Echo Spirits Distilling Reviving Classic Genever
Echo Spirits Distilling is reviving a pre-prohibition favorite. The local distillery’s first bottles of Genever are available at their Spirit Shop and distillery, 985 W. Sixth Ave., starting Monday, November 2.
Echo Spirits is one of only a handful of distilleries across the country making genever, or something in the general genever realm.
So what is Genever?
“Historically, it was the predecessor to gin,” says Founder & Distiller Joe Bidinger. Another fun bit of history according to Bidinger, before prohibition, the U.S. drank four times more genever than gin.
He describes the spirit as a whiskey base with botanicals (seeds, herbs, roots and spices) – or a cross between a whiskey and a gin. While botanicals take center stage in a gin, genever presents more of a balance between the raw, grainy whiskey flavor and botanicals.
Echo Spirits’ version features 10 botanicals, including juniper, citrus, orris root, dill and peppercorns. Bidinger says in developing the spirit they tried to find a balance between making a traditional genever, and creating something the modern American palate would find interesting but still discernible as genever.
They called the help of the Genever Convention – a group of local bartenders – to get the flavor just right. Bidinger says they knew they could come up with a solid base spirit, but finding the balance of botanicals was out of their wheelhouse. Echo Spirits provided local bartenders with some base spirit and some research and set their palates free to infuse their own botanicals.
“Every single person who brought something back in, we learned something from,” Bidinger says.
The team learned what they did and didn’t like, and pulled it all together to create the final balance. It also earned the Genever Convention bartenders a permanent nod to their assistance, with the list of bartenders on the inside of the label on every bottle.
That was one part of a complex process to arrive at the final spirit.
“Genever, I think, is by far the most complicated spirit to make, and, yes, we knew that getting into it, but we still decided to do it and I don’t know why other than it’s fun,” Bidinger says.
Their Genever is a mix of three components with distilling, redistilling and infusing all part of the process. The final spirit blends malt wine, a neutral and a neutral-infused botanical.
Bidinger says that no matter what preconceived taste notion folks have when thinking about the whiskey-gin hybrid, “It’s never what they thought it was going to be.”
Historically, Bidinger says genever would have been served in a small, tulip-shaped glass filled to the very top. A pre-pickup slurp was required to even lift the glass off the bar.
However, “In terms of cocktails, it works really well both in things that use whiskey or use gin,” Bidinger says.
So why choose a little-known spirit in the U.S. to round out Echo Spirits’ trio of offerings (which include rum and rye whiskey)?
“A lot of the point of Echo Spirits is to talk about some of the lesser-made, in a lot of cases, spirits,” Bidinger says.
He and Founder Nikhil Sharoff were first introduced to genever on a trip to Ghent, Belgium in 2013. Bidinger’s cousin directed the pair to a small bar where, as he described it, they were serving a spirit similar to gin but not quite gin. Bidinger and Sharoff went, they drank (many varieties, including infusions like cactus, pine, tiramisu and chocolate), and knew not quite what they experienced.
A few years later as they started discussing opening their own distillery, they thought back on their experience in Belgium and became totally engrossed in genever lore.
For now, the curious will have to head to Echo Spirits directly to get their hands on their Genever. Through at least mid-winter as they ramp up production, the spirit will only be available at their bottle shop and soon-to-open bar.
The bar has long been in the plans, but the pandemic pushed things back a few months. Now, Bidinger says they are weeks away, aiming to open by the end of the month.
Echo Spirits’ Spirit Shop is open Monday to Saturday from 12 – 6 p.m.
For more information, visit echospirits.com.