Norbert Tebarts and his Whisky4all

I first got to know Norbert at Maltstock 2022, where the first speedtasting I visited on Saturday was from his Whisky4all. Thanks to him there was a presence of American Whiskies at the festival, a welcome divergence from the galore of scotches on offer that weekend. Especially the Tres Hombres offering from Balcones – the dram he finished his first speed tasting session with – hit home for me.

Since then, I ran into him several more times at different festivals. And during one of those talks I found out that he is also one of the driving forces behind one of my favourite festivals in The Netherlands: WTF – Whisky Tasting Festival Utrecht.

Aside from those facts, Norbert is also known in The Netherlands as the leading authority on American Whiskies. With some of the country’s bigger importers hiring him as an expert to teach their sales department a thing or two about American Whisky.

As you can tell by now, there were plenty of reasons for me to reach out to him and schedule an interview. So, that’s exactly what I did.

Whisky4all

In 2017 Norbert started Whisky4all, a career switch taken to turn his passion into his job. A few years later – when Covid struck – Norbert was just coming back from the United States, where he visited Balcones, Ironroot and the WhistlePig Distillery in Vermont.  Shortly after arriving back in The Netherlands the Covid restrictions where installed, and he found himself forced to start doing his tastings online instead of in person. He initially feared that this might herald the end of his business, but he managed to turn the setback into a major part of his success instead. His tastings focus on the niche market, and as it turned out the ability to join these tastings online was welcomed with great enthusiasm. After all they allowed people from all over The Netherlands to participate, and he even noticed people from Belgium and Germany were joining his sessions.

Now that the Covid restrictions have passed, these online tastings still play a major part in his business. Of course, he picked up his activities in live tastings again as well. But the online tastings form such an amazing opportunity to reach out to the niche market, that he will continue to incorporate it into his business model.

Visiting a Whisky4all tasting

When you visit one of his tastings – whether it’s online or in person – you’ll notice he has a real knack for it. That’s because he has the right background for it – with a previous life in journalism and education – but also because of his abundance of passion. It’s that same passion that can capture you in the moment, while you listen to him tell the story of the whisky he just poured you.  

Together with his wife Amy he’s even looking into different ways to make his tastings an all-inclusive night out. All-inclusive in the sense that they’re planning to offer whisky tastings paired with food (and even an amazing cigar at the end might be a possibility). But also all-inclusive in the sense that they want their tastings to be accessible for everyone, including non-whisky lovers. To that end they’re looking into creating tasting sessions with Norbert taking care of the whisky side of things, and Amy bringing her cocktail skills to the fore. Personally, I felt an immediate surge of enthusiasm at that last notion, because it means there would finally be a tasting session that I can drag my fiancée along to.

WTF Utrecht

That same inclusiveness is something Norbert tries to achieve for WTF – Whisky Tasting Festival Utrecht. It goes without saying that there will always be more than enough amazing whiskies to try. But it’s his goal that you can also bring a non-whisky loving partner or friend to the festival. And who knows, once there you might be able to convince them to try a dram or two after all!

When Norbert first heard about the festival, he instantly knew he wanted to be a part of it. As it had been a dream for a very long time, to put Utrecht on the map as a whisky loving city. As it turned out, the person behind the festival only lived a couple of blocks away from him and Norbert reached out to him in instantaneously. Norbert was quickly brought on board, as his knowledge and connections where quickly recognised as a most welcome addition to the festival.

Together they set out to create more than just a whisky convention, they wanted to create a whisky festival true to its name. With plenty of room for conversations in a more open setting, where you can enjoy the company of fellow whisky lovers from across the Netherlands. There’s good reason why it’s currently the fastest growing Whisky Festival in The Netherlands, and if you haven’t visited it yet I can wholeheartedly recommend checking it out next year! Get your WTF tickets here.

Amy

After mentioning Amy in the Alinea about Whisky4all, I feel like I should tell you a little bit more about her. As she is an intricate part of Norbert’s life, in more area’s than the vast amounts of love the two exude for eachother. When Norbert met the love of his live, Amy was working as a brand builder for Five Points Distilling in Texas. Their shared passion caused them to continue their conversation long after his tour of the distillery ended, and it didn’t take long for that shared passion to give the spark for a loving relationship. Skipping forward to the present day the lovely couple is married, and Amy moved to The Netherlands for love. Together they form a powerhouse of whisky. With their shared passion leading to all kind of new and exciting projects on the subject.

Importing Spirits

Aside from his tasting sessions and the festival he helps organise, Norbert is currently working hard on importing some amazing spirits and other drinks to The Netherlands together with his wife Amy and two business partners. They focus these import activities on smaller businesses from the United States, which are still growing towards becoming international businesses. Because he and Amy believe that these brands have spirits on offer that deserve to be tasted and enjoyed at the other side of the pond as well. Often enough the problem for these smaller companies is that they don’t have enough stock to ship overseas, and they would rather add another state to their sales market than immediately going abroad.

Norbert and Amy are approaching them with a rather unique and interesting approach though. They only ask for perhaps a barrel or two, which they can use for selected tastings at liquor stores across The Netherlands. This way they can start to build brand recognition and keep the market warm for the moment there is enough stock to realise a major release of the core line-up on the Dutch market. Now, that seems like a difficult offer to turn down for a company, doesn’t it? Which is exactly why there are already several distilleries who expressed their interest into releasing some of their spirits through their new imports company.

American Whisky

I have already given you the core elements of Whisky4all in this blog – which should paint a clear picture of why Whisky4all is one to watch in the Dutch whisky industry – but I can’t write a blog about Norbert without diving a bit deeper into American Whisky. He is the leading expert on the subject in our country after all. And because of his passion for the category, it will always play a major role in his business model.

That doesn’t mean that the incorporation of American Whiskies came without challenges though. Here, in The Netherlands, there’s unfortunately still a lot of scepticism when it comes to American Whisky. More than once he’ll get belittling remarks at festival, when people pass his stand. Mostly from people who have never really given American Whisky a chance. Because, as Norbert rightly points out, if you like Scotch Single Malt there’s no reason why you wouldn’t enjoy an American Single Malt. American Whisky is so much more than just Bourbon.

Even about Bourbon there’s still many misconceptions. Like the common misconception that the sweetness in a bourbon comes from the use of corn in the mash bill. There is in fact nothing sweet about the corn used in whisky. There’s sweetness in bourbon – specifically vanilla and caramel influences stand out – but that comes from the charred new oak casks bourbon needs to mature in.

Norbert wants to help take away misconceptions about American Whisky, through his tasting sessions and contributions to various festivals. Because he firmly believes that people miss out on so many wonderful whiskies, just because they’re not open to enjoying that – which given the chance – might truly amaze and blow them away. American Whiskies are so diverse, that there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

ProefOlympics

The fact that you can get so much more from a whisky when you taste it completely unbiased, is something he noticed very clearly when he was organising the “ProefOlympics” (“proef” is Dutch for “tasting”). For years Norbert organised this competition, where contestants would taste 18 drams – including 3 mystery drams that where not necessarily whisky – and then had to try and guess what they found in their glass. It really showed him that whisky is not about the brand, what the bottle looks like, or what’s written on the label. It’s all about how much you enjoy the taste of what is in your glass. And that’s the same focus he applies to everything he does for the world of whisky today, including whisky from the United States.

Two amazing drams

During the interview, Norbert poured me two amazing drams. A Colonel E.H. Taylor Small Batch, and a Smooth Ambler Rye. The first being a bottling that honours the contribution of Colonel E.H. Taylor to the modern bourbon industry. It’s owned by the Sazerac company and distilled at the Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort Kentucky. A distillery that’s currently undergoing a 1.2 billion dollar renovation (just to show how big the bourbon industry is: the cost of building the new Macallan distillery was a “mere” 140 million pound).

Next, he poured me a 7-year-old Rye Whisky from Smooth Ambler. A wonderful follow up to the bourbon we enjoyed before, as this one packed a bit more spice (as Rye often does). It also got us talking about the history of Bourbon. As it turned, a subject both of us are rather interested in. Norbert even pointed out that in his opinion American Whisky has a much more interesting history than – for example – Scotch.  

The History of American Whisky

If you’re anything like Norbert and me, you’ll have that same fond interest in the history of whisky. And I will give it to Norbert that the history of American Whisky has plenty of amazing stories to tell. Just think about George Washington, who owned one of the biggest distilleries in the country at the time. The same George Washington that sent his army to enforce the tax on whisky, while looking to fund the war just won against the English.

But it’s not just its own history that has amazing stories to tell. It’s also the influence it had on whisky worldwide. Just think of prohibition, the event that may have caused trouble for many liquor enterprises but instead made Scotch grow into an even bigger player worldwide. The Irish we’re too law abiding, and the Scotch took their chance clean. Without any scruples to contribute to a little smuggling. Just like the phylloxera plague from the 19th century, it’s played a major role in growing the Scotch Whisky Industry into the magnate of the liquor industry it is today.

Drambling on

I could dramble on and on forever about the history of whisky, and I learned many more amazing stories in my conversation with Norbert that I would have loved to share. But for the sake of keeping this article accessible (and not overly long) I will instead recommend visiting a tasting session from Norbert yourself sometime. There’s no one that knows his stuff better than Norbert and I guarantee you’ll walk away with a vastly increased amount of knowledge about our beloved dram.

Be sure to check his Facebook page or website regularly for his latest tasting sessions, and hopefully I will see you guys sometime soon at one of them! If you’re looking into learning more about American Whisky I can recommend joining Whisky4all’s American – The Next Level tasting!

Sláinte and dramble on!

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