Belgian webdesigners from Black Lion said 'to hell with gin' and decided to make genever instead. A very modern tasting genever, that is or genever 2.0, as they call it. Dust was born. Also you need to know that "dust" is actually a Flemish dialect word for "thirsty".
The story starts when a web design company named: Black Lion moves its offices to an old grain distillery in Kortrijk. A new name, a new building, a fresh start. So they decided to celebrate this appropriately. At first they wanted to make their own gin, but they realised soon that there’s probably one too many gins on the market today. No shit Sherlock. If you still want to make a gin these days you better make sure it is better than very, very good.
So genever it was going to be. Why, you ask? Well, because it is the much richer grandfather of gin of course and because genever is starting to attain a substantial amount of “hipster cool”, especially in the States. Aaaaand besides waffles, sprouts and chocolate it is one of our national delicacies of course. The next thing they needed was a master distiller of this delicacy and soon they found Patrick Van Schandevijl of De Moor Distillery, famous for his Dirk Martens malt wine, genever, ‘korenwijn’ and ‘roggewijn’. His genever, by the way, is already distributed in the States under the name of Diep9.
And then there was “Dust”. It comes in a very nice black, modernised earthenware genever jug (500ML/38%ABV). Dust is created through the combination of 2 malt wines: a) a double distillate from barley, wheat, malt and rye aged for one year in used oak casks and b) a double distillate made 100% from malted barley, aged for more than 2 years on used French oak casks. This mixture was enriched by botanicals typically used in today’s gins: juniper (duh!), coriander, angelica, lemon peel, cinnamon, licorice, cubeb pepper, grains of paradise, iris, cardamom, orange peel, cumin, nutmeg and aniseed.
The result is another miracle of balance by Patrick Van Schandevijl. It is at the same time fresh, citrusy, peppery and on the other hand deep, rich and malty. Delightful to drink neat or over ice, but also works very well in cocktails (we made a very yummy Martinez with it). So, tired of gin and tonic, but still thirsty? Get Dust!
To augur the cocktail and spirit trends for 2016 is more like horoscopes, tarot and disembowelling lamb to check their livers for strange spots. It’s not hard science. So instead we take a look at what we saw in 2015 and what we would like to see in 2016, mixed together with what we could possibly see in the future. Also we’re talking mostly about Belgium here and not the UK or USA.
Cocktail bars are slowly shedding their retro vibe
So less bowties and suspenders walking around in 1930’s speakeasies or 1920’s flapper parties, chique American Bars or Café de Paris. I still love those bars, most of them are great. In my opinion it is exactly the same thing as the old Tiki bars, where they wanted to transport you to a Polynesian island and experience a tropical vacation without leaving town. The speakeasies and retro bars want to transport you back into time and serve you 19th century cocktails in a 1930’s bar. And we enjoy that very much.
It is logical that we took a few steps back into time to relearn what cocktails, hospitality and bartending are, considering the republishing of Jerry Thomas’ recipes and the beginning of the cocktail renaissance. But after these few steps back, we’re ready to lunge forward and actually interesting times are ahead of us to see and observe the new concepts of cocktail bars that are coming. The signs were already there for a while, like for instance the influence of star restaurants which introduced new techniques, products, textures, etc… or pre batched cocktails on tap or the “highballisation” of drinking culture. You name it. One thing remains definite: the future brings new things. Sometimes so fast that we start to wonder whether the greater public will be capable in keeping up. Or will it be reserved for the few who always remain hip & trendy? The question brings us to our next observing.
Less classy, more dive bars
Don’t get me wrong, classy is fun too. It doesn’t necessarily equals stiff and boring. I can really enjoy a classy bar with waiters and bartenders dressed in starched white bowing to you in humble servitude fixing your drink with ice-cold perfection like they were performing a hart surgery. On the other hand I also love the more upbeat bars, where everything is pleasantly chaotic and the bartender looks like a tattooed hermit covered in locusts, preparing your cocktail like an Italian chef would make his personal pasta recipe. As long as the drinks, the service, the atmosphere and the company are good, people will normally enjoy themselves. All the rest depends on moods and preferences.
Interesting to notice is the fact that three of the last bars that opened here in 2015-16 are a distinct move away from the “classy” ones. You got the Dirty Rabbit – former (classy) Josephine’s – a rock n roll cocktailbar, then there are the two side projects of Jigger’s: Pony’s and Ganzerik. Pony’s is a ‘no brand’ cocktailbar with about 8 cocktails on the menu – if I remember correctly – all of them 10€. And Ganzerik is more like a local pub with beer, local food and simple cocktails. It’s on my top to visit list. All three have one thing in common: they scream “cocktails are for everybody”! And they’re absolutely right.
Considering the cocktail renaissance it’s a logical step in my opinion. Before that cocktails were nothing more than spiked lemonades and we needed to convince ourselves and the public that there was more to it than that. That a bartender was more than an underpaid school dropout, but somebody with a particular set of skills and knowledge who can do more than just fix you sickly sweet shit. That bartending is about serving people and making a visit to a bar an entire experience. Actually an entire drinking-culture became reinvented and we brought back from America and the UK: Speakeasies, pre-prohibition bars, bowties, suspenders, tattoos and awesome drinks. Amazing concepts and experiences were created, we still love them all. (cf the first observing above)
Actually the bartenders and cocktailians did their best so hard that it scared some people away (apparently) who thought it was too classy for them or misunderstanding that most of those “bar rules” are written in great fun and mostly mere suggestions. (The bartender is not going to flip a shotgun from under the counter and shoot your head off when you start talking into your cell phone. He might do that in his mind, you see but he’s not going to spit in your drink. If the conversation is a hindrance to other customers he will ask you to continue your phone call on the terrace or something.) Some people got scared that they would misbehave in some way or another. Or think it’s just for the rich people, it’s too expensive (those people prefer to sip on their Malibus, Pisangs and Safaris somewhere else).
I actually remember one person who asked the oft repeated question: “where can I get a good cocktail?”, I answered by naming and describing a well known Belgian cocktail bar whereupon she interrupted me, gasping: “Oh, no! That’s the bar where you have to ring the door and then they put you in the cellar!” I replied: “Well you make it sound horrible, but it’s actually quite enjoyable. They’re the nicest people with the best drinks you can imagine!” Large hazel eyes stared at me in doubt and disbelief. “Am I not underdressed for the place?”, she squeaked. My turn to blink in disbelief at the late twenty-something lady, my eyes snapped 160cm down and back up again. “Look, you don’t have to worry about that at all, nobody has to, actually. You can walk in there sporting a mohawk, 21 different face piercings and a stench-core punk shirt and they will still serve you!”.
And I heard more comments like that on cocktail bars in general. These people are mistaking obviously, but it doesn’t stop the bartender/owner – creative as he/she is – to think about some solution. And the “solution” is simple: create a “normal” dive, beer, people, music bar and serve cocktails too, apply everything you’ve learned about hospitality and tada! I think Attaboy in New York was the first to come up with the idea one or two years ago and now it’s here. Here end the two most important observings, what follows are just a few points you should remember.
Low alcohol cocktails will continue
Yes they will. We’re practically forced to. Considering insane taxations on spirits and the delusional political opinion that when you’ve had 2 ounces of navy strength rum you’ll step into your four-wheeled killing machine and mow down an entire village. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against low alcohol cocktails, I love them, but I just hate the reason why people tremble in fear at high or even normal proof spirits. It’s not their fault though… money is. Anyways, there’s a lot of creative and exquisite low alc cocktails around now, so you can safely drink two or three.
Not another gin
I’m sorry, but I’m good with what’s on the market and frankly there’s so much derivative work that they’re almost making categories for it. Remember how we f***ed up genever?
In regards to gin, I don’t want a vodka that smells like bath salts or potpourri. I don’t want a miscreant distilled from the garbage they even wouldn’t dare to give to cattle mixed up with a dozen disgusting aromatic oils to – literally – cloud the bad base product in the first place. “Here’s shit covered in flowers, thank you for your 40€!”. I want juniper berries and a few other botanicals in a smooth distilled product made from quality grain. But that’s just my opinion… you know, Gin! Not something else. I love the few beer distillations that are going round, but please, stop calling them gin! It’s not. Invent another name, another kind of spirit, maybe?
They call it the new tonic, well f*** you, it isn’t. It’s ginger ale. And it’s good. And more and more companies are creating their own, which is good. But if somebody starts to add flowers or whatever to it to create “that very distinct and unique ginger ale” then please reconsider. Ginger ale is a fantastic product and you can make great cocktails with it.
Mezcal and tequila will keep their steady, slowly rise. There’s a recent book by Kobe Desmet and Isabelle Boons that introduces you to this spirit if you want to know more about it. Mezcal is amazing and a bartenders favourite for over two years now.
This is something I’d like to see in bars in the future. Just a single spirit, a little tweaked up regarding the taste of the customer. I started doing this with genever, stirred a few seconds over ice and served straight up with a lemon twist and a scrape of nutmeg. It’s amazing and you can think of thousands of variations using any spirit you have. It’s well worth a try.
O’de Flander is an organisation that safeguards,showcases and promotes the loveliest local product of East Flanders: genever. Both a quality label and a brotherhood they organise a festival each year to promote their genevers to the public and all the things you can do with them, like for instance cooking or cocktails. The Cocktail Nation was asked to make some genever cocktails.
Genever is a spectacularly rich spirit with a fantastic array in flavours similar to gin ( duh), whisky (duh) and in one case even rum like. Products like the Vintage 1997 from Filliers distillery and the XO Founders Reserve by De Moor distillery are brilliant and I was happily surprised to see quite a few of the distilleries sporting these long aged whiskey like genevers. Also almost all of them have started to make their own gin or even more than one. I love the way they speak about this, they shrug their shoulders, look you in the eye and say “why not”. Most of these gins are amazing too by the way. Last one I tasted was the Hertekamp gin, if you ever have the chance then taste and try it.
Actually it was quite impressive to see all these different kinds and types of spirits spread out over the tables. These guys make everything! Spirits, liqueurs, anything! I have visited old whiskey distilleries, gin distilleries, rum distilleries and so on, having generations of experience and craftsmanship in creating their drink. But these people have 100 or 200 years of experience in distilling everything. It is amazing really, to speak to these people about some old liqueur only to see them reaching behind the counter, saying: “you mean this one?”.
So we set out to make three different genever cocktails. The location was the ‘Meat House’ near castle ‘Gravensteen’ in the medieval city centre of Ghent, a beautiful – if somewhat chilly – location. The weather was shite, perfect circumstances for the consumption of genever. We set up en prepared for the first cocktail and I was a little bit anxious because I needed a sourdough bread to make a food pairing with my first cocktail and there’s a lot of different styles of sourdough bread and also the quality ranges from “bweeeeuurk!” to “waw, that’s amazing!”. Now, apparently one of the organisers was a bakery teacher and he had made an Italian style sourdough bread with a 12year old sourdough, he told me. People, readers, this bread was amazing!
The first cocktail is called “Nen Deugeniet”, in Dutch – or rather – Flemish dialect, this means a naughty boy or girl. The drink somehow reminds me of cold winter mornings with a low sun, reflecting her blinding light on snow-covered fields lined with pollard willows. The drink is dedicated to my late Grandfather who had the reputation of being very naughty (in a friendly way). The base of the cocktail is a 5 year old Filliers genever, fantastically smooth and full of flavour. Added to that is an equal part of Kummel. Kummel is an old liqueur made from caraway and cumin seeds, which give it an anise flavour. It originated in the Low Countries and was very popular in Prussia and Russia. It is still popular in Scotland, at least in certain Golf Clubs, where they have a shot of Kummel before they take their first swing. The story goes that they brought it with them from Holland after WWII.
So genever and kummel, both old heroes from the Low Countries, our countries. Mixed in equal parts and stirred over ice. Not too long, you don’t want to dilute it too much. Strained and served with a lemon twist. Accompanied with a little side dish of sourdough bread smeared with an abundant layer of salted butter. (We used Kummel made by De Moor Distillery)
The second cocktail was a Martinez variation, made with Dirk Martens genever. Dirk Martens is a famous 16th century humanist from Aalst, who introduced the art of printing in the Low Countries and a personal friend of Erasmus and Thomas More. So the Dirk Martinez is made with 5cl Dirk Martens genever, 3cl Martini Gran Lusso, a dash of Luxardo Maraschino and two dashes of orange bitters. Serve with an orange twist.
The last cocktail was a variation on Jerry Thomas’ Improved Gin Cocktail. The base for it was a 54% ABV Balegemsche Genever from Van Damme distillery. This distillery is the last surviving farmer’s distillery in the entire country. We used to have hundreds, but wars and so called “government” destroyed them. It is a fantastic genever, it has grassy notes – almost hay – that marry it so smoothly with the juniper berries and the rye. So we used 6cl of it. A hefty dose or in our language “ne goeien dreupel” :). Then 0,5cl of simple syrup, one dash of Luxardo, one dash of absinthe and two dashes of Jerry Thomas bitters. Well stirred over ice and strained and served neat, no garnish. This cocktail was everyone’s favourite. And I can see why…