By Lesley Jacobs Solmonson
1 shot of Genever
1 Beer back (see below)
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The Mister and I spent a good deal of the weekend trying to choose the perfect color combination for our new Moleskine-esque iPad cover. After much debate – blue and orange, green and brown, which color elastic strap, camera hole or not? – it became evidently clear that we live in an age of simply too many choices. And, given too many choices, we tend to over-complicate things. Sometimes, simpler is indeed much better – whether it’s covering your overly expensive Netflix player or just ordering a drink.
Take the Kopstootje, for example. Kop-what, you say? Literally a “little head butt”, the kopstootje, pronounced “kop-stew-che”, is a traditional Dutch way of drinking that most Dutch of spirits, genever. Considering that we are known as 12 Bottle Bar and that one of our principle bottles is genever, it’s rather ironic that we hadn’t yet featured this drink. “Given too many choices” we suppose. At its heart, the Kopstootje shares a great deal in common with the all-American whiskey and a beer back, but it has a lot more finesse. Yes, a “shot” glass is involved but, in the old-school manner, it’s a delicate, tulip-shaped affair into which ice-cold genever is poured to the brim. Instead of just drinking from the glass, you lean over and – hands free – carefully sip those first luscious bits of genever, being oh-so-careful not to spill. A quaff of beer follows, and so on. It’s a perfect – and perfectly simple – way to enjoy the malty character of genever.
As with any pairing of food and wine or spirits in cocktails, you need to match the flavor profile of the components. Recently, there have been a couple of intriguing collaborations to produce a beer to complement the malty, herbal quality of genever, both spearheaded by Bols ambassador and friend Jacob Grier. In his home town of Portland, Oregon, Jacob worked with the local Upright Brewery to produce Upright Kopstootje Bière. Unfortunately, this judiciously spiced bière de garde (a strong pale ale or “keeping beer” brewed in Northern France and meant to be consumed later in the year) is only available in Portland where it has met with rousing success.
Luckily, Bols, under Jacob’s guidance, has taken this idea a major step further, preparing to spread the Kopstootje love on an almost national level, which probably means most big cities and artsy/foodie communities. They have turned to wunderkind gypsy brewer Brian Strumke of Stillwater Ales. Strumke’s Stillwater Artisanal Kopstootje is created in the “saison”-style, a refreshing, southern Belgian brew known for its complex, spicy notes and malty character. Using barley, rye, corn, and wheat as the fermented base, it adds botanicals like those found in Bols genever, resulting in a pitch-perfect pairing of beer and spirit. No telling when it will be coming to a store near you, but keep your eyes peeled. We found a rich example of the style – Saison Belgian Farmhouse Ale made by St. Feuillien in Belgium – at BevMo, which means it should be readily available for all. While David and I found it a bit too creamy and honeyed on its own, the malty, spicy elements paired superbly with the genever.
In order to enjoy a little head butt while you are waiting for the Stillwater bottling, Jacob recommends your favorite lager, as lagers are the traditional choice in pairing. As he notes, “Both the brewers we worked with made ales more in the farmhouse tradition. The main consideration is to avoid anything too hoppy, as that would overpower the genever.” So, seek out a farmhouse/saison-style ale Jacob prefers chilling down un-aged genever before serving it, while he likes the aged style at room temperature.
With the Kopstootje finally making its way stateside, we are feeling more than a little bit nostalgic. Before we had a toddler who isn’t quite ready for transatlantic flight, David and I tried to get to Europe once a year. Long before 12 Bottle Bar was even a glimmer in our minds, we passed a few hours in Amsterdam genever bars, soaking up both the spirit and the “spirit” of the Dutch. Indeed, our first real genever experience was in an Amsterdam bar that, as luck would have it, catered to an old-school, more traditional clientele. I say that because these days, the younger Dutch tend to consume less oude genever and far more jonge, preferring its lighter, less malty aka vodka-like profile.
This bar was oude-school all the way, with the appropriate crowd to go with it. Next to us sat a rather eccentric fellow. He stared contemplatively into his tulip glass and sipped his beer. After trading a few words with the owner, he smiled wryly and mumbled something in Dutch. The bar owner laughed and then translated for us: “Old genever and young women, but never the other way around.” Thus is just a bit of the wisdom one gleans from kopstootje-drinking locals.
Through its brand ambassadors, Bols is pushing the Kopstootje these days, taking the concept across the country and introducing cocktail enthusiasts the proper way to drink the pairing. Perhaps in America, genever and a beer will just be a fad, but for us at 12BB, it’s here to stay.