Tag Archives: David Wondrich

Maison Ferrand & The Launch Of The Belgian Cocktail Book

Every year Maison Ferrand launches a cocktail book in a different city, this book  represents the (cocktail) culture and bartender scene of the country the city is located in. It started 5 years ago in Paris, followed by Berlin, London, Singapore, NYC and now Antwerp, Belgium. The good people of Maison Ferrand immediately spotted how surreal our country is and decided without a single drop of hesitation to adopt the famous painter Rene Magritte as inspiration and leading theme. 
'Ceci est un cocktail book." was born. Location: Ben Belman's beautiful bar 'Bijou'.

After introductions Alexandre Gabriel, owner and master blender of Maison Ferrand took the stage. Well, stage is a big word, we cramped him in a corner where at least 75% of the attendees could see him. I mean this bar was filled to the brim with Belgian bartenders… and some press. A few exceptions give or take, I believe that everybody ever mentioned on this blog was there. The place was vibrant with enthusiasm. Just like Mr. Gabriel, this man was on fire. Not literally of course, but he was the proverbial waterfall of passionate fact- and storytelling, all of it interlaced with brilliant quotes. He started off immediately with: ” A good spirit is like a great book. Not a good book. ‘Good’ is not good enough, it has to be memorable!” Meaning that you need not necessary like the spirit, but it has to leave an impression on you. By that he wasn’t referring to splitting headaches, a hole in your tongue or diabetes, but more something like, you know, worth remembering.

Mr. Alexandre Gabriel, Master Blender and Owner of Maison ferrand. This man is very high spirited!

When asked to describe Maison Ferrand, he replied: “We’re one of the oldest cognac houses in the world. The family goes as far back as 1610.” Quickly followed by “We’re also a bunch of misfits who like doing things differently!” How exactly? “By don’t sticking to the guns, as a Master Blender I always wanted to revisit the spirits, approach them from a different angle and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish with our little company.”

Don’t walk the beaten path is basically what they’re doing and I love that. Next there was a tasting of their spirit range and we started off with the 1840 cognac (not a bad start don’t you think?). “I love young cognacs… that are made more than a hundred years ago!” said Mr. Gabriel and we couldn’t agree more. If your spirit needs to retire for several generations in a barrel before it starts to resemble something palatable then there must be something wrong with your distillation method. There’s a lot of spirits these days that taste like a wooden plank dipped into some sort of marmalade or fudge, soulless junk in my opinion. Not so with the 1840 cognac, I loved it, it’s all grapes and standing on rolling green hills with the occasional wild flower under a summer sun, finishing with the distant humming of a single bumblebee. For the record, it is not made in 1840, but it is made in the fashion and style of an 1840 cognac (in this case a Pinet Castillon).

Tasting in progres

Next up was the Cognac Pierre Ferrand with Banyuls finish. Although not our favourite, again a good example of Maison Ferrand ‘doing things differently’ and you gotta love them for it. For ages people thought it was illegal to store cognac in wine barrels, but Alexandre and some other people started to dig in the past and question this. After extensive research they concluded that: “it is legal, but you better not tell anybody.” That’s exactly why they put “Banyuls Finish” on the label… are you beginning to see why I love these people?

The following bottle was a familiar friend: Dry Orange Curaçao. This is amazing, you have to try this, it’s an absolute wonder potion in cocktails, but also nice to taste neat. Somebody once said when asked to describe it that it tastes like Cointreau only less sweet. That does not nearly begin to describe it! Less sweet, sure, but also the cane sugar is toasted and barrel aged and the liqueur is distilled in the same pot still as the cognacs. Taste and try!

Next up Citadelle Reserve Gin. I always liked the Citadel range, it’s straightforward and delivers the goods as a good gin should. Very unlike some of the neo-gins which are described a lot like shampoos containing strawberries and lychee or lapsang and yuzu. That’s not approaching a spirit from a different angle, that’s running away from it. Actually yuzu is in the recipe of Citadelle Reserve, but you know, it’s done differently! Alexandre said: ” a great gin is not a Caesar’s salad!” And right he is. The Reserve is a ‘yellow gin’ , meaning that it’s aged for a while. In this case exactly the amount of time it would take you to smuggle a barrel out of the port of Dunkirk ( in what we now call France, but used to be Flemish and a real pirate hole too) and bring it to London. Why? Because it happened on a regular basis after 1775.

After the tasting all the bartenders jumped behind the bar and made their cocktail from the book. Here from left to right: Ben Belmans (Bijou), Olivier Jacobs (Jigger’s), Vitas Van de Cauter (Uncle Babe’s)

After that it was the Plantation Jamaica 2002, which is a fine rum, very intense. A real slice of Jamaica. And last, but not least, we tasted the famous Plantation Pineapple Rum: Stiggins’ Fancy. It is a rum created by Alexandre Gabriel and none other than David Wondrich. Pineapple rum was already a thing in the 19th century to such extent even that was mentioned in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers where a reverend named Stiggins enjoyed a sip of pineapple rum before and after every sermon so to speak. This spirit is an absolute delight, it’s good in cocktails but we equally enjoy it neat. It is made by infusing the skin of Victoria pineapples for one week in Three Star Plantation Rum and afterwards distill it in the pot still. In the meanwhile they have infused the fruit of the pineapple for three months in the Plantation Original Dark, then they marry the two spirits together into Stiggins’ Fancy. Sheer bliss!

Bruno Simons (Mixing Tales) and Ran Van Ongevalle (The Pharmacy).

The cocktail book, you ask? Well it’s a booklet of a hundred pages long, filled with beautiful pictures by Evy Ottermans and recipes from about every self respecting cocktail bar and their best bartenders in Belgium. A must have, we believe.

As a conclusion I must say that Maison Ferrand is a house that I could call home. It’s small, cozy, visionary and passionate. It rebels, does things differently, producing a unique vision on spirits and a range with character and history. A toast to you, with this fine Plantation Angels Share. Cheers!





Genever is one of the most coveted spirits in American craft cocktailscene

It seems that our national spirit is slowly gaining a great deal of (re)appreciation in the States. Every self respecting cocktailbar in America is dusting off that specially reserved place on the backbar for the Queen Mum of all gins. In fact they want it so much that they are starting to make their own.

It is not surprising that this beautifully rich and malty spirit is getting more and more attention in the US, after all they imported 6 times more genever than gin in the 19th century. Famous barchaeologist David Wondrich tells us that London Dry style gins weren’t distributed in the States before the 1890’s. Which leads us to the safe conclusion that every gin recipe in the glorious 1862 edition of Jerry Thomas’s cocktailbible was made with either Genever or Old Tom Gin. In the 1887 revision of Thomas’s book the gin types are specified with the recipes: 8 call for Old Tom and no less than 12 ask for “Holland Gin” or “Dutch Gin”, which is the very practical American way to pronounce “Genever”.

Filliers Vintage 1990 Genever
Filliers Vintage 1990 Genever

Why so much Genever, you ask? Well it has been a very (if not the most) popular tipple in Europe for centuries and also, if you remember, ‘Old New York’ was once called ‘New Amsterdam’. No need to explain that the Dutch colonists and sailors of the VOIC (Dutch East India Company) brought with them their precious Genever. And the sweet mother of gins became part of Manhattan’s imbibing culture up untill the 1890’s.

Bols Corenwyn
Bols Corenwyn

So what we see today is kind of a REdiscovery. And it needn’t not to baffle us, considering contemporary cocktailrenaissance happening globally for the last 15 years. Where cocktailians, bartenders and barchaeologists are passionately dedicated to rediscover anything ancient and old, but definitely booze related. So it is not quite unlogical that after gin they start to glance curiously at Gin’s old progenitor.

One of 2 Belgian imported Genevers in The States
One of 2 Belgian imported Genevers in The States

And some of them didn’t leave it to curious glances, but gladly jumped into the haystack with the Queen Mum Of All Gins. Loving her so well that they are starting to make their own. A fact which we preceive as a little dash, since we did our damnest best to protect our Genever i.e. with an AOC and lots of laws (in very short: it is forbidden to produce – or at least call it genever – outside of Belgium and The Netherlands). We are starting to doubt the use of an AOC if you can bypass it easily by calling it “Genever Style Gin”, or “Geneva Gin”, but it’s indeed probably cheaper to make your own. Although in The Netherlands and Belgium Genever is cheaper than most gins…


Genevieve - American Geneva from the people who also make Junipero Gin
Genevieve – American Geneva from the people who also make Junipero Gin

Anyway, here are two of our favourite Genever based cocktails:

The Dirk Martinez

The Dirk Martinez
The Dirk Martinez

Named after the Humanist philosopher Dirk Martens – personal friend of Erasmus and Thomas Moore –  who introduced ‘printing’ in the Low Countries. Also the name of a very fine Genever from my hometown.

  • 6cl Dirk Martens Korenwijn Genever
  • 3cl Red Vermouth (Carpano Antica Formula)
  • 1 or 2 dashes of Orange Bitters
  • 1cl Luxardo Maraschino

Stirr over ice and strain into pre-chilled antique champagne coupe, garnish with orange zest.

The Malty Contessa

Basically a Genever Negroni, but instead of it being the famous Count Negroni’s favourite tipple, it became the Malty Contessa.

  • 3cl Genever
  • 3cl Red Vermouth
  • 3cl Campari

Build up over ice in a rock’s glass, garnish with orange or lemon zest.

And we leave you to your booziness with the following:

In our own opinion when you would compare every modern crafted London Dry to this: 

Fast, slick and seldom used to its full potential

Then Genever is more like this 

Old, slow, blows everything away and has become a museum now, but who knows… maybe they take her out for a ride some time.




Hannah Van Ongevalle, the written word challenge of the Diageo World Class Global Finals

Right at this very moment, Hannah – our Belgian contestant and among the 16 final contestants in the competition – is presenting her Written Word challenge on the most famous of all cocktail competitions: Diageo World Class. Frankly it is very hard for me to write any words at all, because I am baffled. I think that’s the right word for it. The challenge was to create 2 cocktails inspired by famous writers, both nationally and internationally.

Hannah getting ready for the 5 star challenge at the Savoy, this morning. Being the first woman since Ada Cole to shake behind the bar.
Hannah getting ready for the 5 star challenge at the Savoy, this morning. Being the first woman since Ada Cole to shake behind the bar.

Jokingly she announced that she would dedicate her first cocktail to Ernest Hemingway. “But no,” she said, “that would be too obvious”. She chose David Wondrich, famous cocktail writer and blogger for Esquire magazine. Inspired by him Hannah created a cocktail based on bourbon, cognac, Benedictine and lapsang syrup. For the second cocktail she was inspired by … well … me. I assure you, your knees get all wobbly when you hear that. It is too much of an honour. Personally I don’t think that I deserve to be named next to Wondrich or any other famous writer. But hey, it’s kinda nice when it does happen, *cough, cough*. I am a whisky man, she said, and that’s true – points for that. But she put some Mexico in this cocktail. I got softened down with so called ‘lady-sherry’, which I don’t mind and was graced with some lapsang syrup too. The cocktail is named the Edison Revived, after a band called Combustible Edison, that inspired me to name this blog: The Cocktail Nation. The Cocktail Nation is the title of a manifest written by the bandleader.

Hannah, you don’t need to be afraid of bloggers. We love you, especially being chosen over Hemingway. You just keep fishing old man.