Inspired by history and the opportunity to use bolder flavors, a growing number of American distillers have added genever-inspired spirits to their lineups. That’s right: genever inspired.
Genever, the malt-based botanical spirit that resembles a cross between whiskey and gin, can be made only in a specific area that covers the Netherlands, Belgium, and parts of France and Germany. This requirement has earned genever the nickname “Holland gin.”
Just like American distillers that make single-malt whiskey that’s not classified as Scotch because it’s not made in Scotland, these producers makes faux-genever.
But why? Some distillers love that genever toes the line between mellow whiskey and botanical gin. Based in Denver, Ironton Distillery & Crafthouse claims its spicy, citrusy version is “a gin for the whiskey drinker,” a characterization shared by many other producers.
It also provides the opportunity to play up botanicals like regional fruit or nuts. Compared to the pine-like juniper blast that marks London Dry-style gin, genever typically allows flavors like lemon peel and cherry back a chance at the spotlight.
Others are drawn by the historical aspect. Genever was made by early American settlers who sought to recreate their favorites from Europe. New York Distilling Company, based in Brooklyn, New York, partnered with a drinks historian to find a colonial-era ingredient list. Similarly, Wigle Whiskey in Pittsburgh relied upon vintage distillers’ guides to make its genever riff.
Here are several versions to seek out. While all nod to genever for inspiration, none can use the name. But the contortions that these American distillers have gone through to land on an original name are almost as entertaining as their genever-inspired spirits.
Chief Gowanus New Netherland Gin
New York Distilling Company, Brooklyn, NY
The recipe, created with help from drinks historian David Wondrich, is based on what Dutch settlers distilled when they first settled in Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan, says co-founder/distiller Allen Katz. “They were looking for ingredients to make ‘genever,’ but found an abundance of rye, which they ultimately distilled with juniper berries and hops,” he says. The rye spirit is then barrel-aged for at least three months but up to nine.
Deerhammer Dutch Style Gin
Deerhammer Distilling, Buena Vista, CO
This is the only gin made by this craft producer, which otherwise focuses on grain-to-glass single-malt whiskeys. “Quite honestly, it is the only gin we have ever wanted to make,” says Amy Eckstein, co-owner/founder of Deerhammer. Like its whiskeys, the spirit starts with a base of 100% malted barley, which is infused with 15 botanicals like coriander, chicory, coconut, grapefruit and cacao nibs. “We love the way the malt base contributes to the spirit,” she says, as it adds a richness that’s missing typically from American gins.
FEW American Gin
FEW Spirits, Evanston, IL
“We make a genever-style gin because it’s different,” says Paul Hletko, founder of FEW. “There’s a lot of great London Dry gins on the market and fantastic American Dry gins, but not as many genever-style. So we tried to create our own American style inspired by genever.” The small-batch spirit has a robust, earthy core highlighted by banana-like fruitiness and a spicy finish.
Freeland Spirits Geneva
Freeland Spirits, Portland, OR
Released in May, this spirit starts with Oregon-grown rye, while Willamette Valley hazelnuts gives it a warming, nutty tinge. Freeland Spirits founder/CEO Jill Kuehler and master distiller Molly Troupe created the historically inspired spirit as a window into their future whiskey programs. They even traveled to the Netherlands to get feedback on experimental batches and taste different styles of authentic genever. “We can’t wait to show the folks here how it’s done in Amsterdam,” says Troupe.
Ironton Distillery, Denver
“A gin for the whiskey drinker” is how Ironton describes its genever-style gin. Compared to the distillery’s flagship Ponderosa gin, which co-owner/founder Kallyn Romero describes as dry, floral and piney, Genièvre is “a little sweeter, with lots of spice and citrus.” Why attempt a genever? “We like to gather inspiration and ideas from outside of the U.S.,” says Romero. Ironton’s portfolio also includes an aquavit, and it’s also working on a shochu.
Genevieve Genever-Style Gin
Hotaling & Co., San Francisco
The base of this spirit is pot-stilled from equal parts wheat, barley and rye malts, then infused with 12 botanicals that include lemon peel and cardamom. The result is pungent, herbaceous and malty, with a hint of anise on the finish. A golden, barrel-aged version is also available, which layers on warm honey and spice-box tones.
Tamworth Garden Dutchess Gin
Tamworth Distilling, Tamworth, NH
The wry “Dutch” in “Dutchess” says it all. This genever-inspired spirit debuted in the spring as part of the distiller’s Tamworth Garden gin line. The barrel-aged gin was engineered to be on the sweeter side, with candied fruit notes. To that end, the botanical blend includes cherry bark, orange rind, apple pomace and raspberry. For now, it’s only available in the tasting room.
Wigle Dutch Style Gin
Wigle Whiskey, Pittsburgh
As the distillery’s name suggests, Wigle is best known for whiskey, not gin. “We’re determined for our products to express their regionality and the terroir of western Pennsylvania, so it made a lot of sense for us to produce a gin that featured the beautiful malts, earthy ryes and soft wheats we get from our local farms,” says Meredith Grelli, co-owner/co-founder of Wigle. Another factor was the discovery of vintage distillers’ guides for Dutch-style or Holland gins. The substantial, flavorful base is filled out by a triumvirate of lavender, cardamom and cubeb berry. The bottling was named “Ginever” originally, but regulators demanded the name be changed.