Genever: Beyond Convention

06 August, 2013
Genever barrels

For Bols chief executive Huub van Doorne, the 21st century has played a significant part in genever’s history. 

2008 saw the launch of Bols Genever, initially in San Francisco, Amsterdam and London. “Distribution is rolling out to other cities in Australia, Germany, Russia and Japan but its biggest markets remain the US followed by the UK where it is predominantly available in the top end on trade,” says Van Doorne.

The latest interest in genever cocktails is almost a second surge for the category, according to Bols. Van Doorne says the history of genever in cocktails “dates back to the late 19th century when it was integral to the classic cocktail movement”. 

He adds: “The cocktail renaissance, in particular the trend for classic cocktails, has coincided with the launch of Bols Genever so there has been a natural interest from bartenders to find out more about it and incorporate it into drinks menus. Our volumes have doubled every year [since 2008], albeit from a small base, but each year there are more bars in an increasing number of markets using Bols Genever.”

Like many journeys into drinking, imbibers start with the most approachable example of a spirit and navigate their way into the category. It’s rare to meet a whisky drinker who cut their whisky teeth on a heavily peated Islay, for example. Turns out genever isn’t any different and, as more people become interested in the category, there is a need for new – or old – product development. 

Van Zuidam says the popularity of genever has meant the distillery is “struggling to keep up with production”.

“Rye Genever is our shooting star with a growth of 60% to 70% per year for the past five years. Young Grain Genever is still our biggest seller but is rapidly being overtaken by the aged genevers,” he adds.

In the Bols camp, age is also on the agenda. Van Doorne says: “A year ago we developed an 18 month barrel aged Bols Genever to create intrigue around genever and tap into the growing interest in the category. It is designed to appeal to more discerning brown spirits drinkers and is performing really well and currently available in the US and Japan only.”

At Belgium-based Filliers Distillery vintage genevers bolster the special releases category, along with single-cask genevers. 

And, like so many other spirits categories, distillers are adding fruits to their labours. Jürgen Lanckriet, marketing manager at Filliers says the latest innovations include taste variations within the fruit-genever category. He counts Cavaillon and Elderflower among the distiller’s latest creations, launched last month and available in Belgium, Luxembourg and The Netherlands. 

Lanckriet also claims Filliers is  the market leader within the cream genever category, with chocolate, banana and coconut in the portfolio. 

There’s just one problem: not enough people know about genever.  Alex Kratena, head bartender at World’s Best Bar 2012 The Artesian at the Langham hotel in London, believes producers should do more to market the category. Kratena is another genever fanatic and he says he has around 50 genevers at any one time.

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