Another gin, you say? Yes, people don't seem to get enough of it. Which recently lead to the quaint discovery that our blood vaguely tastes of juniper. A fact which largely broadened our Transylvanian fanbase by the way. Read below why you should try Steam Gin.
Steam Gin is the product of a unique cooperation between the Van Damme Distillery, Small Distillery Lede and VDS Distillery. And there is at least one reason why we got interested in this gin, namely, it’s distilled by Van Damme Distillery…
Van Damme is better known for its fantastic genever products, especially Balegemsche Graanjenever 54° – aka: Ol’ Blue One. Further more Van Damme distillery is the only farm distillery left in Belgium. We used to have hundreds, but one law and two world wars later, there’s only one left. What’s so special about a farm distillery you wonder? Well, a farm distillery produces its spirits entirely by itself. So everything, except for the bottle, is made on the farm, beginning with the grain. They have one expression which sounds great in Flemish and much less so in English nevertheless I will enrich you with it: “Van de grond tot in de mond!”, translated this becomes: “From the soil to the mouth!”
So, apart from growing, malting and distilling their own grain they also have on or two other special features. They use open fermentation and next to this barrel stands a huge f***ing steam engine that heats their column! It dates from 1862 and was recently completely disassembled, cleaned, lubricated and put together again. It’s quite an impressive sight and it rolls like a dream! It’s also – like you might have guessed – the origin of the name for this gin.
We especially like the bottle design, which is custom created in Italy and took longer than Caesar to arrive in Belgium apparently. The scorched cork and pewter seal are nice details. We couldn’t fathom, though, the need, reason and meaning of the motto: “we saw taste”. It’s only later, when you turn the bottle around, and read the poem on the back of the label that you see the origin – yet still not the reason – for it. In light of good taste we suggest to dispose of the motto, as well as the poem.
The taste is rather good and well balanced, a nice mixture between flower and spice with distinct juniper and cardamom notes. It works very well in G&T with a grapefruit twist, less suitable for Dry Martinis, but surprisingly superb in Negronis and very nice neat over ice. So get steaming!
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…