Under the deluge of news you may have missed that this is National Negroni Week.
Count Camilo’s beefed up Americano concoction (add the gin) has become so popular we-in-hospitality now roll out the bunting each year to celebrate it’s subtle, bitter charms. Regular readers of this parish will know we’re no champions of Campari so, our twist has often involved looking back at original recipes to find producers currently doing it closest to the old formulas. But now, in this week of all weeks, comes the un-holy twist. Sub-off on the gin, enter genever.
We’ve teamed up with the true Dutch Genever Originals (Bols) for Negroni week to offer a menu of twists using gin’s gilded Auntie. As well as the stellar cast of druidic dancers & pagan DJs adorning the decks across this weekend (remember sun-seekers, it’s a 4am finish across Friday and Saturday), we will be joined by Bols’ Jamie Campbell behind the stick serving a compact list of red-lit hits.
We chatted with Jamie earlier in the week to unearth the genever story and debunk a few old-wives tales.
Let's start with a story: where does the expression 'Dutch Courage' come from?
The story of where the term ‘Dutch Courage’ comes from is quite a romanticised one, but we generally associate it with the Anglo-Dutch wars of 1652-1784 where Dutch soldiers were viewed as being particularly brave in combat. English fighters would see them taking small nips of Genever from a hip flask before rushing the battlefield, fortifying themselves and showing their ‘Dutch Courage’.
It was also during this time that we see interrupted shipments of Genever from the Netherlands to England, and heavier consumption of the spirit when William of Orange held the English throne from 1689-1702. Genever, an expensive, difficult to make spirit, was only drank by Royalty and the upper classes, so a cheaper, easier alternative began being made – eventually becoming Gin as we know it today and inciting the Gin Craze of the 1700s.
To put gin and genever in the same category therefore seems to be missing a trick. We find it a bit closer to a rye whiskey in terms of profile. It's something that holds up better in more robust drinks like a Negroni or Manhattan (or someplace in between the two), why would you say that is?
You’re completely right, comparing Gin and Genever is a complete misrepresentation, and in fact Genever is a controlled appellation much like Cognac or Champagne, meaning it can only be produced in certain parts of Europe. I always say it’s much closer to a whiskey in flavour profile, and that’s all down to what separates Genever from it’s more juniper forward cousin – Malt Spirit. In production, we effectively make a mash bill (like in Bourbon) from Wheat, Rye and Corn, which then goes through a long fermentation period before being distilled…and cut at a low ABV to maintain those malty characteristics. The malt spirit is the backbone of our Genever and provides all of the aroma and flavour complexities that make it much better suited to traditional drinks, and a no-go for tonic. You only have to look at the cocktail books of Jerry ‘The Professor’ Thomas, Harry Johnson and William Boothby from the 19th Century to see how Genever was best used. Hint, try it in a Martinez, the complexity will blow your mind!
Do you see genever as the next El Dorado in spirits, like mezcal was a few years back? That mysterious, lost elixir to lead us all away from gin. Or are we as an industry a bit beyond these fads? if so where do you see Genever fitting in and growing off the back bar?
I hope not. I think as an industry, we’re leaning away from ‘what’s hot at the moment’ and much more towards ‘what works for that drink’. Using Genever, just for popularity’s sake, is a disservice to its history and heritage, much like with Tequila and Mezcal and the difficulties we’re now seeing with the over-farming of Agave. For me, the aim is education, and getting bartenders and consumers alike to understand the historical importance of Genever and seeing how that fits in with the drinks they want to enjoy. Re-introducing classics like the John Collins, Martinez etc made with Genever to showcase just how versatile the spirit is…that’s what I’d like to see more of.
Or a ‘Kopstootje’! A classic-in-waiting… Enlighten us here? I don’t think anyone outside of Holland has ever heard of it.
The Kopstootje, a ritual drinking habit from Amsterdam and the greater Netherlands for Genever, also provides us with another widely used term – ‘Going Dutch’. The Dutch are widely seen as being quite frugal (read tight-fisted) with their money, so when asking their bartender for a measure of Genever, would always make sure the glass was filled to the brim and almost overflowing. With the traditional Tulip glasses used for drinking Genever, this would form a tiny meniscus on the liquid, and meant that the glass could not be picked up to drink from. As such, you would have to take the first sip directly from the glass, without touching it with your hands, often hitting the beer sat next to it with your head – creating a ‘little headbutt’ or ‘Kopstootje’ as it’s known in Dutch.