Following on from last week’s visit to Berlin and Amsterdam, here’s part two, focussing this time on spirits…
Jenever (pronounced “Geneva”, like the Swiss city) is the original juniper flavoured spirit that, one way or another, evolved into what we know today as gin. I can’t really remember how I found out about it now, but what started out as a vague plan to pick some up turned into an intention to incorporate jenever into the trip as, a few days prior to departure, an episode of Coach Trip involved a visit to a distillery in Rotterdam. You’ll know if you’ve visited these pages before that I’m not a massive fan of gin, but spirits are spirits and booze tourism is booze tourism so it would be rude not to delve.
Our Top Ten guide book was good enough to include an entry on Wynand-Fockink: a distillery in the heart of Amsterdam that incorporates a bar and a shop, but only does tours on Saturday afternoons which was when we flew in.
|Bols Zeer Oude|
Before getting chance to visit the WF shop, I picked up Bols Zeer Oude Genever in a liquor store close to our hotel for 11 euros 50 (you can pick up a litre of it at Master of Malt for just over £30). I’m not sure why some of these products are spelled with a G and some with a J, but I don’t think we can question Bols here since they are the oldest distillery brand in the world, and produced the first genever . It’s hard to say whether that is this one since, apparently Bols began distilling genever in 1664, but introduced a new recipe in 1820 which is considered the authentic flavour of genever. I don’t know, sometimes I can’t make head or tail of all this stuff I find on the internet. Maybe if I read everything properly instead of doing that F-reading thing that everyone does on the internet, and means that none of you will actually read this post… I’m going to have to start planning strategically around that one day.
There were other brands available, but they were generally 35% ABV or even less, so I selected the strongest examples available – or so I thought, the internet says this is 35%... I had thought it was more, but can’t prove that just now. There are versions from the 70s and 80s at 39% and 37.5%, but I doubt mine was one of those.
Contained in a clay bottle, Bols Zeer Oude is apparently best drunk refrigerated, but the fridge in our hotel room was very small and already had to contain 6 cans of Grolsch and 2 desserts. The Bols never made it into the fridge before it had been consumed.
I enjoyed drinking the jenever before going out in the evenings, but I didn’t notice the gin-like element until it was pointed out to me. This element that I consider to stand out in the flavour of gin – which I assume must be the juniper - is more mellow and muted in the Bols – making it easier for me to appreciate.
Here is some more detailed information about Bols that you might find interesting.
When we did make it to the Wynand-Fockink shop one afternoon, I was able to try a few of the varieties – one that was aged for three years and is said to be close to bourbon in character and a couple of others I forget now – but the one I chose to take home was Rogge, which means rye. I’ve since learned online that they do a cask strength version. If I’d been informed of that at the time, that would certainly have been the one I would have gone for. 50cl of the standard variety cost somewhere around 18 euros. Read a little more about the Wynand-Fockink Rogge at some undetermined time in the future (in a month or two, probably).
The experience of my last booze tourism adventure (Orlando), in which I’d relied on chance to find liquor stores had convinced me that a bit of research would be necessary on arrival in Berlin. We passed a couple of stores that looked like they held potential early on in the trip, but on close inspection, they just turned out to be newsagents with large and visible selections of beer and wine – so not necessarily the kind of place you want to focus your spirit purchasing energies on. I did a little online searching then, and found this site, which lists all the notable stores in the Berlin area – and it turned out that one was just down the street from our Schoneberg apartment.
First though, I scheduled a visit to Absinth Depot. Actually, that’s not strictly true. I first scheduled a visit to Whatever Spirituosen, which is on Torstrasse in central Berlin and is supposed to be open from 1pm to 1am if a standard listing on Google is to be believed, but that certainly didn’t turn out to be the case when we visited. Absinth Depot is a short walk from there though, so that’s where we went next.
It’s good to have a bit of knowledge about products before you walk into a store like this because then you can immediately convince the proprietor you’re not an idiot – which they seem to respect. Here’s another idiot to treat with disdain, can quickly change to this person actually wants to spend some money. I was able to give some specific characteristics that I was looking for, and a few samples were quickly produced. Brenda commented on the cloudiness, and that gave me the opportunity to show that I knew that that was known as the louche.
These shops seem to be set up to give recommendations – you can’t really see exactly what’s behind the counter, and a few samples are available already, so it makes me wonder – presumably there’s a lot of stuff he doesn’t recommend so, is there some stuff he doesn’t sell any of? Is there some stuff he deliberately doesn’t stock? Because if you’re not going to recommend it, you’re probably not going to sell it unless it has a reliable market share in spite of your own feelings about it.
After debating whether 45 euro was a reasonable amount to spend on a litre of absinthe that I was buying purely to dole out at parties, I selected Maldoror on taste, though all three I tried were pleasant with water, which was a surprise following the glass in a glass experiment I’d tried with my Grande Absenta. I won’t be able to comment definitively until I’ve delved a little into the bottle however.
Maldoror is a German product, but the very first example of a blended absinthe – blended from a Czech, a French and a Swiss absinthe. Colouration is natural, and it is recommended to be consumed with a little sugar and 2-5 measures of ice water.
It is rumoured among online absinthe aficionados that the Czech contingent is Bairnsfather, which is very bitter and for this reason, it should maybe be tried with ice.
A discussion online suggested that, in spite of its winning an award, the finish is overly bitter, though in my limited experience, all absinthe has a certain bitterness. It was suggested that this appears on the finish, so potentially after judges opinions had been decided. Nevertheless, I tried it in the shop and wasn’t complaining of any bitterness later that afternoon.
Before heading to the local special liquor store we made a final stop at the nearby Kaisers Supermarket to pick up treats for colleagues at work, where I found Grappa Paganini for a too good to refuse 5 euros. I’d never seen nor heard of it before, but my predilection for grappa wasn’t going to allow me to pass this one by. I actually found it later online and then in a Sainsburys store (Urmston, I believe) at £14.50. The only other thing I’ve been able to find out about it online was that someone had bought it purely to turn the bottle into a bong. You can see why, though they hadn’t commented on the product itself at that point.
Given my earlier purchases that day, by the time we arrived at Finest Whisky I’d resolved not to spend too much, having already massively overspent on the absinthe, but I did still need to pick up something distinctly german. It was almost a shame really because Finest Whisky really is a collection of some very fine whiskies, that it was a pleasure just to have a look at. There was even an Ardbeg wall (pictured), which represented the fact that the store had just been selected as the official Ardbeg supplier in Germany… or Berlin… or something. I forget, but it was impressive nonetheless.
I’d tried a few varieties of schnaps during the trip – none of which were anything like the peach Archers that everyone is no doubt familiar with – and thought something like that might end up being the way to go. But no, the proprietor directed me towards korn, which is like german vodka. I had tried a few as a chaser to my beers in the last few days, but I’d never heard of it before and didn’t really know what it was.
What I was directed to then was Berliner Brandstifter, which translates as arsonist. In general, korn is supposed to be less vigorously filtered than vodka, but this one has been filtered seven times, leading to the claim that it reduces (or even fully eradicates) the possibility of a hangover. I doubt I’ll ever get to substantiate that claim, but nevertheless there was enough about it to make me want to take it home.
Only 1000 bottles are produced each year and all bottles are hand filled and hand-numbered. It clinked with the grappa when we put it in our bag leading to a slightly awkward moment when it looked like we might’ve helped ourselves to something else from the shelves while the guy wasn’t looking, but we hadn’t. It had been a pleasant visit in all, and Finest Whisky is a shop I’d warmly recommend you visit if you happen to be visiting Berlin.
I turned down the opportunities to make purchases at either Manchester or Amsterdam’s Schiphol airports because, in the first instance I figured I pick something up for consumption during the holiday in the city of Amsterdam itself, and in the second because there just wasn’t anything that made my wishlist – though I was tempted to get some 60% dark rum, before ultimately deciding that was out of scope this time around.
In Berlin though, and despite pretty much feeling my booze budget had been [over]spent by that point (one bottle consumed, four further bottles collected), one of my targets had always been a German brandy, so at less that 10E for 50cl, I couldn’t really turn down the chance of one last purchase. And this is it, Asbach Urbrand. The fact it reaches a full 40% in strength also worked in its favour. I’ve since learned that it proved to be popular with British troops stationed in Germany, and who am I to argue with a recommendation of that kind?
I’ve had to ban myself from buying anymore spirits for the next 2 months as a result of this little adventure, but that’s ok because I currently have 8 unopened bottles and I think that’s enough anticipation to hold in reserve for the timebeing. The only question now is what will I open next? Who’d’ve thought German booze could be so interesting? I certainly never did.
I have since found that there are even brands of German whisky. I’m quite glad not to have known that at the time, as it means there would have been other spirit types I was inspired to try, but it’s certainly one to bear in mind for the next time, and we had such a nice time that I wouldn’t hesitate to visit again.
So thanks for sticking with me through this mammoth travelogue. I’ll be dipping into those various bottles in the coming months and the results will be vomited all over these pages, so check back if you’re interested.