Derby der Lage Landen // Belgium vs. The Netherlands...

Antwerp // August, 2010
I named this post "Derby der Lage Landen" (Low Countries Derby) referring to the big rivalry between Belgian and Dutch national football teams but the shared heritage of distilling genever between these two countries goes way more back than that... Flemish people were producing genever (or jenever, geniévre, peket, dutch gin...) in Low Countries since 1500s almost three centuries before an independent Belgium became a part of the European map.

Genever is traditionally produced by blending two different spirits: a malt wine which is distilled from a grain mash bill using pot stills and a column still distilled spirit infused with various botanicals. If we don't dig deep into specific subcategories there are only two main distinctive types of genevers according to the blending technique used: Oude (old) genever which contains minimum 15% malt wine and maximum 20 grams of sugar per liter and Jonge (young) genever which contains maximum 15% malt wine and maximum 10 grams of sugar per liter.

I first started to to grow interest in genever during my regular trips to Antwerp in 2000s. The city of fashion, diamond, chocolate, beer, genever and Jan Fabre... Every time I visited this marvelous city my nights were dedicated to study genever which included a visit to de Vagant, the legendary genever bar which is more like a genever library instead of a bar to be fair. They carry over 200 expressions and their staff is always helpful sharing their vast knowledge, offering recommendations, etc.

Well, it is impossible to find as many different bottlings as you can find in Flanders here in US of course but I do have two oude genevers to taste and compare today: Diep 9 Old Genever from Belgium and de Borgen Old-Style Genever from The Netherlands...

Diep 9 Old Genever (35.0%): This expression contains 40% malt wine distilled from a mash bill containing rye, wheat and malted barley. Including the infused spirit used in the blend both components are distilled in 52 gallon capacity small pot stills in Stokerij De Moor Distillery located in Aalst, Belgium. It is aged in French oak barrels for two years primarily held Pomerol and Saint Emilion wines.

Color: Almost clear with a faint pale yellow tint with persistent tears and legs around the glass.

Nose: Dry malt... Dusty and yeasty. Sourdough bread, unsalted butter and distiller's beer. Malt wine aromas are the most dominant ones on the nose. Rye vodka, bread dough and sage. Botanicals are there but keep their distance: faint sweet juniper berries, red bell peppers and citrus peel.

Palate: Creamy and oily mouthfeel. Great texture... Sage, yellow grapefruit peel and malt. Crushed red peppers and tarragon leaves. Damp old magazines, cardboard boxes and dry clay.

Finish: Medium long with white pepper and leather upholstery notes. It's tart and peppery.

Overall: It is almost like a crossover between a very young whisky and an old tom gin. It is surprisingly malty and grainy than being botanical. If anybody think that genevers are always spirity, sweet and herbal this bottle is a great example to show them how actually they can be dry, complex and layered. I should have a bottle of this at home all the time.

Price: $35

de Borgen Old-Style Genever (40.0%): And now a genever from The Netherlands... De Borgen Old-Style Genever is distilled in Hooghoudt Distillery in Groningen. According to the brand's website the genever in the bottle is a blend of triple distilled juniper spirit, grain neutral spirit, unaged malt spirit and 17 year old malt aged in European oak barrels.

Color: Very pale straw like yellow. It is odd because the label says that caramel coloring is added. So this gives us a little hint about how much of that 17 year old spirit they used in the blend... Must be pretty minuscule.

Nose: Much more botanical and less malty compared to Diep 9. Perfumy... Juniper berries, fennel seeds and coriander seeds. Toasted oak, cinnamon and rosemary sprigs. Vanilla extract and fresh cut grass.

Palate: Here is the malt... Almost like a very young whisky. Creamy and buttery... Subtle juniper, fresh fennel and rye bread. Brown sugar and light caramel.

Finish: Long and sweet with corn syrup and maple honey. Some black pepper, dry wood and coriander.

Overall: This is a great one as well... They are very different though. It is very hard to compare. That's what I like about genever. Even if you are tasting two expressions from the very same category they can be totally different. De Borgen is more perfumy, botanical and sweeter compared to Diep 9 but that doesn't make neither of them better or worse than the other one. Although I wish that it was a tad less sweet for my taste it is still a great sipping genever. By the way I love genevers served neat accompanying strong and bitter coffees like an espresso or Turkish coffee. Try once, you'll thank me later...

Price: $45