Marc de Kuyper is the eldest of the 11th generation of De Kuyper Royal Distillers, founded in 1695, one of the oldest family distilleries in the world. With factories and sales offices in The Netherlands, Belgium and the United States, and partnerships in more than 100 countries, the De Kuyper family sells more than 70 million bottles annually. Today, de Kuyper is president of Miami-based Royal Dutch Distillers, an importing company that distributes and markets the family’s ultra-premium liqueurs and specialty products, such as Mandarine Napoléon and the wine innovation, ChocoVine.
Mix: You've returned Mandarine Napoléon to the United States at a very innovative time even for quality liqueurs. What's special about Mandarine?
Marc de Kuyper: Because the current trend is working with specialized products (small batch products, all natural ingredients, etc.), now is the perfect time to relaunch Mandarine Napoléon. Additionally, within the triple sec/citrus liqueur category, there are no products made with mandarins or aged Cognac. This combination gives Mandarine Napoléon the smooth and full-bodied taste that bartenders all over the world appreciate and provides a great opportunity to give their cocktails an added twist.
Mix: How will you return it to the marketplace, especially now that a generation of bartenders hasn't really been exposed to its qualities?
de Kuyper: We will market the brand directly and personally. The events we will roll out will focus on supporting the bartenders’ industry. Our family feels it is our responsibility to support the industry and help foster new talent, and with our national competition entitled the “Emperor’s Challenge,” we plan to do just that. The challenge puts together teams of three, pairing experienced mixologists with eager up-and-comers and novices. The most heavily weighted part of the judging criteria is how the team works together and how well the team leader works with his/her team. Additionally, it is required that each person completes one part of the cocktail creation. The “Emperor’s Challenge” is just one example of our strategy. Another is a mentor program we are putting together that will include industry legends and hand-picked talent that the brand believes is the next generation. Again, we feel it is our responsibility to help instill the concept of personal growth and teach the younger generation how to turn their talents into a viable business for them and create a long lasting career.
Mix: As a group, orange liqueur — Gran Marnier, Cointreau, others — is very competitive. How do you set Mandarine apart in the mind of a bartender?
de Kuyper: The main competitors in the category each have their own distinct place in the market. Some are pure triple secs, others use brandies or unaged cognac, but they all use oranges instead of mandarins. The blend of mandarins and aged cognac gives Mandarine Napoléon a special palate of flavor that is much appreciated by renowned mixologists all over the world. N.Y.-based mixologists, such as Dushan Zaric and Jim Meehan, adapted the brand in their bar and on their menus for this very reason. The taste of Mandarine Napoléon is persuasive enough to sell it. Our job is to support our brand ambassadors through personalized programming that fits them.
Mix: Your family background is, of course, liqueurs, but you have primarily been involved in banking. What's the attraction of the spirit business?
de Kuyper: I was raised with the heritage of our family distillery and gained industry knowledge way before I even realized it myself. For me, contributing to our 11th-generation family business is all I ever wanted. Nevertheless, the reason why our company still exists and is still 100% family-owned is because our family manages the business in a very professional way. Heading a multinational is not only about understanding the industry, it also involves proper financial and managerial capabilities that are more accessible in other industries. During my career at the major Dutch corporate bank ABN AMRO, I was responsible for its family-business center, allowing me to gain in-depth knowledge on family governance, advanced financing structures and family wealth management. These lessons have and will be significant when managing family enterprises in the long run.
Mix: What are the plans for your company: Will you be developing new products, buying and importing others, and are there any short-term plans you can share?
de Kuyper: Most definitely! Our company exists partly because the industry recognizes us for our skilled R&D division. Our business-to-business division sells concepts and produces for the biggest spirits companies in the world. We are currently exploring opportunities to launch a high-end flavored-vodka line that actually uses distillates of fruits and herbs, as opposed to the "artificially" flavored vodkas that permeate the present-day market. I currently am looking into introducing a lychee vodka that answers the growing demand for lychee spirits. Lychee is a very fragile fruit that breaks easily when distilled at high temperature. Our advanced installations allow us to extract the natural flavor of the lychee, resulting in a superior quality of lychee flavor for our vodkas.
Mix: As someone at the head of a small supplier company, what are the openings you see for new products in the United States?
de Kuyper: High-end, small-batch, hand-crafted products with targeted bars and venues to support the brand. Because of our small size, we have the capability of listening to our ambassadors and working with them to launch specialized products. Our time-to-market is exceptionally short. When we launched ChocoVine with our partner in Palm Beach Gardens, we answered the call for a raspberry flavor in less then two months (from R&D to the shelf of major liquor stores nationwide).
Mix: What's your favorite cocktail right now?
de Kuyper: I am a very big fan of Scotch whisky. Even though I appreciate proper Scotch neat or on the rocks, I think exciting cocktails can be made with the woodiness and/or smokiness of certain Scotch whiskys. The head bartender of Soho Beach House Miami, Chris Hudnall, designed a spot-on cocktail for me with Oban, Mandarine Napoléon and Aperol. (By the way, Chris is definitely a bartender I follow closely. I expect to see more of him in the future.)
1 1/4 ounces Oban Whisky
1 ounce Mandarine Napoléon
1 ounce Aperol
Lemon zest, for garnish
Build all ingredients into Old-Fashioned glass and stir for 10 seconds. Garnish with lemon zest and serve.