Belgium. Luxembourg. The Netherlands. AKA Benelux. Three countries, seven official languages between them and a population of over 29 million. And we have one man out there to talk Bruichladdich on the ground. With a lot of physical and educational ground to cover Nick Baeyens conducts about 70% of his tastings in Dutch, 25% in French and 5% in English. He has even presented a tasting in three languages simultaneously…
Nick has officially been a part of the Laddie team for three years. His first trip to Islay, as an independent drinks guru running his own consultancy company, made an impression that we might call life-changing? “The local distributor hired me as a freelance ambassador. I got invited to the distillery, still not being part of the Bruichladdich family. And honestly it’s not a joke – it’s hard to tell people because they think it’s marketing talk – but I really fell in love with the distillery! Especially with the people and the commitment and the passion that was there to make change within a corporate structure, within that corporate industry. I found it such an inspiring story. I got on the plane home and I remember saying – this is a special company and if they ever ask me to work for them on a full time basis I’m just going to jump for it.”
Initially, he had studied to become a music teacher, making drinks in cocktail bars at night in his hometown of Ghent. Three months into teaching, however, he realised he missed the creativity offered by the drinks world. “I love bars,” he says. “Bartenders – who I think are just liquid chefs – I hugely admire. They are artists, I think food and drinks can be something so emotional, so inspiring that it is storytelling and even poetic.” He started his company called Apples and Booze consultancy to try to get the balance back.
Nick began to really find his niche in the whisky world. We know that it takes a particular kind of person to be out on the road for us and with Nick’s creativity, skills as an educator, and love of flavour, it was bound to be a special combination. But everyone has to start somewhere.
“My first job was a Bruichladdich malts tasting to one of our local certified retailers. The first time I did a tasting there it was very “high school”. I had a powerpoint and little notes I was going to say, I wanted to check everything and then even do a little quiz. I was so nervous. I do a tasting there every year now and every year we laugh looking back.”
“I really fell in love with the distillery. Especially with the people and the commitment and the passion that was there to make change…”
Nick’s current life straddles his two passions, single malt whisky and vinyl records. While spirits (including, of course, our gin) is now his day job, he still has not one but two occasional alter-egos in the DJ world under the artist names Nicky B (funk, disco) and Heresy (techno). He collects both bottles and records, and being a self-confessed nerd amongst our ambassadors, he can’t help collecting knowledge about both. He says his vinyl and whisky are quite holy to him and so one cannot beat the other.
With stacks of obscure vinyl at home, lockdown travel restrictions, and the world turning online, he threw out the idea of making short videos on the theme of “Malts Meets Music”. This became a weekly series, of 10 episodes, which we were delighted to publish on consecutive Sundays, in a slot on our instagram channel. He describes making them as “a labour of love.” Often he would ruminate over tracks and drams for days before recording.
So how did he match them? Tasting and drinking whisky is a very evocative experience but also a deeply personal one; as is music. We all have that one song that can catch us off guard emotionally, transport us back somewhere, is that the same for whisky, then? And how can you convey something so personal to someone else when everyone’s experience is their own?Nick took the challenge seriously.
”When you’re talking about experiences or expressing how you feel about a certain track or a certain dram or a certain cocktail,it involves a lot of language. Translating those feelings you have, the flavour you have, the scent you have into words. Which I think is a difficult thing to do. It’s so linked to memory. So making those videos was a lot more challenging than I expected it to be! But the thing you have with Bruichladdich is you can always talk about what we do, how we do it and WHY we do it. And that brings its own meaning into what you hear and taste.”
We’ve compiled a playlist of the 10 videos here on Laddie TV. And we’ve also made them into a playlist “Nick’s Mixtape” on Spotify; a wonderfully eclectic soundtrack for your commute, your dramming session or even a lazy Sunday morning.