Since its opening in 2006, The Nectar has embarked in a quest for the best spirits to share with both consumers and professionals: whisky, rhum, cognac, armagnac, calvados, grappa… The Belgian company has become a real reference in the industry, distributing more than 2000 references as we speak, and even bottling some casks under its own label “nectar of the daily dram“
I wanted to find out more about this spirited success story and reached out to Rens Defrenne, marketing manager, who kindly agreed to answer my 7 questions!
Could you please tell me a bit more about yourself: where do you come from, career background etc. and how did you end up working with The Nectar?
I’m Rens Defrenne, graduated as bovine veterinary in 2007. Always funny to see the surprised faces when telling this in the business. Let me explain: after 2 years of practice in France and Belgium I decided to quit practising. Why? A great job, but when seeing the clients much more than my own family, and with no time left for my preferred hobbies, I decided to look what else would be in line with my former studies that would suit personal life better. So I went on as product manager in a veterinary medicine company. The diversity of this job is great, but the market is getting satisfied and possibilities to stand out in a strong generic market were quite limited.
So when I saw the vacancy marketing manager whisky and rum at The Nectar, I went on looking for more information about this company. Maybe a bit strange, but truly there are some strong parallels between this job and my previous one. This together with a job full of variation and lots and lots of marketing possibilities in a small but fast growing company with a very hands on and straight forward working mentality it became clear that this was 100% sure the job I’m looking for! On top The Nectar is focusing on premium whisky brands (and other premium sprit brands) about which I’m passionate since the last couple of years so shortly after the first contact with The Nectar we decided to take the step together so here we are!
What is your personal relationship with whisky: first sipped, any noticeable milestone in your malted journey, favourite brands/distilleries/flavour profiles/production countries?
About 5 years ago we decided to start some whisky tasting with a couple of close friends. No high end tastings, just good fun every now and then, sharing whatever bottles we had at that time. The good fun stays, but I wanted to look for better whisky to have in my own bar. So I started discovering this wonderful world. Every new discovery made me look for more information and references to discover, trying to understand the variation that’s hidden in this great nectar called whisky.
A smile appears on my face every time I think about the moment my girlfriend suggested to do a holiday trip to Scotland…the first distillery visits and enjoying the stunning views of the surrounding nature during the walks with my girlfriend and at that time 6 months old son remain one of the best travels I ever experienced. Needless to say this was a passion that would not easily faint!
The first bottles in my collection were a very easy to drink Balvenie 12 double wood and a salty Clynelish 14. Nothing special one would say, but oh I still love these ones. A few later more smoky brands like for instance the iconic brand Springbank were added to the wishlist, and the Islay jewels caught my attention as well. Being in the company gives me the opportunity to taste aged spirits that really are out of bounds! I don’t really have a favourite brand, not even a favourite country. Scotch is great, but countries like Japan, Taiwan, USA, India and more nearby countries such as Sweden, France,…even our little Belgium starts to produce promising stuff nowadays.
What is the overall idea behind the creation of The Nectar? Could you please tell us a bit more about the whiskies you offer and what – in your opinion – makes them unique?
10 years ago Jan Broekmans and Mario Groteklaes started importing the spirits that they care so much about in Belgium under the name of The Nectar, the mythical red drink for the Gods of Olympus, as described in Ilias by Homerus. Some major independent bottlers like Cadenhead’s and Blackadder believed in them but also brands such as Arran and later on Glendronach, Glenglassaugh, Springbank, Nikka, Kilchoman… shared this believe and contributed to the success story of The Nectar.
With The Nectar of the Daily Dram Jan and Mario offered bottlings to the market that they would love to see in their own glass! And no, it’s not only about the age and where the spirit comes from, it’s the taste, the complexity of the spirits and the pleasure of sipping them that makes The Nectar choose for the specific casks to be bottled as Daily Drams. There is for them no need and no rush to bottle single casks as this is really not their main business but more the pleasant part of the job…
Have you witnessed any noticeable changes in whisky consumers’ profiles those past few years? What do you think are the current key trends in whisky and what will be the “next big thing” in the years to come according to you?
We can’t deny there’s a tendency to look for the more exclusive and difficult to find bottlings such as those offered by independent bottlers. Whisky is for everybody though. The thing is to be able to offer premium standard bottlings of all kinds to “spirit newbies” and introduce them into this wonderful world…but, on the other hand, to be able to offer very sophisticated, complex, very exclusive bottlings to the “die hard” whisky fans without compromising the factors “premium and pleasure”. So this market will remain diverse and will become even more and more diverse.
Not a month passes without a new independent bottler launches onto the market: how do you think The Nectar is standing out within this highly-competitive environment?
We have a nice range of independent bottlers in our portfolio (see website Thenectar.be exclusives), I don’t see new coming independent bottlers as a threat. In contrary, they trigger the existing ones to keep producing high level products, and from their side they have to bring good products to be competitive. And let’s be honest, it’s not because a customer buys a bottle from a competitor he won’t be buying one of ours next time and vice versa.
Recent governmental decisions to raise accises in Belgium very much compared to the surrounding countries are thriving our customers to go and purchase elsewhere, this is much more of a threat than our competitors which whom we usually get along quite well. Again, we have no real need to make Daily Dram bottlings as this is not our core job. We think that with Signatory, Cadenhead’s and Berry Bros, Whisky Agency or other we have a very strong Portfolio of bottlers with actual stock and access to casks. They don’t need to bottle everything they can buy …
Craft distilling has become incredibly huge – as there’s still no official definition, how would you define “craft” ?
I see craft distilling as a means of distilling in “smaller” quantities being able to diversify from other existing spirits by leaving the main road and going your own way. Why not? Great, as long as the basics is to produce amazing spirits without being an easy way to quick money without decent passion in the recipe.
My colleague Mario would say there has always been “craft distilling” and it is not new to us. Look at Kilchoman, what about Arran : is this craft or not? Distilling is always a craft, or does it mean you can’t use a computer? I think there is nothing new, just some people would love to build a nice story for a wee distillery and they call it “craft”. You know, being Belgian, craft brewing is a part of my heritage and I am sometimes wondering why brewers in the US are calling themselves “craft” when brewing more beer than we drink in Belgium… Well then, I would define it with just one word : Springbank!
How do you see the future for The Nectar: how do you picture the company in 5/10 years time? Any crazy dream you’d like to achieve?
A healthy running business that can keep growing is important. For us it is important that the brands we import are strong in the market. You know what a great dram can do internally when sipping it, it amazes you, it’s a pleasure and it makes you curious to discover more great drams. We want to make people be amazed, curious and happy when hearing about our company, and the more people enjoying our brands, the happier we become. Yes, business and pleasure go hand in hand…We have some plans and dreams, but no crazy things… For sure growing our Tonic Erasmus Bond is one of it.