Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Genever, With Your Orange Hair, Genever, With Your Green Eyes*

Which came first, the genever or the gin? Wait, you don't know genever? Well, then you should have been on the Zoom tasting I was part of on Monday, all about genever, America's Lost European Spirit (which as a tag line is brilliant marketing, no?).

So it's simple (unless you're trying to distill a good one)--genever, originating in the 1500s in Holland (well, The Low Countries, back in the day), must have two things: malt spirit + juniper berries. Like gin, which it preceded, it's usually got botanicals, sometimes of the "if I told you I'd have to kill you" variety. It can be aged or un-aged, in oak or not. It can have added caramel color to suggest it had been aged (kind of a reverse Grecian Formula for spirits). It's got a great history, helping create the term "dutch courage" and being connecting to William of Orange--when he married into English royalty, genever and gin came with him.

And this is way too late in my post to add the most important thing, it's damn delicious, in lots of different styles. Sarah Lawson-Stopps, bartender at Wildhawk in San Francisco and a genever brand ambassador, took us through the evening, a tasting of five different expressions showing the ranges within the two basic styles. The first, the old style, is darker and with more malt (15%-100%) and makes one think of whiskey, the second, the young style, is lighter, brighter, and more like a dry style gin (with a malt percentage under 15%). 

That younger style is a bit more in ascendancy now, as genever is still recovering from its near fatal moment during U.S. Prohibition. But mixologists of the past 10 years or so find it fascinating for its backstory and versatility, so get used to seeing it more frequently behind your favorite bars. Why not, given Bobby's Schiedam Jenever you could easily assume was just a dry gin, but then its Indonesian botanicals sneak up on you--lemongrass, cardamom, ginger. Or when you could drink Rutte Old Simon Genever, 40% malt, so brilliantly complex, even more so with its additions of celery, carob, and a distillate of roasted hazelnuts! How convenient that along with our sample bottles (nowhere near the gorgeous full 750 ml bottles most genevers sell to the public in) we were sent snifter packets of classic botanicals to snort. Makes a Zoom event a lot more sensory.

And then there's the origin of a shot and a beer, which goes back to genever. Kopstootje is the Dutch term for this special ritual, and it translates as "head butt." So if you want to be a mating ram at your bar, get them to pour a healthy shot of genever into one of the classic tulip classics that match the spirit and have your beer ready to go. And by healthy shot, I mean one that almost over pours--the goal is to have an arcing meniscus of genever above the glass, the rainbow for you to wish the exciting future of your night upon. Then you lean in--I mean, you aren't trying to pick up that close to an overflowing glass--with your hands behind your back and sip deep. There's even a crazy method where you lip-lock the tulip into your mouth and toss it back that way, but I'm too old for that kind of uncouth thing. Even if the genever itself has a good four centuries on me.

*OK, this title doesn't really make sense, but I just really like this Eurythmics song, sorry.

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