You’ll find the world’s tallest windmills in Schiedam. They had to be tall so that the sails were above the surrounding buildings and could catch the wind needed to grind the grain that was needed for the production of jenever. Anna Hyman set out to learn more.
In the 19th century there were 20 mills, most of them grinding grain for the distilleries, today only five of the original, beautiful, near silent, giants remain in the centre of Schiedam.
Travelling on a Superferry
Schiedam is a splendid destination for a relaxed, short break. Head for Liverpool Street and catch a train to Harwich International prior to catching one of the two Stena Line overnight Superferries to the Hook of Holland.
They are indeed superferries with facilities including well-equipped cabins with comfortable Swedish hand-made Dux beds, free wi-fi, a buffet restaurant, a wine bar and an excellent à la carte restaurant. Breakfast is self-service buffet style.
The ship docks early in the morning close by the railway station where regular train services run to Schiedam, a mere 25 minutes journey. We were checking into our hotel the Novotel Schiedam by 9am giving us a full day to explore the sights. And there is a lot to see and do.
Jenever and the Jenever Museum
A good starting point for anybody interested in how jenever is produced would be to visit the Jenever Museum beside the Lange Haven canal. Along with various exhibitions and displays the museum also has a distillery producing Old Schiedam jenever in the way it was made some 300 years ago.
Old Schiedam, our guide and brewer Tom Heuchemer told us, is a malt spirit jenever which requires mixing ground rye, malted barley and water into a mash.
By soaking the grains in water germination begins to take place which results in the barley starch being converted into a sugar.
Once the sugar process has taken place, yeast is added to feed on the sugar, thereby making alcohol. The mash is then distilled three times. After the third distillation a 48% malt spirit has been achieved.
It is then left to mature in oak barrels for at least three years before juniper berries are added, along with sufficient water to bring it down to the required 40% proof for Old Schiedam.
It’s an interesting tour, and needless to say there is a tasting room.
The Lange Haven canal is one of the main watery arteries of Schiedam and deserves a leisurely stroll along its picturesque pavements admiring the interesting harbour architecture. Allow time to visit De Bonte Koe. This justifiably popular chocolatier has a shop piled high with chocolate creations, and decisions as to which selection to buy should not be rushed. Incidentally they also hold chocolate workshops.
A few doors away from chocolate heaven is the bar and restaurant Prego – an excellent venue for a meal or a glass of wine. The menu is more Italian than Dutch and the cooking and wines are good.
Both De Bonte Koe and Prego are housed, like the Jenever museum, in buildings which were originally distilleries. Hardly surprising considering that in the latter part of the 19th century there were 392 distilleries in Schiedam.
But there is more to Schiedam than jenever and indeed its impressive windmills.
The city has a wealth of galleries including the Stedelijk Museum specialising in post war and modern art. Apart from the art, the building, once a home for the old and infirm with two wings - one for men, one for women - plus a central chapel, is itself interesting; even the attics have been cleverly turned into galleries.
Alongside a little café on the ground floor is a museum shop, stocked with a number of interesting and original items as well as art and books.
A garden, a library and a café
We were captivated by the Korenbeurs on Lange Haven. Three hundred years ago the building, with its open courtyard was once used by merchants for trading purposes. Their courtyard trading floor has now been glassed in and the building is used not only as a library, but also as a community centre with rooms and spaces for exhibitions, meetings, performances and work facilities.
It also incorporates a delightful indoor garden and little café. Apart from being a green oasis in a city centre the garden also produces herbs, fruit and veg which are harvested and used by the café. This truly is a library with a wow factor.
By now a visit to a modern working distillery had become an essential part of the trip, which was how we found ourselves visiting the world famous distillers – Nolet - producers of highly acclaimed jenever, gin and vodka.
Nolet, located beneath the huge windmill on Hoofdstraat, is happy to offer pre-booked free guided tours to visitors on week days. Each tour lasts two to three hours.
It is fascinating and includes the distillation process, the modern bottling plant, the cask attic and also the old board offices as well as the family museum.
Allow longer for a tasting session held in the elegant and stylish bar. In all honesty a large part of the distillery is in an old building.
The Nolet family have been distilling for some 325 years; and their copper pot still number 1 is the oldest operating still in Schiedam.
But the other part of the distillery, reached by a tunnel under the canal is ultra-modern.
Nolet gin and vodka
Nolet is very much a family affair. Generations of the family have passed on their secret recipes, notes and ideas to the next, and each spirit run still has to be approved by one member of the family to ensure that it is to their exacting standards.
One of their brands Ketel One Vodka is so popular it is served in bars in over 75 countries throughout the world. With its crisp taste and soft finish it is much appreciated by bar tenders for cocktail making, but is just as enjoyable served neat on ice.
As to the gins; one reason why the Nolet gins taste so good is because the botanicals used to flavour them are individually distilled thereby ensuring the perfect concentration of individual notes which can then be introduced to the gin’s base and left to mature, thereby balancing out the flavours.
A Saint and a curious looking lamb
In need of lunch before we visited the Grote of Sint Jankskirk we headed to Brasserie Stadhuis on Grote Markt.
The food was delicious and the service charming. We didn’t try the hamburgers, but we have heard that that they are very good.
Certainly our pheasant was perfectly cooked. Nice atmosphere – a mix of tourists, business people and ladies who lunch.
Take time too to visit the Grote of Sint Janskirk , said to be the oldest building in Schiedam.
It has long been used as much for community activities as for a place of worship. Where once nets and sails were dried and repaired, today it is used for concerts and banquets as well as for Protestant Sunday services.
The curious looking lamb in one corner is made from some thousand pieces of fragments of statues and altars destroyed in the 16th century which had been buried beneath the floor and forgotten about until the 1946/47 restoration of the church.
Look out also for references to Saint Lidwina, who as well as being Schiedam’s patron saint is also that of the sick and ice skaters. (Lidwina became ill after a fall whilst ice skating.
It is thought that her illness was probably the result of multiple sclerosis.) She was originally buried in the church which became a place of pilgrimage.
Loopyut Speakeasy and gin distillery
On Lange Nieuwstraat, in what appears to be a row of private houses, we discovered the Loopyut Speakeasy and gin distillery. Loopyut gin dates back to the 18th century but has been brought up to date by its new owner Jan van Stigt, who owns one of the houses.
To gain admittance you have to have bought a bottle of the Loopyut gin. Incorporated into the bottle cap is a coin which is the open sesame to the house, with its only recently discovered ice cellar. On an upper floor, based on an American prohibition speakeasy, complete with a boxing ring and barber shop, is the bar.
The gin, a fabulous blend of botanicals including juniper, nutmeg, raspberry, lavender, grapefruit, quinine, cardamom, coriander and goji-berries, is delicious on its own or served with tonic. Also, as Stigt’s vivacious wife Jo-Ann demonstrated, it makes a superb base for cocktails.
And so to windmills
And of course there are the windmills. Not far from the Looopyut speakeasy on Westvest we called into the working mill De Walvisch (The Whale Mill) which dates back to 1794. It is still grinding grain, but this grain was being turned into flour. Flour and other products for baking are on sale in the little shop at the base of the mill.
We were to visit one other mill – the Noordmolen – but this time for dinner. Part of it is has been turned into a very good, cosy, restaurant with friendly service featuring French-style dishes; a number of them containing a drop or two of jenever. With a height of over 44m De Noordmolen is the tallest windmill in the world.
If you are in Schiedam on a Saturday, look up at the sails of the windmills. They will be turning as they have for centuries, welcoming the weekend and bringing the past back to life.
Stena Line: Stena Line provides twice-daily, seven hour return crossings between Harwich and the Hook of Holland. Fares start from £49 for a driver and a car each way; additional adults from £14 per adult and from £7 per child between four and 15 years old) one way. Foot passengers start from £34 per adult and £17 for children. Infants (under four years old) travel free of charge. Cabins from £16 per person each way.
Stena Line’s Dutchflyer rail-and-sail service allows customers to take any Greater Anglia service to Harwich, and then on to any Dutch city of their choice www.stenaline.co.uk/DutchFlyer . www.stenaline.co.uk
Novotel Schiedam Hotel: www.accorhotels.com (hotel accommodation is something of a problem in Schiedam – the Novotel was exceedingly comfortable and the staff wonderfully helpful, but, it is on the edge of the city. Taxi approx €12. However, we understand there are some good central B&Bs.
Jenever Museum: www.jenevermuseum.nl Nolet Distillers: www.ketel1.nl
Loopyut Speakeasy and gin distillery: Lange Nieuwstraat 101, 3111 AE Schiedam
Windmill and shop: Korenmolen de Walvisch: www.molendewalvisch.nl Chocolates: De Bonte Koe: www.debontekoe.nl
Stedelijk Museum (art gallery): www.stedelijkmuseumschiedam.nl
Garden library and café Korenbeurs : Lange Haven 145, 3111 CD Schiedam
Grotte of Sin Jans Church and Liduina basilica: Lange Kerkstraat 37, 3111 NL Schiedam
Prego restaurant: www.pregoschiedam.nl
Brasserie Stadhuis: www.brasseriestaduis.nl
Mill restaurant Noordmolen: www.noordmolen.nl