The Improved Gin Cocktail is an appropriate choice to try as my second selection out of the pages of Jason Wilson’s Boozehound because it exemplifies what is so great about this book. Before reading it, I had never even heard of genever; now I can’t get enough of it.
Genever is the ancestor of modern gin. Made in Holland from distilled malt wine and botanicals, before the turn of the century it was one of the most prevalent spirits in the United States. According to David Wondrich, “In the nineteenth century, Holland or genever gin was imported at a ratio of 5 or 6 gallons to every gallon of English gin. This makes perfect sense: in the days before the dominance of the dry Martini, when gin was drunk in slings, simple punches (think Collinses) or cocktails (the original kind, with bitters and sugar), the mellow, malty roundness of the “Hollands,” as it was known, was preferable to the steely sharpness of a London dry gin.”
As Wilson explains, “While its technically true to call it ‘the original gin,’ in reality genever often has more similarities to whiskey in taste and application than to contemporary gins.” As a whiskey drinker, this was all I needed to hear. I found a bottle of Anchor Distilling Genevieve, which technically is a “genever-style gin” since true genever (like true champagne) can only be made in the Netherlands. This San Francisco born genever is an “attempt to re-create this ancient and mysterious gin style . . . [using] a grain mash of wheat, barley, and rye malts, which is distilled in a traditional copper pot still with the same botanicals we use in our modern distilled dry gin.” The Improved Gin Cocktail is a classic way to showcase this unique spirit.
2 ounces genever
1 teaspoon simple syrup
1/2 teaspoon maraschino liqueur
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash absinthe (substitute Ricard Pastis)
Lemon peel twist, for garnish
Fill a mixing glass halfway with ice. Add the genever, simple syrup, maraschino liqueur, bitters, and absinthe. Stir vigorously for 30 seconds, then strain into a cocktail glass. Twist the lemon peel over the drink, rub it around the rim of the glass, then use it as a garnish.
This is the most straightforward genever cocktails I’ve tried. The rich maltyness of the genever plays so well with the sharp anise flavors of the pastis, and the rounded, earthy funk of the maraschino. These heavier flavors are in turn are balanced and lightened by the lemony nose before each sip. This drink might overwhelm someone unaccustomed to the unique flavor of genever (a Genever Martinez might be a slightly more approachable starting point), but I loved this as a slow sipper to fully experience and contemplate this old-school spirit.
To read about my first cocktail from Boozehound, The Negroni, click here.