Kevin Ramsey, the general manager at The Sovereign in Georgetown has a theory. The craft cocktail renaissance has spurred bars to seek out and pour lesser-known spirits. That’s why you’re seeing a Bolivian brandy called singani, Chinese baijiu, and Brazilian cachaça on more menus.
“If you have something on your list that’s hard to find—beer, spirits, or whatever, people want to go after it,” he says. The Belgian bar pours the elusive Westvleteren 12 beer brewed by Trappist monks at the Saint-Sixtus Abbey, for example. But, he says, “We’re trying to explain to people that there should be the same level of hype for genever.”
The Sovereign added flights ($12–$18) of genever to its drink menu this week as a way to help customers navigate the bar’s list of 13 varieties of the spirit that spawned modern day gin. Genever is also predominantly featured on the cocktail menu and Chef Peter Smith cooks with it in the kitchen.
Flights are also helpful because they show the diversity of the spirit. “Oude genever is the Scotch of gin,” Ramsey says. “It typically has a higher percentage of malted wine or barley and it can be aged in barrels.” It’s not uncommon to drink this style neat or on the rocks. If “oude” refers to the old-style of genevers, “jonge” is the name given to a new style of genever that’s more similar to a neutral spirit like vodka and some gins.
“Traditionally, genever is a great holiday spirit if you go to Christmas markets in Bruges,” Ramsey says, making a case for why it’s the spirit you should toast with this winter. “They’ll give you a waffle and a shot of genever.”
Genever is predominantly produced in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and France. “It’s a controlled designation like Champagne,” Ramsey explains. But that hasn’t stopped a distillery in Pittsburgh from trying to make its own genenver. You can try this domestic version at The Sovereign. The “Ginever” produced by Wigel is made from a grain mash of rye, wheat, and malted barley. Ramsey says it’s aged for eight months each in rye whiskey barrels and barley wine barrels.
“People should be drinking it not only because of its history, but because it’s an awesome spirit,” Ramsey says. ” A number of really great producers in Netherlands and Belgium have survived decades of conflict to produce this product.”
The Sovereign, 1206 Wisconsin Ave. NW; (202) 774-5875; thesovereigndc.com