When it comes to the world of craft cocktails, the refrain what’s old is new is practically an institutional joke, with wisecracks about suspenders and handlebar mustaches now pushing a decade. But come September 1, the New York Distilling Company will bring a more welcome revival to the mix: an American reimagining of Holland gin that has been out of production for more than a century. The company’s cofounder Allen Katz is teaming up with cocktail scholar David Wondrich to release Chief Gowanus ($30), what they’re describing as a “traditional New-Netherland gin.”
Named after the Canarsee tribe leader, Gowanus, who welcomed the Dutch to Brooklyn, the liquor has its roots in the 1600s colony New Netherland (whose capital, New Amsterdam, was in present-day Manhattan before the British renamed it in 1665). Back in Holland, the national spirit was a distinctive gin known as jenever: Made with a malt wine (a fermented mash of mostly barley with some rye) along with juniper and other botanicals, it is an altogether different thing—richer and maltier—than its more familiar descendant London dry gin.
Sometime after the Dutch immigrants jumped off the boat and got into the distilling game, the recipe was adjusted for regional conditions, starting with rye whiskey instead of from scratch with malt wine. With the emphasis on the more aggressive rye over the mellower barley, it was a bit rowdier and a bit more American. This cousin to jenever enjoyed stateside popularity for several decades, until it fell out of fashion as drier-style gins eclipsed the bolder spirit. “The martini killed it,” says Wondrich.
To re-create this local hooch, he and Katz experimented with a rough recipe called “How to Make a Resemblance of Holland Gin Out of Rye Whiskey,” from Samuel McHarry’s 1809 book, The Practical Distiller—the first American volume of its kind—until they settled on a formula for a rye whiskey base redistilled with sharp juniper berries and vegetal American Cluster hops. Like its antecedents, Chief Gowanus is something of a hybrid of rye whiskey and gin (call it the cronut of Flemish distilling). Aged in seasoned oak barrels for three months, it showcases the botanical notes of the lighter spirit with the spice and a touch of the roundness of the darker one.
In the fall, it will arrive in local liquor stores and at the New York Distilling Company’s companion bar, the Shanty (79 Richardson St between Leonard and Lorimer Sts, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-878-3579, nydistilling.com). You can drink it as early Americans once did—in a simple cocktail with bitters, sugar, water and ice—or as the Dutch still do—in an eye-opening beer-shot combo called the kopstoot (translation: head butt). We’ve also, ahem, ginned up some serious recipes from Katz and Wondrich (click through the slide show). This old-timey comeback ain't no joke.