Unearthing the past

19 February, 2018

“I’m going to build Old Duff as much as I can in New York, then the next market is London. These are the cities where the more educated consumers are, where there’s a lot of media and the bulk of the bars. New York and London are places that have been shown to adopt new spirits. I’ll also look to do a small launch in the Netherlands. I hate it when a product isn’t available in the place it’s from.”


If genever is to convince consumers, it has to communicate a rather complex message. There are jonge and oude styles but this doesn’t mean time in barrel – it references the traditional or post-war style of production. Oude genever must contain at least 15% malt wine, but no more than 20g of sugar per litre, and jonge genever can contain no more than 15% malt wine and 10g of sugar per litre. Broadly speaking, ‘grain distillers’ produce the malt wine, while ‘botanical distillers’ rectify the botanicals in neutral spirit.

Timo Janse, co-founder of The Flying Dutchmen, a new bar in Amsterdam, has made it a mission to showcase quality genevers. He says genever is a complex category but you can broadly split the styles into three camps: “You have genevers that veer towards gin (jonge). Some have more malt content and are more like whisky, and there are those that are aged and are more like cognac.”

For Patrick van Zuidam, of his eponymous spirits company, the identity of the genever has to be clear. “Genever needs to focus its story on what sets it apart from other spirits,” he says. “It is, of course the original gin, predecessor of what we now know as dry gin.

“But it should learn from other spirits, such as scotch malt whisky, to tell an honest and interesting story to consumers. A story that speaks about its heritage as one of the oldest distilled products in the world but also about now and the future.”

When it comes to Zuidam genever, the message is also about provenance. “We produce genever grain to glass. Better still, we are moving to a farm distillery that will grow our own grain. We hope to grow 100% of grain around the distillery within the next four years. We focus our story on provenance, terroir, the fact that we distil only in pot stills and that we age most of our products in oak casks.

“We had more than 6,000 casks ageing in our warehouses at the end of last year, probably more than double all the other producers combined.”

For Duff, the message is also one of quality and authenticity. “Old Duff is made by Herman Jansen, family distillery,” says Duff. “It and the Jenever Museum are the only two distillers with the Seal of Schiedam.” Which means they produce their own malt-wine in Schiedam and practice grain to bottle, unlike Amsterdam distillers which are more in the mould of gin rectifiers. Bols and Rutte, being based in Amsterdam, are therefore ‘botanical distillers’ rather than ‘grain distillers’, so malt wine is bought in from trusted suppliers and the emphasis is on old recipes and choice of botanicals. “We have 12 botanicals in our genever and the most important characteristics are the hazelnuts and walnuts,” says Rutte’s Hendrickx.

There’s no one style of genever and therefore no easily communicated identity. So, if the genever message is to be conveyed, it will need a concerted, collaborative effort which finds the common threads. Such an initiative is now underway. “Together with some other genever brands, we now have an EU subsidy to promote genever in the US,” says Van Doorne. With a handful of brands currently involved, it’s not exactly a category-wide effort, but for the export brands, it’s a start.

Indeed, things are finally moving in the right direction to bring this grand old international category back to a semblance of good health. Now that genever producers have remembered their old place in the world, they’re not likely to forget it again.

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