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When Asked For The Man In Charge, This Dutch Master Distiller Points To Herself

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You may have heard of the term “master distiller,” undoubtedly an impressive title to the ear, but what really constitutes such a position? Well, it’s as it sounds; a master distiller is a person who has ultimate control over every aspect of a distillery. They oversee creation and quality control, promote product, manage operations and staff, develop new spirits, and they do just about everything else you can think of. In short, they are the queens and kings of the spirits industry.


15 years ago, Master Distiller, Myriam Hendrickx was thrust into running Rutte Distillery, the previous owner having died a month after Myriam joined Rutte. 100 years of delicious history was dropped into Hendrickx’s lap. “I started at zero,” she says. “For example, we had barrels, but I didn’t know what was in them, so I just had to taste samples of everything and make groups, like ‘this is probably younger and this is probably older.’” She found recipes from the very beginning when Rutte Distillery was founded, handwritten in books from 1872. It was up to her to digitize them, brushing off the dust of antiquity to breathe modern life into the recipes that started it all. This shift didn’t mean completely rewriting Rutte’s history, it was simply preservation intertwined with progression.

“We take the existing product and twist it, but we make sure something of the basics stay there.”

"We had barrels, but I didn’t know what was in them, so I just had to taste samples of everything and make groups"

Prior to taking over Rutte, Hendrickx had dwelled in the dairy world for a while to gain commercial experience, but her taste for spirits could not be satiated. This prompted her to specialize in spirits, so much so that she became a teacher and a writer for the industry. Thus while Hendrickx had to educate herself on the financial side of running a business, the creation side came naturally. Uniquely and exquisitely crafted, spirits stray from the homogeneity found in the dairy industry. “The cream we sold was exactly the same as the competitor’s cream, so it was just about making deals,” she says, her passion lying in diverse products and the creative freedom to innovate.

“In the spirits industry, everyone is doing their own thing, which I love.”

Located in the oldest city in Holland, Dordrecht, Rutte is surrounded by a wealth of history, culture, and rivers. Nearby is a nature reserve that is flooded by the sea coming in, so different botanicals were available to the Rutte family and now to Hendrickx, whose fondness for botanicals is ever-growing. She notes, “The family was really nerdy and passionate about their craft, so they looked up any botanical they could either buy—so exotic botanicals from all over the world—or pick themselves, locally.” Unexpected botanicals enrich the Rutte’s spirits, classic genever given a new twist with hazelnuts and walnuts, or even citrus.

The primary spirits enlivening Rutte Distillery are genever and gin. So what exactly are they? The Master Distiller explains that English gin began as Dutch genever, the difference being that dry gin is made of neutral alcohol plus distilled botanicals, while genever is the same thing but can be made with malt spirits. Gin is herbaceous and flowery with a bite, whereas genever is quite refreshing and tastes like gin mixed with whiskey.

Hendrickx gives us a history lesson of genever, bringing us back to the 16th and 17th century in the Netherlands, during which the Dutch started distilling wine. Once the expense was realized to be too much, they moved on to distilling grain for beer. “The next step was to think botanicals, and juniper was a logical one because of all the medical benefits. The English got to know the product, and as history goes in the Thirty Years’ War, where we battled side by side against the French, the Dutch were apparently fierce and without fear, due to the drink...that’s why they call genever Dutch courage.”

"As history goes in the Thirty Years’ War, where we battled side by side against the French, the Dutch were apparently fierce and without fear, due to the drink...that’s why they call genever Dutch courage"

You would think Hendrickx would have needed some of her own Dutch courage as a woman stepping into the spirits industry. Such a move is not easy; women have long since faced difficulties while forging their paths in the food and beverage industries. Upon speaking with a member of the Rutte family for her 80th birthday, Hendrickx confirmed these challenges. Her predecessor revealed she was not granted access to the back and had no place in the creative, hands-on portion of running the business; women were stuck in the storefront.

Men stroll past Hendrickx when they enter the distillery for an appointment or to purchase spirits, expecting a man, wrongly assuming Hendrickx to be an office girl. Despite these unfavorable interactions with men underestimating the impressive abilities and knowledge of Hendrickx, she took it in her stride, quickly learning to brush off gender bias with a laugh. “I think it’s hilarious, so I don’t mind. [Men] come in and say, ‘Who’s the man in charge?’ and then I go like, ‘Me,’” she says. “I think it’s important as a woman to not get offended if they treat you differently.”

“I think it’s hilarious, so I don’t mind. [Men] come in and say, ‘Who’s the man in charge?’ and then I go like, ‘Me'"

Now Hendrickx is thriving, her inventive spirits intriguing customers old and new. One of Rutte’s signature flavors is their Celery Gin. Bring to your mind’s eye a clean, harmonious blend of botanicals including cardamom, sweet orange peel, coriander, and celery leaf, only the freshest ingredients used. The Rutte family’s former living room acts as a tasting room in which these bold flavors can be experienced on site, once more marrying past and present, honoring the Rutte legacy while simultaneously building upon it.

For the smallest distillery in Holland, Rutte has one of the largest hearts. Genuine passion is poured into every product, Hendrickx overseeing it all as their very first female head after seven generations of men. So if you ever get the chance to visit the distillery, be sure to ask for the woman in charge.

7min read
Culture

The Middle East And North Africa Are Brimming With Untapped Female Potential

Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.


A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.

To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.

The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.

In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.

Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")

The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."

This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.

Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.

She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."

Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.

"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei

While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.

Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.

The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."

This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.

Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.