In 1997, he started the only distillery in the Liege area in Grāce-Hollogne after acquiring a first, and then a second, handmade, century-old still in 1994; one of these stills was used by an authentic "bouilleur de cru", which means that Etienne Bouillon is the first distiller in Belgium who can boast of having an itinerant distillery!
Each of these stills has a capacity of 500 litres. Then a liqueur table and a fermentation tank were added for a capacity of up to 20,000 litres of wort.
Etienne is a graduate of CERIA, in the liqueur section. He then went on to perfect his skills in the field, in the pure guild tradition, in many traineeships in Belgium and France. He has now acquired thorough knowledge and total mastery of distillation and rectifying techniques.
Etienne quickly specialised in distillation of grain and fruit. His excellent technical skills and a real passion for his trade quickly won recognition in two awards:
* Gold Medal at the Brussels "Salon des Arts Ménagers" in 1997 for his pure malt distillate made exclusively from malted barley, the first major step in the success story of « Belgian Whisky »
* New products award at the Charleroi "Salon des Arts Ménagers" in 1998 with his Pomme d'Etienne, a delicious combination of apple juice and his eau-de-vie – further recognition of the quality of Etienne's products.
The breakthrough came in 1999: a full-page ad in Belgian papers announced the creation and sale of the first Belgian whisky; the first 500 calls to a number given in the advertisement would win a free bottle! 30,000 calls were recorded in 72 hours! In fact, this was a hoax organised by two advertising agencies to prove the impact of communicating in the daily press. The least one can say is that it worked.
But for Etienne Bouillon, this was proof there is really major interest in the first Belgian whisky.
From then on, he became obsessed with designing, distilling, aging and marketing the first Belgian whisky in history!
How could he manage it? How could this project be financed since after distillation the pure malt must necessarily age at least three full years in oak casks before it can be called whisky?
Particularly when Etienne would not be satisfied with making an ordinary whisky! He wanted to produce a true single malt, made exclusively from barley malted in his own distillery – top quality is the goal.
Etienne worked on his project for nearly three years as he developed his activities. A tireless worker, he became the Secretary of the Professional Union of Dealers in Wine, Spirits and Liqueurs for Liege Province, and Vice-President of the Office of Walloon Products. He has also been recognised by an impressive number of brotherhoods, the list of which is too long to give here.
2003 would be a crucial year: Etienne Bouillon had finished preparing his project and presented it to the Walloon Region, which marked its interest and signed a technical agreement for a loan to finance two-thirds of the first batch. This time, he was on his way! Etienne threw himself into the project and was soon joined by a friend, whom we will simply call Alain, to further the project and implement this magnificent idea! The two friends worked together beginning in August 2003, mostly the evenings and on weekends – as their occupations left no other time: financing, capitalisation, equipment, « sourcing » of the malted barley, production of wort, capacity study, finding casks, marketing – everything had to be studied.
During one of their working sessions on a lovely Saturday morning in March 2004, the two friends were thinking about the symbol of the first Belgian Whisky – something that recalls nature, authenticity, Belgium, Wallonia in particular, and "night", since whisky is hardly a daytime drink.
Many animals were considered and rejected – stags, mountain goats, wild boar, foxes –. Finally an owl was chosen – because it best symbolises the message that the two accomplices wanted to get across, including wisdom!
The products will be marketed under the names « The Belgian Pure Malt » and « The Belgian Whisky, PUR.E Single Malt ». These two names have now been registered. On that basis, a first and then a second label were drawn so that Belgian Pure Malt could be marketed immediately, before the aging process, and it has already been very successful. Contacts were made in France and especially in England and Scotland to get advice, particularly on the casks to use. Jim Murray, a very influential name in whisky in England, has taken an interest in the project and has promised to include it in his whisky « Bible », which is a real acknowledgement of Etienne Bouillon, since the first Belgian Whisky will only be ready for tasting in 2007!
As an outcome of these contacts, a supplier was chosen for the casks to age the future whisky.
During this period, the two friends also made every effort to convince private and banking investors, as well as public sources of finance, to round out the financing of the project. This was probably the most difficult aspect – only in October 2004, with the support of Luc Foubert, could the project be considered financed and ready for official introduction to the Walloon Region early December.
Summer 2004 brought new recognition of Etienne Bouillon's products when Belgian Pure Malt was awarded second prize at the Coqs de Cristal contest at the Libramont Fair in July. In the meantime, the PUR.E Distillerie company was incorporated on 9 September 2004: this is the company that will officially produce the first Belgian Whisky; Etienne Bouillon is the founder and shareholder.
September was also the time when the two friends designed the new label for « Belgian Pure Malt » and for the future « Belgian Whisky » with the help of a Liege graphics company. The owl is the emblem of the two projects and of the PUR.E Distillerie. These are the labels you will discover in this site!
On the other hand, the internet site that you are consulting at this time was designed, developed, illustrated and put on-line in barely more than a month, quite a performance! So, on 20 October 2004 the site www.belgianwhisky.com, registered by PUR.E Distillerie, opened on the Net.
Finally, with the help of SPI+, Etienne and Alain vied for the Crescendo New Business Award organised by the « Initiatives » trade fair in Liege: on 20 October 2004, Etienne Bouillon presented the project and won second place in the Prize awarded by the public, again demonstrating the enthusiasm created by the future Belgian Whisky Pure Single Malt. But October 2004 really stood out as the start up of the first Belgian Whisky – on 17 October 2004 the PUR.E Distillerie began production for the first time of what will become the future whisky and the following day, on 18 October 2004, the act of authenticity of the first cask of Belgian Whisky was signed by three witnesses, including Luc Foubert, before the Duties and Excise Department. This first cask was filled and sealed on 29 October 2004. For that matter, after the Crescendo Award and the feedback from it, on 24 October 2004, Etienne Bouillon recorded the first order from a private party for « The Belgian Whisky». So that is the true story of the first Belgian Whisky; or more accurately, that is the beginning of the story, a lovely story in which you have a role to play as the purchaser of one or several bottles of history's first batch of authentic Belgian Whisky.