There can’t be many liquid consultants and professional cocktails and “spirits educators” who are Irish and have their office on Fifth Avenue.
When Bols, who have been distilling since 1664, decided to relaunch Holland’s most traditional and oldest drink, they turned to New York and an Irishman born near the island where St Patrick kept his goat.
Philip Duff bartended around the world, started his own consulting firm (“Liquid Solutions”), opened Europe’s first bartending school (Bols Academy) and Holland’s first speakeasy bar ( Door 74). He was once deported from Yugoslavia. For not having Genever, the malt-based eponymous juniper berry spirit goes back to the fourteenth century and was transported around the world in VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or Dutch East Indian Company) ships. The British renamed it gin, although modern (young) and old genever might appeal more to mezcal and whisky lovers as it is made with hops and dark.
Philip was born in Kerries, north of Dublin. “New Yorkers love the story. That one of my noble ancestors stole, killed, and ate St Patrick’s goat, and when he asked where his goat was, all the locals could do was bleat. Since then, if you’re from Skerries, you’re nicknamed a Skerries Goat. Hence the goat on the Old Duff label. My step-daughter loves whales, so we had to put a narwhal tusk on it too. As well as the mayor’s seal of Schiedam.”
Duff was educated in Dundalk and studied marketing at Trinity College, Dublin. His father delivered Fiat cars. From the docks to the showrooms. His first bar job was in the Coast Inn in Skerries. He went on to work at Boss Croker’s (Dublin), Seymour’s in London, The Hyde Park Hotel (now the Mandarin Oriental), and Planet Hollywood, before and Seven Mile Beach in the Cayman Islands. He lived in Holland for fourteen years working at Rotterdam’s Mad Mick’s Breakaway Café and Baja Beach Club in Rotterdam and Crazy Pianos in The Hague.
Retiring from behind the var, he set up Solutions Bar & Beverage Consulting and then Disruptive Craft Spirits in New York. He now lives on the Upper East Side. “It sounds posh, but it’s actually Spanish Harlem, which is far cooler. I frequent probably the Dead Rabbit. I adore the classic New York saloon bar Hudson Malone. Nobody’s had a drink in a bar since March,
Old Duff Genever is milled, fermented, distilled, and bottled at the Herman Jansen distillery “De Tweelingh” in Schiedam, near Rotterdam. The business goes back to 1777. The current master distiller is Ad van der, Lee.
Along with Deinze (Filliers), Hasselt (Stokerij Van Der Schueren) and Aalst (Stokerii De Moor) in Belgium, Groningen (Hooghoudt), Dordrecht (Rutte), Schiedam is one of the Low Countries’ “jeneversteden” or genever towns. In Amsterdam, jenever is made by Van Wees and Wyand Fockink. Other Schiedam jenever distilleries include Nolet, Onder De Boompjes, Pit and De Kuyper. Near the Dutch-Belgian border, in Baarle-Nassau, Zuidam also produces traditional jenevers and Dutch liquors. As does the Biercée Distillery in Wallonia.
Duff was outraged that much Dutch genever was being made with Belgian malt spirit. “It’s a real Dutch genever for cocktail bartenders and cocktailian civilians alike. Early cocktails were almost certainly made with genever. One buck from every bottle sold is donated to charities directly benefitting bartenders.
“Genever isn’t like gin. Never trust someone who tells you it is. Good genever is a meticulously distilled multi-grain distillate, historically with a good bit of rye, sparingly flavored with small amounts of juniper and maybe a few botanicals. Historically, it wasn’t aged.”
Old Duff is the world’s best-selling 100% genever… “Fermentation is five days instead of the usual 24-48 hours as we don’t use accelerants, so a long time is needed to get the maximum yield from the mash bill we use, which is rye-heavy 2/3 rye, 1/3 barley. Rye is very difficult to work with. So we take our time and get it right. All-in it takes between ten days to two weeks to make. From when the grain is milled at the windmill conveniently located just outside the distillery on the canal, and you’re holding a labeled bottle in your hand.”
The E.U. now has eleven genever appelations and AOCs incouding two in western Germany (Nordrhein-Westphalia and Niedersachsen) and two departments of north-eastern France (Nord and Pas-de-Calais).
Adds Duff: “In the late 1800s, Schiedam had nearly four hundred distillers. Holland gin, as it is often still called, sold for the same price as fine Cognac and Irish whiskey. Duff is an homage to that legacy.”