Zuidam is based on a traditional Dutch model of distilling, which includes the involvement of windmills to help grind the various grains, keeping a decisively old school feel from start to finish.
Started back in 1975 by Fred van Zuidam, who built his one copper pot still distillery in his homeland of the Netherlands. Since opening with only a 300 square meter warehouse with one production line, Zuidam has grown substantially, now embracing a 3500-sqm distillery with four copper stills and four production lines. Keeping the business in the family, Fred has since passed his distillery on to his sons but still maintains an ever-watchful eye over the establishment he created. It is charming to see such a man as Fred establish and develop his own distillery to such wide recognition and success passing it on down the family line.
This is made even more valuable by the very fact that Zuidam is now the only distillery in the world that produces Genever by milling all their grains using windmills, which is how it was traditionally done in at the peak of the Dutch spice trade. Whilst Zuidam does concentrate mainly on genever, alongside it’s rum, whisky, and liqueur production they have managed to pull together and create a Dutch dry gin – nicknaming it Dutch Courage, after the English soldiers who fought in the Thirty Years War.
Before we come onto the actual gin and how it tastes, we should highlight the differences between gin and genever, given how very different they are in taste, despite their overlaps. You might be a gin lover, but that does not necessarily mean you will be a genever one.
Confusion and silence is often the normal response when asked what’s the difference between gin and genever (or jenever, amongst various names). So let’s try and break it down to give you both context and actual technical differences – in an abridged format of course; 2,000 years of history deserves more than a few paragraphs!
Genever was the first and foremost spirit from which “gin” was derived. The world literally translates as juniper. Juniper was used to cure a huge variety of aliments from stomach pains to head aches, and was often involved in medicines which needed such a diuretic. Because of juniper‘s known qualities – Genever was originally promoted due to it’s alleged medicinal prowess.
Skipping monks travelling around spreading knowledge, early medicine and doctors use of juniper, distillation growing in stature and become more widespread… By 1552, an early recipe for an Aqua Vitae containing juniper was written down and published for the first time in the ‘Constelijck Distiller Book’. This is important as technically, this is one of the earliest records of the distillation of juniper, so call it what you will – but for gin super geeks – this is comparable to early biblical scripture!
Just twenty years later, Professor Sylvius de Bouve made a more formal recipe for what became known as genever – with oil of juniper mixed with grain spirit – and it is this recipe that is thought to have then become the template for Bols’ early genever recipes in 1575.
It was a little after this time during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), when English soldiers were fighting in Holland and the lowlands, that genever was first introduced into the British Isles. Brought back by the soldiers and accompanied by their stories that this spirit that had given them “Dutch Courage”, it soon became the infamous ‘medicinal’ drink of choice. Over the next 100 years (see what we mean by a brief history lesson – stick with it, it’s almost over) this new import became adapted and changed by English distillers; who tended to use fermented grain rather than grapes. Over time this Dutch inspired spirit became known as gin.
Context over – now the technical difference. Whereas genever is made up of a botanical-infused mix of malt-wine and neutral grain spirit combination, gin is most often made-up of just the botanically infused grain spirit.
Due to its dual base, Genever has a much richer profile with a strong malty flavour, while gin is more botanically focused because the underlying spirit has little or no flavour. Think of it as the difference between painting flavour on a textured, coloured canvass rather than a blank one. The base adds it’s character as well as botanicals, however with neutral grain spirit the base doesn’t add anything, because just as the name would suggest, it is neutral.
Zuidam make their own genever, including the malted base spirit from scratch, using the customary practise of windmills to grind the barley into flour. This method is used as it prevents an increase in temperature from the grain, thereby keeping the very flavours and smell that comes with it – perfect for genever, which is trying to capture this lovely aroma and flavour. The milling and grinding leads onto mashing the grain down with water added to release the sugars. This mash, once cooled, is pushed through into the fermentation tank where it is left for several days, allowing the flavours to be released and melded together, before then being distilled three times.
The distillation takes much of the flavour out of the base spirit but not all – this becomes apparent when tasting the gin as the subtle malty tones are still there and add complexity to the end product. We’re getting ahead of ourselves – back to how they make it…
When the spirit is ready, it is added with the botanicals to the still where it is distilled before being put in barrels and kept for at least 2 to 3 months before being bottled. Gin does not need much time to age. In fact if the gin is left in the barrels for too long it becomes too woody and loses its lively and refreshing edge.
Zuidam Dutch Courage Dry Gin includes a variety of international botanicals starting with Italian juniper to coriander, angelica, oranges, lemons, liquorice root, cardamom pods, vanilla and iris root. Due to the delicate malty undertone still hinting away in the background and perhaps due to being barrelled, the aroma of the gin is very flavourful and shows itself on the nose as quite complex. To taste, the gin bursts with citrus and lemon emerges before juniper, coriander and other spices fill your cheeks. It’s unusual tasting gin in that the barrel ageing, the spirit and the botanicals are all apparent. It also demonstrates just how balanced it is given the amount of factors jostling for attention. It will split opinion for sure, but we feel that it does what it says on the label – Dutch Courage Dry Gin. It’s definitely gin, not genever, and it’s definitely courageous as by sitting half way between the two – it will alienate as many people as it attracts.
When this was first released, it came in a very modern and plain bottle with a small geometric print label pasted on the front. In 2012, Zuidam’s revamped the look of the bottle after the realisation that it failed to reflect the quality of their spirits, sit in line with the rest of their portfolio, or allow it to stand out from the crowd. Renowned for their genevers, which to many are the benchmark in the category, Zuidam’s Dutch Courage Dry Gin is an interesting gin that deserves some attention. We feel it manages to find a line between old and new styles of gin and should be applauded for daring to do so. If you see it, give it a try and let us know what you think!
For more information about Zuidam Distillers, visit their website: http://www.zuidam.eu/
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