Hollywood superstar Jean-Claude Van Damme spent his 63rd birthday in Belfast launching his new co-owned Irish whiskey brand, Old Oak.
Arriving at the Friend in Hand Whiskey Museum on Hill Street in the Cathedral Quarter he brought along a beautifully decorated birthday cake with a personalised fondant figure of his dog Lola perched on top, to celebrate the occasion.
Despite being in Belfast to promote whiskey when asked what the secret is to staying fit and healthy at 63 Van Damme claimed: “Hot tea sometimes or a glass of vodka is not bad or beer on the weekend.”
The new sourced whiskey was officially launched in Belfast on Wednesday, with Van Damme leading the publicity charge with a series of expansive anecdotes about his life, whiskey and pretty much everything else.
Van Damme has been looking to create his own brand of whiskey for a while due to the happy memories he associates with it.
“My parents owned a flower shop, so they worked a lot, and they would send me to my grandma and grandpa's house on the weekend and my grandpa would take me on his knee and at that time people weren’t careful about second-hand smoking or cancer. So, when I was on my grandpa’s lap, he was smoking a nice cigar, and he had a glass of a goldish liquid, and the smell of the whiskey and cigar has stayed in my memories," he recalled.
Although being a martial arts legend and whiskey aficionado seem to be worlds' apart Van Damme believes they are more similar than they appear: "Whiskey and martial arts are the same, it’s wood, it’s culture and it’s an art,” he explained.
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Through the Old Oak brand, he hopes to introduce whiskey to many new and different places.
“I want to go to some countries where whiskey, basically doesn’t exist, where they haven’t got the same taste for it as they do in the US, France, Ireland and the UK.”
The Belgian-born movie star also intends to use the profits made from his new whiskey to help support environmental causes.
“Importantly to me, I’ve got a big piece, I own the majority share of this whiskey and lots of my profit will go to help animals and I’m going to buy lots of land for nature. When you have a passion and a goal behind something that you like, it really helps,” said Van Damme, who also shared a highly imaginative description of drinking whiskey involving the sea and sand.
Another one of the actors’ passions is famously, martial arts. Initially winning karate and kickboxing competitions, growing up in Belgium, he went on to get his big break in films such as Street Fighter opposite Kylie Minogue and earning him the nickname 'the Muscles from Brussels'.
However, he did not always possess this action man persona: “I was not very gifted physically. When I was young, I was kind of a toothpick and my father saw Kung Fu on TV and he found a martial arts school nearby and he brought me there.
“When I saw those guys in the school, they were 17 or 18 and I was 10 years old, and I was scared. To me they looked giant and who at that time was doing martial arts? It was all tough guys.
“It was 100 dollars for one year and my father, he was selling flowers, so he had to wake up early in the morning at 4am. He had to buy the flowers, clean them one by one and then sell them and because of this, my father said that I better not miss one lesson.”
It is evident that this dedication and commitment from both Van Damme and his father paid off, as he is now one of the most recognisable martial arts actors in the world.
Yet despite his success, he remains modest.
“I came along at the right time, and I was in the right place.
“I have a friend, he is a heart surgeon. This guy wakes up at 6 in the morning, has to drive to the clinic doing two or three surgeries a day, then goes home, goes to sleep and wakes up at 5. That’s a superstar” says Van Damme.