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See inside the oldest and first organic distillery in Belgium!

In the northern part of East Belgium, the hills are gentle and the lush green meadows shimmer and shine. We are in Raeren, a few kilometres outside the High Fens and just south of the German city of Aachen.

We are visiting the Radermacher distillery, a family business for six generations making a whole range of products from whisky, rum and vodka to the most fruity jenevers (gin) and liqueurs. Ecological sustainability is a key factor in their operation.

Bernard Zacharias is at the helm in the factory and invites us to join him in what he calls “his passion”.

Text: Ostbelgien.eu Photos: Ostbelgien.eu/Michael Dehaspe

Sustainable distillation

Even before we can pose the question, Bernard declares that ecological sustainability is a major priority. “The distillery uses a lot of water and energy in the distillation processes,” he says. “That is why we have invested almost 600,000 euros in ecological optimisation in recent years. We’ve got solar panels on the roof and extra insulation, but we’ve also done a lot of work on heat recovery. That’s a way of reusing heat from exhaust air and waste water.”

During the brewing process, grain is mixed with warm water in a saccharification tank (or mash tun). This process naturally produces a lot of residue, which is normally simply discarded. But in order to work ecologically here too, Bernard donates the residues to the local farms, so that it can be used in cow fodder, for instance. Bernard has also set his mind on another project: with residues from his Lambertus whisky production, he plans to make Lambertus bread in conjunction with the Kockartz bakery in Raeren.

“If we reduce the moisture content of the grain that is left over after the saccharification process by 40 per cent, we can send it to the bakery. They can then use it in their bread. That way we have virtually no waste.”

Open hospitality

“Welcome, come in,” says Bernard Zacharias, the linchpin of the Radermacher distillery. Assisted by his 18-strong team, he has been running the company for 34 years. What’s more, it’s currently operating at full capacity: Radermacher produces 1.2 million bottles a year. “We started with 10,000 bottles a year,” Bernard says with great pride. This success explains why the distillery is currently being expanded and renovated.

The brand new distillery sits behind a screen of transparent glass, so you can admire the big stills from the outside. “It’s a way of saying that everyone is welcome to follow the production process and to come and visit us,” says Bernard. Those who want to see the distillation process up close can join a tour of the factory, followed by some tastings and the option to stay for a meal.

Radermacher is an integral part of the Raeren landscape. “We are very much a child of this region,” Bernard says with a laugh. But the brand is also gaining popularity nationally and internationally. Radermacher has close export connections to about a dozen countries, including Australia, Canada, Japan and Dubai. In addition to its own branded products, about 25 per cent of Radermacher’s turnover comes from products that they make for other companies, such as the Belgian brand Panda Gin. “There are reciprocal benefits in that too,” he says. “We promote each other.”

Those who want to experience distillation up close can take part in a group tour of the facility, followed by a tasting and the opportunity to dine here

Discoveries on foot or by bike

As Bernard rejoins his team to attend to the production of limoncello, we head out into the surrounding area. Less than a kilometre from the distillery, we come across an exceptional view: a hilly landscape of meadows grazed by cows. Raeren, together with Eupen, Kelmis and Lontzen, make up the northern region of the East Belgium. Because there are only small differences in altitude between these municipalities, it’s a great place for walking or cycling tours.

If you want to escape the crowds, you can, for example, follow one of the RAVeL routes in the region. RAVeL (the Réseau Autonome des Voies Lentes) is a network of public paths designed for “slow” road users: cyclists, walkers, horse riders, and so on. The routes embrace three countries: Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg.

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