My dad, who came of drinking age in the early 1960s, is an old-fashioned gin-drinker. His drink of choice is a "martini" with gin and two olives; no one even bothers to whisper the word vermouth. I've never had much of a palate for gin. In general, white spirits don't do much for me, and I dislike flavored white spirits in particular. I like my liquor with some age and oak on it: whiskey, brandy, reposado and añejo tequilas, you know what I mean. But that was before I discovered Genever Gin.
When people speak of gin, what they usually mean is London Dry Gin, which is essentially a juniper berry flavored vodka, Absolut Juniper, if you will. Two hundred years ago, though, another style of gin was predominant. Popular in continental Europe as well as the US, this gin was known alternately as Dutch style, Genever gin, Geneva gin or Holland gin. As cocktail writer David Wondrich recently pointed out in Malt Advocate Magazine, whereas London Dry Gin is an herbally enhanced vodka, Genever gin is an herbally enhanced whiskey. This caught my attention as it characterized gin as a brown spirit, albeit a flavored one.
As with many antiquated spirits, Genever Gin is making a comeback. I was excited to learn that one of my favorite distilleries, Anchor (makers of the excellent Old Potrero Rye Whiskey as well as Junipero Gin) makes a Genever style gin known as Genevieve. Genevieve is distilled in a pot still from a mash of wheat, barley and rye malts (i.e. whiskey, though unaged), with various flavoring botanicals. The resulting spirit is but a distant cousin to Tanquery and its ilk.
While the nose of Genevieve has definite gin characteristics, there is a softness to it, a perfumey quality with, yes, some grain notes. Its flavor is more understated than the thundering juniper notes of a London Dry, and there is more than juniper doing its work in this gin. I pick up a bit of anise and other herbal notes, similar to one of the more herbal Absinthes like St. George. In any case, this is a far cry from the stark London Drys that we all are used to.
How should you drink this new and exciting spirit? Over ice is the best way to absorb its unique flavor profile, but I most enjoyed a slightly adjusted version of the traditional gin cocktail suggested by Wondrich, which is essentially a gin old fashioned.
The Genever Gin Cocktail
Muddle one sugar cube with 3-4 dashes of Angostura Bitters and a splash of water until the sugar is dissolved. Add two ounces of Genever gin. Fill glass with crushed ice and stir until chilled. Garnish with a lemon twist. Note that this only recently rehabilitated drink meets the traditional definition of cocktail: a drink containing spirit, sugar, water and bitters.
The sugar, bitters and lemon accent and complement the herbal notes of the gin, and the added sweetness gives it a refreshing quality, making it the perfect cocktail for a sweltering summer day in Los Angeles. I would take this over a traditional gin and tonic any day of the week.
Wondrich suggests using Fee's Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters instead of Angostura, which gives the drink a nice, spicy cinnamon kick, though on balance, I think I prefer the Angostura.
Anchor's Genevieve goes for around $30. The only other Genever gin I've seen available is Bols which is in a similar price range.
Oh and my dad? He can't take the Genever style gin, so I'll still keep a bottle of Tanqueray just for him.