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Clutius and Clusius

Meet these gentlemen whose knowledge helped to found the Netherlands. It was in the 80-year war that pharmacist and botanist Theodorus Clutius (Dirk Outgaertszoon Cluyt) founded the Hortus Medicus (the first botanical garden outside Italy) together with professor Carolus Clusius (Charles de l’Ecluse). They corresponded together about bees. This correspondence was published by Clutius in 1597 in the book ‘Van de Byen’ (About bees).


Dirk Outgaertszoon Cluyt was a pharmacist in Delft. He was evidently good at his trade, for he was house pharmacist to Willem van Oranje (William of Orange, founding father of the Netherlands). Clutius had a great knowledge of medicinal plants and herbs. Together with his friend Carolus Clusius, professor at the Leiden University, he founded the Leiden Hortus Botanicus. Clutius and Clusius corresponded about our favourite subject: bees. This correspondence was published by Clutius in 1597 in the book ‘Van de Byen’.


The Fleming Charles de l’Ecluse acquired great international fame as a scientist under the Latin name Carolus Clusius. Under pressure from the Spanish Inquisition (80-year war), he settled in Leiden. He was the one who brought the potato to the Netherlands, but also the tulip bulb. Both have great consequences to this day. As professor at the newly founded Leiden University, Clusius was commissioned to set up a ‘Hortus Medicus’. He did this together with his friend, pharmacist Theodorus Clutius. Both had great knowledge of medicinal plants and herbs.

Van de Byen, 1597

In his correspondence with Carolus Clusius on the subject of beekeeping, Theodorus Clutius described a number of recipes for the preparation and fermentation of mead. He then described in detail how to distil this mead. Although, as far as we know, there is perhaps no one in the world who distils mead, the recipe dates back to the time when the Netherlands came to exist. It would not surprise us if William of Orange ordered distilled mead from his favourite apothecary.

Brandy, but why?

Serious Bee Distillers ferments honey into mead, and then distils the mead into… Yes, into what exactly? There is no official category designation, such as gin, calvados or grappa. At the time that Clutius described how to distil mead, there were no categories either. At that time there was only ‘brandy’ (literally: distilled wine) and all distilled drinks fell under that name. Grain distillate, honey distillate, grape distillate – it was all part of the brandy category. That is why we chose ‘finest mead brandy’.

Spirits at the pharmacy

Theodorus Clutius was a pharmacist in Delft. He described in his correspondence with Carolus Clusius how to distil mead. A pharmacist making spirits, isn’t that strange? It is now, but not in 1597. Spirits were seen as an elixir of life (Eau de Vie). By distilling the spirit from the fermented drink (wine, mead, beer), you got a drink that was bound to make you very healthy. By adding juniper (to which many medicinal properties were and still are attributed), the elixir of life became doubly effective. The fact that immediately after the 80-year war, the first jenever distilleries were established confirms the success of this drink.