Terres-de-Meuse-Hesbaye-Trekking-et-Voyage-210.jpgIntérieur de la distillerie Belgian Owl
©Trekking Et Voyage
I tested it for you

Visit the Belgian Owl distillery

Everyone knows Belgium for its quality beers and microbreweries. But did you know that Wallonia also produces wines, liqueurs and whiskies?

I’d been hearing about Belgian Owl, the whisky from my region, for a long time… But I hadn’t yet had the chance to taste it. It has to be said that I’m not a big fan of this basic beverage! But the history of this farm-distillery in Fexhe-le-haut-clocher (i.e. a stone’s throw from my home) deserves a closer look… Here we go!

Wondercom 7Wondercom 7
©Wondercom 7
Justine Toussaint


Ju on the road

Did you know?

In season, “The Owl Distillery” organizes guided tours, in the heart of the Hesbaye barley fields. Thanks to the Maison du Tourisme Terres-de-Meuse, I was able to discover this unusual place run by a team of enthusiasts. A unique experience in one or two hours, to understand the secrets of making a 100% Belgian Single Malt Whisky.

Since 2004, the Belgian Owl distillery has been producing an exceptional nectar, a Belgian terroir whisky, awarded and recognized worldwide. It was even voted best single malt whisky in Europe.

Introduction: whisky for dummies

Belgian Owl is first and foremost a story of TRUE enthusiasts.
It all began with Master Distiller Étienne Bouillon’s desire
to diversify local agriculture by valorizing it through the creation
of a Belgian Single Malt Whisky of excellence. A spirit made from barley grown in the Hesbaye region.

To understand the history of this very local product, the tour begins with Jean-Marc Boccaci, a great whisky lover and Belgian Owl collaborator. For the record, Jean-Marc was my teacher at Les Rivageois in Liège, it’s a small world!

With the group, we enter the tasting room, and begin with the basics of whisky and distillery history. And yes, some know their stuff, others less so… Personally, I’m not much of a whisky connoisseur, so these explanations of the various stages of creation were much needed!

First of all, you need to know thatbarley and water are its only ingredients to create whisky. But not just any barley. Here, we’re on a very specific terroir known as “dry Hesbaye”. That’s not to say that it doesn’t rain here (too bad), but that the soil is essentially limestone, covered by a thick layer of earth. This rich soil plays a very important role in the quality of the barley, and therefore of the whisky.

This barley is fair-trade and artisanally grown. Indeed, farmers in the region are paid a fair price, regardless of market prices.

The water is drawn directly from the source, from a water table that lies below the distillery. How convenient! The water here is not only of the highest quality, but is also protected by the Walloon Region and the European Union. It’s the minerality of the soil and the purity of the water that give the whisky its identity. Please note, very important information: to obtain the appellation “whisky”, the spirit must be aged for three years.

Before heading to the heart of the distillery, we start by tasting and smelling the barley grains before and after malting.


From barley to bottle

After this very clear (and humorous) introduction,
Jean-Marc invites us into the second wing of the farm,
at the heart of whisky production. In this impressive space,
we find the vats and equipment necessary for the whisky-making process.

There’s the mill for crushing the malt to make grist, the maceration vat for mixing the crushed malt with hot water for 6 hours, and the fermentation vats, where the sugars are transformed into alcohol.

But what jumps out at you from the very first moments are the famous copper stills that will be used for distillation. Incredibly, these two historic objects date back to the end of the 19th century and were located in the Ex-Caperdonich distillery. In 2013, Étienne Bouillon, who trained in Scotland, brought them back to Belgium. An astonishing stroke of genius that only the Master Distiller has the secret to, as it is very rare for Scottish heritage to leave its homeland! Decidedly, even his closest associates don’t seem to know all Etienne’s secrets.

The “distillate” recovered from these mythical stills is then transferred to oak casks. These come from the USA, where they have already been used to age bourbon, the famous American whisky. You can watch these barrels age quietly through a large bay window in the tasting room (if you’re interested, you can pick them up after use). It is during this stage that Étienne Bouillon elaborates his whisky. A work of tradition and patience, where all the Master Distiller’s senses are alert. Here, the entire process is manual and unique to Étienne Bouillon. It’s impossible to reproduce his whisky identically, even for another Master Distiller.

Before returning to the tasting room, the wooden owl calls out to me. It’s the emblem of the distillery. But why the owl? The bird is a perfect reflection of the Belgian Owl philosophy: know-how and wisdom. Know-how, to craft the finest whiskies, and the wisdom to enjoy them in moderation.

Tasting time!

We start by tasting the “spirit“, the spirit of whisky, the unaged alcohol. It’s very strong, and you have to be careful not to smell it directly from the glass, but rather from a distance, so as not to burn your nostrils. Is it really that strong? A little nervous about dipping my lips into this little tasting glass, I take the plunge. The taste is surprisingly subtle.

Second tasting, a three-year-old whisky. Here, it’s a veritable explosion of flavors on the palate. We let ourselves be guided by Jean-Marc’s explanations, who tells us how to taste each nectar to appreciate all its aromas. Other editions, both classic and special, can also be tasted. An additional tasting glass costs €2.

A great visit! I was pleasantly surprised by the history of this exceptional product, touched by the strong values and passion of this team for their craft and their terroir.

Give it a try!