Excellent Customer Service Really Is Worth Its Weight In Gold, Or In This Case, Whisky and Wine

Hennie Berensden, Robin Berensden & Ryan

Slijterij Berendsen, the family-run alcoholic beverage store in Enschede, puts excellent customer service at the heart of its business

Food and Drink Heroes of Enschede #3

Nestled in the centre of Roombeek, Enschede, this amazing shop, the largest beverage specialist in Twente, really is to the place to go if you are looking for variety, quality, value for money and excellent customer service.

Fabulous Belgian Beer!

Berendsen’s was one of the first shops I was introduced to upon my arrival in Enschede. Having a reliable supply of wine was of the utmost importance in those heady Covid lockdown days when food (and wine) shopping was one of the few pleasures we were allowed.

The store is vast, and it has taken me some time to appreciate the wealth of choice available. They stock: 1200 different types of whisky; 1400 different speciality beers; a wide range of wine and spirits; and an extensive choice of glassware both to hire or to buy.

The business was started in 1958 by Piet Berendsen, a pub landlord at the time, and the current owner’s grandfather. Only eight shops in Enschede were awarded a license to sell alcohol and so when one license became available, Piet jumped at the chance to diversify. The shop was initially on Kuipersdijk, but when Piet’s son, Hennie Berendsen, took over, they started the search for premises with parking, hence the move to its current location on Deurningerstraat.

Three very special bottles of whisky

Like any good father, Hennie wanted to pass on his love of the business to his son Robin, and gifted Robin his first bottle of whisky for his 18th birthday — a bottle of Lagavulin. Whisky keeps for years, and Robin still has half of the bottle left! WOW! I am told that this vintage is very complex and very smoky; much more so than bottles produced today which invariably are intended for quick consumption and have much less ageing time in the casks to develop the fullness of the flavour!

Lagavulin

The business passed again from father to son and Robin Berendsen is now the current owner. But before taking over the business, Robin spent six months in Chile working on the Torres vineyards to gain a deeper understanding of all aspects of production: specialist knowledge he brings to customers here in East Netherlands and further afield.

Fun Facts:

Aside from the fabulous speciality/craft beer I buy for my husband, and the wine I buy mostly for myself, I have learnt that there are two different types of Marsala wine — one (Cremovo) for use with egg and best when making an Italian Tiramisu; and the other (Crema Mandorla) is a better accompaniment for nuts and use in sauces as so often used by cooks such as Nigella Lawson.

What are the current trends in wine?

Chilean wine remains very popular and is very good value for money. Both Chilean and Argentinian wine stand up well against more expensive New Zealand brands and especially against the much more expensive French vintages.

A nice soft wine with a good balance of price versus quality — not too cheap, not too expensive!

Champagne

Robin sells more Chilean white wine than any other, representing a large part of their wine sales. Pinot Grigio however still remains a strong favourite as people continue to shy away from the stronger, heavier and more oaky Chardonnay variety, much favoured in the early noughties.

Port — Robin thinks we should all drink more port, and I would tend to agree. Non-vintage port i.e., port without a year on the label is good value for money and there are some exciting brands out there which deserve our attention. Non-vintage port will keep for a long time, which means it is the perfect choice when you want something really good to drink, but don’t necessarily want to open a whole bottle of red wine.

Vintage port

Vintage port in contrast should be drunk ideally within days (or even hours) of opening. Anything with a year on the label, or the initials LBV, is very special.

What is vintage port, I hear you say? Well, it is a wine made from a single, exceptional year and aged for no longer than two years in a barrel. This might seem odd, but in contrast to whisky which can be aged in barrels for many years, port needs to age very slowly, and this is best achieved in a bottle, hence the need to decant, and throw away the sediment at a later date.

A possible alternative to always opening a bottle of wine…

Vintage ports are very rare and represent typically only 3% of the annual production. Companies (with a reputation to uphold) only release the very best vintages and this could be as little as two or three vintages per decade. Quite remarkable.

Robin’s recommendation is the brand Niepoort, a company founded in Portugal in 1842 by the Dutchman, Eduard Kebe; and still owned by a Dutchman, Dick Niepoort, who does not speak Dutch, but holds a Dutch passport courtesy of his grandfather.

Port anyone?

I do like bottles with dust. It gives a certain reassurance.

Niepoort bottles have dust! Bottles are hidden behind hessian sacks in cellars deep in the Portuguese hills to further shield them from the light and enhance the aging process.

After two years in casks, the port is decanted into bottles which are kept for at least fifteen years to ensure port of the highest quality.

What should you buy if looking for an investment?

Whisky, without a doubt. Special whisky and certain vintages are an important and significant part of the business. If Robin does not have the vintage you are looking for, he will find it and can supply one or two cases of rare and highly sought-after bottles, most of which are usually released on a strictly limited basis.

A 1978 bottle of Brora Single Malt Whiskey

A recent sale of three small bottles of Brora to a client in Switzerland for €40,000 involved a trip to Eindhoven. A further sale to a client in Denmark involved a trip to Hamburg to exchange the bottles!

Arran Single Malt Scottish Whiskey

Their most recent sale has been a bottle of Johnnie Walker Masters Ruby Reserve, 40 Year Old: ‘a combination of just eight 40-year-old casks, hand-selected by master blender Jim Beveridge OBE. Rich aromas of toffee, caramelised apples, dark chocolate, plums, pink peppercorn and sea salt fill the nose, followed by notes of smouldering driftwood, cocoa nibs, brambles, blackcurrants, pears and maraschino cherries throughout the palate’.

Johnnie Walker Masters Ruby Reserve

So, why do I keep returning to Slijterij Berendsen, and why should you give it a go?

Without a doubt, it is the excellent customer service I receive each and every time I enter the shop which keeps me coming back. Robin and his colleague Ryan give me excellent advice on everyday drinking wine, on speciality beer for my husband, (a subject I know very little about!), and also more detailed advice on pairings for a whole variety of food. It is my little intellectual challenge to arrive with a varied menu and ask Robin to suggest interesting and unexpected choices. His suggestions to date have all brought a smile to the face!

Fever-Tree was started in 2005 by two British guys: Charles Rolls, a former director at Plymouth Gin, and Tim Warrillow, who wanted an alternative to “artificial tasting” Schweppes.

It is this aspect of the business which I value the most; a level of skill you cannot find in the supermarkets. And it is this skill, coupled with highly competitive prices, which keep me returning time after time.

I would encourage you to give them a try, or check out their website.

Slijterij Berendsen Shop

The Whisky House

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