Gin and blossoms
When someone offers homemade alcohol, it's usually a bad idea to accept. However, it's actually a great idea when the person asking is Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar's Ian Young, and he's offering up a sample of his homemade jenever, an old-time juniper-flavored spirit which eventually evolved into gin. Earlier this year, the bartender worked as an intern at a jenever-based cocktail competition in Amsterdam called the Bols Around The World 2014 Bartending Championship. Now he's working with a partner to create a Northern California-made brand of jenever (the name's still to-be-determined). After a recent weekday bartending shift, SN&R asked Young about crazy drunks, and what it takes to make his fancy booze.
What’s your craziest bartending story?
Last year when I was working at the Shady Lady Saloon, a young lady came to the bar with two young gentlemen. All three had a drink each and shared some small happy-hour appetizers. After that the two gentlemen left and the young lady had a couple more drinks. She was very nice and very personable from the beginning. She seemed kind of the shy type but very intellectual and smart. But anyway, she started getting a little buzzed, I could tell. And then she goes, “Can I get another drink?”
And I was like, “let me pour you a glass of water and I'll get you another drink in a minute.” And so I got her a glass of water [and then] I said “Hey, I'm going to have to cut you off, I apologize, but I'll get you another glass of water, and if you need me to call you a cab, great.”
I made some drinks for some other people. She was right in front of my well. I put down my tins, and I go over and put drinks down in front of other people. She bends over and grabs the tins I made the drinks in, and drinks the leftover liquid and puts it down.
I was like, “Did you just drink from my tin?”
And then I could tell she was really drunk. All of a sudden, she just started speaking sloppily and was like “You shouldn't have left it there in front of me to drink, then,” or something like that.
What happened next?
I was like “OK, I'm going to have to ask you to leave now. Would you like any help out or a taxi?” [She said] “No, thank you” [and] I was like “OK.” And I waved at the door man, George, and she paid her bill and he escorted her out and we got her a cab and it was totally fine.
Moving on, why jenever?
It wasn't even my idea. An alcohol distributing rep came in and brought in a gentleman named Jeff John. He's a wine maker, and he also had vodka that he recently made. It's the first spirit he produced under Dutch and Dewey Distillery. He was curious, so we had a … tasting, and I told him about the distillation process and the ingredients, and I told him stuff I learned about Bols from working with them. He was really intrigued and really liked their product. He knew I was really enthusiastic about it, and I told him about my Dutch background and heritage and everything. Then, he was like “I'd really like to get into doing this one.”
How did you get started?
Over the course of about a month-and-a-half, I became his consultant on jenever. We had conversations over the phone about sourcing the ingredients, researching distillation and how to go about it. About a month ago, we volumed out all of our botanicals, and did a whole day of running a batch out. It took us a whole day to get about three-and-a-half bottles out and figure out the flavor profiles that we like. I now have two bottles that we made.
How would you describe its taste? And how do you make it?
Jenever is the precursor to gin. It consists of a couple things [including] a thing called malt wine. Most jenevers do around 50 percent malt wine. Bols uses about a 60-40 split. Malt wine is essentially an un-aged whiskey. Traditionally rye is the main grain used in malt wine, plus corn, wheat and malted barely. Then that's blended with what is essentially a botanical distillate, which is essentially what a gin is. But unlike gin, there's less juniper with jenever. You can get as crazy as you want to get with the jenever distillate, though. Ours also has coriander, Cascade hops, fresh grapefruit peel, fresh orange peel, fresh lemon peel, star anise, regular anise, dill seed, celery root, caraway, cloves, allspice and cinnamon. But everything [tastes] a little bit less intense than a traditional gin.
So how do you make it?
Once [the distillate is] made and you have the malt wine, then you blend both and let it marry, and let it sit for about a week or so, and then it's probably good to go. Let it age for about one to two years and it's about 90 proof.
When will it be out?
Right now we've been doing tastings with industry professionals to get feedback and really fine tune the recipe. As for the release day, the goal is December, right before the holidays, for the young jenever. And it'll take about another year for the aged one to be out.