Malty and Complex, the Original Gin Is Making a Comeback

Source: New York Times


Sept 24th

COMPARED with vodka, gin is a relative newcomer. But despite what the Russians might say, the history of gin - like its flavor - is far more complex.

Gin was born as genever in Holland in the 17th century. It was renamed gin when it got to England about 100 years later. Eventually, the English style, which is stronger and lacks the touch of sweetness that is typical of genever, came to dominate the market. But genever is making a comeback.

Next week Lucas Bols, a Dutch company that was founded in 1575, will start to sell its genever in the United States again. It was last imported in quantity about 50 years ago, but small amounts have seeped into the United States since then. Grain shortages in Holland during the world wars and Prohibition in the United States combined to do in the export of genever.

The Lucas Bols genever joins a few other brands of genever already on the market. Zuidam and Boomsma are imported from Holland. And earlier this year, Anchor Brewing and Distilling, the San Francisco company that makes Junipero, a dry gin, started selling Genevieve, a genever that it had developed about 10 years ago.

Lucas Bols decided to reintroduce its genever because of demand from bartenders, said Sandie van Doorne, the company's creative director. "There's a strong trend to going back to original authentic tastes," she said. She also said that over the years the genever that was sold in Holland had become more neutral in response to popular tastes. But that trend is reversing. "We felt we now had a mandate to create a new future for genever," Ms. van Doorne said.

"I couldn't wait for Bols to relaunch its genever," said Audrey Saunders, the head bartender and an owner of Pegu Club in Manhattan. "It has such a beautiful malty, whiskey quality. I like it in old-fashioned-style drinks, just with a touch of sweetener and a dash of bitters. Less is more with it. It's stunning to sip."

Ms. van Doorne said the Bols genever is based on an "old-school formula" that dates from 1820. The first genever was concocted much earlier, in the mid-1600s, by Franciscus de la Boe, a k a Dr. Sylvius. A professor of medicine at Leiden University in the Netherlands, he added oil of juniper to what was essentially vodka: distilled grain spirits. His purpose was medicinal. And whether they were sick or not, the Dutch clamored for this elixir.

The good doctor called it genièvre, French for juniper. The Dutch pronounced it as genever.

Genever is still made the traditional way, in copper pot stills, like Scotch, partly or entirely from malted grains, including wheat, rye, corn and sometimes barley, and can even be lightly aged in oak before bottling. The result is a spirit with more flavor and often a lower proof than English gin.

The leaner, stronger English spirit, often called London dry gin, is made in the more efficient column still, invented in the early 19th century. It is the only gin most Americans know. People who like gin may find genever to be an acquired taste.

David Wondrich, the author of "Imbibe!" (Penguin Group, 2007), a history of cocktails, said that genever is often best drunk straight, on the rocks. "It's harder to use it in mixed drinks and cocktails, and it's not good in a martini because it's no good with dry vermouth," he said.

But there are exceptions. "All it takes is a bit of sugar and bitters for a gin cocktail made with genever; aged genever is terrific in an Old-Fashioned," Mr. Wondrich said, adding that the Collins, a classic mixed drink, is called a Tom Collins when made with English gin and a John Collins when made with genever.

A tasting revealed striking differences among five genevers purchased from a liquor store in New York City.

Lucas Bols, 84 proof, was herbal and spicy, with distinctive aromas and flavors of juniper, cardamom and sage. It was quite viscous and soft on the palate, with an elegant finish. It was delicious on the rocks but terrible with tonic; $38.95.

Genevieve, 95 proof, was earthy and unusually strong for a genever. With the aroma and flavor of juniper and dried orange peel, and a rich, viscous consistency, it was lovely on the rocks because the ice helped to dilute the alcohol, but it clashed with tonic; $36.

Zuidam, 80 proof, had very little aroma or distinctive flavor, and seemed fairly sweet. It was not bad with tonic but boring on the rocks; $38.

Boomsma Jonge, 80 proof, was clean-tasting and a trifle sweet, hinting of juniper, and might be one genever that could serve in a lower-proof martini. It was fine with tonic; $26.

Boomsma Oude, 80 proof, aged in oak for about a year, was straw-colored in the glass and quite whiskeylike, delivering whiffs of vanilla, wood and spice. It made a nice, light sour; $28.

All these genevers, in 750-milliliter bottles, are sold at Park Avenue Liquor Shop, and from Other retail shops carry some of them.

With genever on the rocks, I found cow's milk blue-veined cheese, like Gorgonzola, to be a felicitous partner. I am especially fond of blueberries with gin, using the gin to macerate them before serving to adults, or splashing them with some gin and spooning them over homemade blueberry sorbet. They were the inspiration for my genever cocktail.

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