Meet the maker: Joris Putman, the man who produces vodka made from tulip bulbs

Former actor Joris Putman looked to his family roots in Dutch flower cultivation to create a premium vodka using only organic tulip bulbs.

By Nori Jemil
Published 28 Aug 2019, 09:17 BST
Joris Putman

In 2014, Joris and his cousin, Bart Bouter, founded the Clusius Craft Distillers.

Photograph by Nori Jemil

At 21, Joris Putman was a household name — a soap star and winner of the Dutch version of Dancing on Ice. But a clue to his future career lay in the fact that he hails from a long line of tulip farmers.

At his microdistillery in the coastal town of Katwijk, Joris explains that making moonshine in a barn was his friend’s idea. Initially, however, it didn’t grab him. “Anyone can make vodka,” he says. Joris wanted to do something innovative, “that had a bit of sex appeal”. Then an idea blossomed overnight. “Suddenly, I saw the tulip, the Dutch icon worldwide, full of starch and sugar.” Rushing a batch of bulbs off to the lab, the results were positive — the batch contained more starch, pound for pound, than potatoes.

In 2014, Joris and his cousin, Bart Bouter, founded the Clusius Craft Distillers — the name a nod to the 16th-century Dutch botanist Carolus Clusius. They began with just a small copper still, which is now on display at the modest, industrial park premises that they moved to after “the barn got too small”. 

As Joris opens the lid to check the current batch, there’s something of the ardent inventor about him. Robust, spiced-earth fumes escape and it’s clear he’s thrilled with the aroma. Joris says the pair worked in absolute secret for three years, employing a whisky ‘nose’, or expert taster, and experimenting constantly. “There’s no handbook about fermenting tulip bulbs,” he explains. Luckily, Joris has always liked to “tinker”.

The company uses organic local bulbs and filtered dune water, and there’s zero waste — leftover bulb mulch is used for cattle feed at a nearby farm. Its premium brand uses over 350 bulbs per bottle, a quantity reflected in the €295 (£270) price tag. The everyday variety blends grain with 40 bulbs, at a more affordable €48 (£44). 

Since launching, the spirit has been taken up by Michelin-starred restaurants and hotel sommeliers across the Netherlands, as well the three-starred Restaurante Martín Berasategui, just outside San Sebastian, and Dutch airline KLM. Jonnie Boer, the chef and co-owner of three Michelin-starred restaurant De Librije, in Zwolle, the Netherlands, was one of the first to endorse the vodka, praising its purity and local ingredients.

“If you take a sip, you get these citric, floral aromas, and then you really taste the earthiness, the green — and that it’s a product from the land,” Joris says. “It’s like you’re standing in a tulip field.”

His life could’ve turned out so differently, but Joris doesn’t regret his change of career. And there’s no looking back now. “My life is tulip vodka,” he insists.

Three places to try tulip vodka

1. Villa de Duinen
This boutique hotel in Noordwijk, west Netherlands, can mix it up in a cocktail in its fine dining restaurant or sell you a bottle.

2. Satchmo
Amsterdam restaurant Satchmo’s sumptuous surrounds make it the perfect place to relax over a cocktail. Try a Tulip Moscow Mule — made with ginger beer, lime juice and mint and served over ice — or sip the vodka neat, accompanied by oysters.

3. Restaurant De Vier Seizoenen
During flower season this restaurant in Lisse, near Amsterdam, offers a tulip-themed menu, with one dessert in the shape of a flowerpot. What better accompaniment than a tulip vodka espresso martini.

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