Ruben Luyten. The craft of connoisseurship

First publication: MastersTalk, pilot issue.

Ruben Luyten (Mechelen, Belgium) is the author of and, website guest blogger. Organizer of the first ever Sherry Twitter Tasting. Certified Sherry Educator. Ruben is an efficient connoisseur of whiskey and sherry. He turns his appreciation into successful information products and activities. We asked him a few questions about his work with drinks and, of course, we couldn’t miss tea.

Ruben, what is your main occupation?

I have a degree in Art History / Musicology — it still interests me but it’s a difficult area to work in. Now I’m in the applied arts, if you like: I have a small design business, mainly web-design.

How many years have you been working with sherry and whisky?

It has never been my job really. Ten years ago I became interested in Scotch whisky and since I was living in Spain at the time (away from my home country) I decided to start a blog with tasting notes, It was a nice way of tracking my own explorations and getting in touch with the whisky scene at home. My love for sherry goes further back (almost twenty years now) and obviously increased when living in Spain, especially since 2013 when I started my website So that’s at least 10-20 years of daily practice!

What education have you received in sherry and whisky?

All my whisky knowledge comes from reading books, visiting distilleries and trying lots of whisky (I have published tasting notes of around 3000 whiskies). The same goes for sherry, although I recently became a Certified Sherry Educator after entering the official training program in Jerez. I consider myself a dedicated aficionado rather than a professional. Keeping a certain distance to the industry allows me to be more critical as well.

Do you drink tea at all?

Yes, sure. I simply love to discover aromas and flavors, so I’m interested in anything from perfume to olive oil, cooking, herbs, spirits… Tea comes mostly through my wife who has a similar passion for tea as I have for spirits. She drinks tea all day long. I find it really interesting but I don’t drink it every day.

How often do you drink tea?

Once a week or so. I will always try whatever is new in my wife’s collection. Sadly we only have a handful really good suppliers in Belgium.

When did you drink it last time?

A couple of days ago in a Michelin star restaurant, where they served a green tea paired to a dish with fish.

When do you drink tea, or in what surroundings?

Mostly at home.

What kind of tea do you prefer?

Different types really. I love old fermented Pu-erh, but it’s a complex drink and requires proper attention. I also like green Gyokuro or Taiping Houkui. And I love the subtle balance of a fine Pai Mu Tan. The last one I’d like to mention is a Hojicha Karigane which I really like as well.

Do you take tea with food or enjoy it on its own?

Normally I drink tea by itself, without food. It helps me appreciate it better. Last year though, I went to a tea tasting and each tea was accompanied with bits of food, so I know it certainly has the potential of being paired in an interesting way.

Are there any tea lovers around you (friends, relatives, etc.)?

My wife is certainly the biggest tea lover I know.

Is there a place for tea in your work? or are there any connections between tea and the beverages you work with?

There’s often a hint of Pu-erh in whisky, green tea, fruit teas, of course Lapsang Souchong in Islay whisky, etc. So if you read my whisky tasting notes, there will be a lot of references to tea. In sherry this is hardly the case.

How would you describe tea (any three epithets that first come to your mind)?

Aromatic, diverse and tradition.

What question about tea would you like to ask a tea expert?

I have once experimented with infusing tea into spirits. For instance the bergamot notes of Earl Grey work well with fruity Speyside whisky. In the end I found it hard to get the right balance. Do you have any tips or other interesting combinations to try?

MastersTalk directed Ruben’s question to Cheryl Teo (Flag & Spear and Old Barrel Tea projects), who has recently given a series of tea and whiskey pairing masterclasses in Australia.

Cheryl Teo: I would recommend starting with a pure  tea and adjusting leaf-to-spirit ratios and infusion times. It may be helpful to begin experimenting with a neutral base such as vodka to better understand the extraction behaviour of tea in spirits.

Some interesting combinations:

  • Sencha + gin;
  • High mountain Chinese black tea + Speyside whisky;
  • Da Hong Pao + a whisky finished in a red wine cask;
  • Jin Xuan Oolong + Starward Solera whisky.

Ruben Luyten’s Stratagems

1. Sensory experiences are information, apply IT to them.

2. A school is great for status, but self-education is also an effective source of knowledge.

3. Combine your knowledges and skills (e.g. art history, web design and whisky).