this fascinating distillery, please watch the short video clip below - you will need to know a bit of French to follow the commentary, but they do have an English version on their website homepage.
Our tasting notes
The colour of this three years old Belgian Owl single malt whisky is a pale gold. The nose is delicate and subtle with some lovely fresh aromas coming through - think of crisp green pears, vanilla, honey, lemon zest and more fresh fruit, this time reminiscent of greengages and unripe plums. These light, fresh aromas are backed up by increasingly distinct notes of malty cereal grains and dried grasses (imagine hay especially). On the palate, this whisky is tangy and very light to begin with. Here the three main descriptors are distinct cereals, grassy and fresh green fruits - these manifest themselves in notes of very malty/gristy barley, hay/straw and green pear/greengage respectively. With time, the number of characteristics again increase to include honey, vanilla, lemon zest and some hot, tangy spiciness (think of chilli-like heat). This heat carries on in to the finish, which is quite lively and zingy. The sweeter elements (honey and vanilla especially) appear, then fade to leave some pleasant dryness.
What's the verdict?
This is a lovely, tangy, refreshing and mouthwatering dram that would be perfect as an aperitif or on a hot day. The whisky shows plenty of very good characteristics, considering its young age, and stands up very well to its contemporaries from other new distilleries. It will certainly be interesting to see how the Belgian Owl whiskies taste in any future older releases and with further maturation. We thank our friend James Grant, who bought us back a small sample of The Belgian Owl single malt from a recent trip to Belgium.