The popularity of so-called Genever-like gins, especially stateside isn’t something new as much as it is the pendulum of fashion swinging back in the opposite direction. These gins, which might be more aptly described as Holland style (or Holland style inspired?) are usually pot distilled (rather than column distilled), and the spirit itself is designed to have a malty-grain like character (sound familiar?). The base spirit must be grain. Korenwijn, spirit from malted barley is a style/designation unto itself (which by the way, is what Merrylegs does here, 100% Malted Barley), and would be the most historically accurate— later centuries would see the use of neutral spirits in greater quantities, or other grains (corn, wheat, etc).
Malt wine is only distilled up to a point of about 50-55% ABV (London Gins have to be north of 70% ABV to bear the London designation; Neutral Spirits, common in many gins, are 90%+), and then redistilled with the botanicals to create the final product.
But bear in mind, Genever can only be made in the Netherlands, Germany and a few counties in Belgium and France. It’s a geographically protected designation, so although it’s “in the style of” it is not Genever.
TL;DR: 50% ABV Grain spirit, re-distilled with botanicals but can’t be called Genever because it’s not from Europe.
Merrylegs Genever in <100 Words
Okay, enough about the category. Oregon Spirit Distillers do their work out of Bend, Oregon, and have a commitment to supporting Oregon agriculture. Their Genever-style gin is actually a distinct product unto itself, and not just a gin version of their vodka. They use Red Winter Wheat there, while the Malted Barley (as per above) leads their gin. Merrylegs Genever launched in 2012, and although other distillers are playing with the Genever-influence styles, they were among the first to put the word Genever on their bottle.
The nose has a grain/rye character to it with a lot of anise and licorice (well, lots of licorice) bursting through. The palate has a bit more of the same, anise at first, with juniper and rose mid-palate. Hints of citrus, but still the licorice notes are strong with this one.
Sweet and warming, but very very different if your expectations are gin. It’s also not completely like most genevers, because although it does have a grain-led character, it tastes slightly less grain-dominated than other Korenwijn or Graanjenevers that feature this much grain.
But that doesn’t take away from it. Judged on its own, it’s quite a remarkable spirit. As for the cocktails, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. So I tried it in some Holland style gin cocktails.
It made a good, if slightly unusual Martinez. Exotic, unusual nose, with cinnamon, bitter orange rind and cassia. The palate evoked comparisons to “spiced cake” with licorice in the background, grated orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, with a long finish ride with spicy bitterness.
Reportedly Ernest Hemingway’s favorite cocktail, the Death in the Gulfstream is a careful mixture of lime juice, simple syrup, genever and angostura bitters. Grain on the nose, with lime and a vague bit of spice. The palate begins with anise, but slides into a smooth lime/coriander finish, replete with a surprising floral lift.
It’s like a who’s who of big names down here in the cocktail section. Jerry Thomas’s Improved Holland Gin Cocktail combined genever, with bitters, absinthe, maraschino/curacao, simple syrup, angostura bitters— well it is quote a nice cocktail. The anise is amplified with the addition of the absinthe, while the overall impression is a bit anise cordial. There’s a bit of other notes coming through, but it might just be too much of a good thing. Considering Merrylegs hangs their hats on the anise flavor on its own, the Absinthe just doesn’t need to be here. Add in the sweetness, and it’s just not working for me. Stick to a Merrylegs Old Fashioned, and muddle in some simple syrup, and you end up with the same effect.
Rating: If we cut to the chase (and not worry so much about what it is and where it fits in the gin picture), it’s a good spirit. It might not be gin for gin people (there’s not a lot of juniper), but it’s a good sip on its own, and among those that I come to specifically when I want this spirit. There’s no substitute, there’s nothing else quite like it out there. Fans of classic and contemporary gin are both best advised to approach with caution and judge it alone on its merits rather than preconceived expectations. Your opinion of it will likely stand solely on your opinion of anise. But I like it, quite a bit.
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