With the start of a new series on serious whisky collectors, Hans meets up with Mr Teun van Wel. Born on 17 November 1973 in a little town close to Brabant's capital, Hertogenbosch (of The Whisky Koning's fame) in the Netherlands. Teun grew up in the vicinity before enlisting as a student at the University of Nijmegen, trying his hand at Management Studies. After receiving his bachelor degree he decided to look around and travel the world, having a fondness for visiting faraway places.
Soon he picked up a job at Thomas Cook Travel Agency and after ten years became an independent entrepreneur as a franchisee of The Travel Club. Teun's specialty is tailor made trips wherever in the world, specialising in whisky trips. Now we're talking.
Why whisky? "Well that's quite a story. When I was still at university in the mid 1990s, I watched a movie called Rob Roy, with my good pal Arthur Roos. There was a contest connected to the movie ticket, the main prize being a trip to Scotland. Our fondness for travelling made us decide to enter the contest."
For many months the two friends didn't hear anything and totally forgot about it, until a letter informed them they had won second prize - a four and one half litre bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label. "It was 1995, we turned it into quite a ritual, opening the bottle and pouring our first dram. I must confess, I did not like it at all and spat out the first swig." That wasn't the end of whisky for Teun however. By due diligence he learned to drink it.
A year later he travelled to Scotland for the first time, accompanied by Arthur and another friend called Bob Wenting. "Then I encountered single malts. We used public transport and could taste anywhere. Mind you, this was before the many whisky festivals. We did not have the internet as it is today so we had to go to the source to discover the intricacies of whisky."
A Scottish gentleman gave Teun a solid piece of advice, "Buy a bottle and buy a new one before it is half empty, so that you can compare the two." Teun liked the idea and basically that was the start of his collection. "At first we gathered in my house with five or six friends, or in one of their houses. We all brought a bottle to try and would take home half a bottle afterwards. Nowadays you can taste many whiskies before you buy a bottle, at liquor stores, at festivals, but back then that was the way to broaden your horizon."
In 2001, Teun and his friends visited the Whisky Festival in The Hague and in 2002 they went to Whisky Live London eventually ending up as tour guides at various whisky festivals. 2001 also marked a visit to Islay, where the three bought a cask of Bruichladdich.
"We had something to explain to the ladies when we got home," the ever friendly Teun smiles. "I used to live in a small apartment in Nijmegen and could not really display my bottles. In 2006 I was able to move to a bigger house and the main attraction there was a huge cellar. When you have a space like that, you've got to fill it."
As of today Teun has more than 700 single malts, a handful of Irish whiskies, some stray Japanese and a few Bourbons. He buys at some favourite liquor stores in the neighbourhood as well as in The Whisky Shop Dufftown, Master of Malt and via online auctions. How does he treat his whiskies?
"I hug them and I tell them stories before bedtime. No, just kidding. Eventually I open all bottles. Since I cannot drink it all by myself, I sell samples of opened bottles. With the money earned I buy new bottles to try. Occasionally, I invest, but nearly all bottles will be opened and shared at some time. After all, the best dram is enjoyed with good friends."
At first the members of his own whisky club Het Woest Genoegen, loosely translated as Fierce Pleasure, swapped samples. When Teun and Bob founded the Maltstock Festival, the boys both became known internationally for their passion and zeal.
"Sharing bottles is in line with what I had in mind when we started Maltstock. Sharing, talking enjoying, experiencing, during a whole weekend. You have so much more time to talk than at a regular festival session." In 2009 there were 60 paying guests who subscribed to the three day event held in September near Nijmegen. This year will see almost 250 participants, from all over the world. "They come from The Netherlands, Belgium, Israel, Poland, England, Scotland, Sweden, Denmark, Czech Republic, United States, Germany, India, Canada. Everybody brings a bottle of whisky which is placed on a huge table in the courtyard where we celebrate malt whisky each year."
Many whisky lovers around the globe got to know Teun a little bit better from buying samples. "No wonder. Whisky, as I see it, is the best social lubricant in the world. No other drink has so many clubs, festivals, magazines, writers and opinions. Whoever is interested should check out www.mywhiskysamples.com"
Over the years, Teun has sampled a staggering number of single malts. Any favourites? "I have a special fondness for Lochside and managed to buy a huge variety of bottlings. It is slowing down now; there are not many released anymore. Another one I really enjoy is the Caperdonich 1972 and the Bowmores from the 1960s, or a BenRiach from 1976." His favourite place in Scotland is Speyside, "Islay is nice, too, but Speyside is an area where I could definitely live."
Teun invites me to choose a dram. I walk to a special section where he keeps a small collection of 1973s - the year he was born - and select a 1973 Vintage Hallmark's Craigellachie while admiring his huge collection.
"I don't consider myself a collector. I'm just a whisky lover with a hobby that has grown wild," Teun smiles and pours himself a Lochside 1981.