Sebastiaan van Bokkel, the maker of Bobby’s Dry Gin, pours a neat sample of his product into a shot glass. “Sip on it and try and chew on it,” he encourages, as a way of maximising the experience of the flavours.
We’re sitting around a table in Rotterdam’s Fenix Food Factory, based in a former dockside warehouse in the city’s once notorious Katendrecht district, known locally as De Kaap. During World War Two Germany’s military hierarchy barred its soldiers from visiting De Kaap for fear they’d be corrupted by the many prostitutes then working the area. Times have changed. There’s no longer a stiletto in sight. The wares on sale are now locally produced food and drink products.
Van Bokkel launched Bobby’s Dry Gin on 12 February 2014 and it’s already on sale internationally. It took two years of experimentation before the premium gin was ready for its commercial launch.
“My grandfather was named Jacobus, which is a typical Dutch name, even though he was from the Maluku Islands. His generation had a lot of Dutch names, due to the colonies of the Netherlands in Indonesia. But my grandmother used to call him Bob or Bobby,” explains van Bokkel, about the origins of his gin’s name.
“First off, I wanted to make a jenever. Jenever is a typical Dutch alcohol and, from Rotterdam, comes from Schiedam, which is ten minutes’ drive from here. It is the jenever capital of the world, probably,” he says in his laid-back manner.
“I wanted to make something that was really authentic and Dutch. My grandfather used to love jenever, he used to drink it a lot. He drank Oude Bols, which comes in stone bottles, but he had a funny habit; he used to put his jenever in his own bottle, which he infused with herbs that were used in Indonesian cuisine, herbs like cloves, lemongrass, pepper and coriander. What he basically did was make his own gin.
Gin is based on jenever. He made a bathtub gin, as you call it in gin terminology. He didn’t know it, he just liked his jenever more when it was infused with hers to give it more flavour. I called my mam and said, ‘Mam, I’m going to make a jenever because it’s a cool product and it reminds me of my grandfather’…We figured out what he put in his bottle and made it,” says van Bokkel.
Eight ingredients are used to give Bobby’s Dry Gin its flavour; juniper, lemongrass, cloves, cubeb pepper, fennel, cinnamon, coriander and rosehips. The result is an aromatic, almost perfume-like drink, with overtones of lemongrass, cloves and pepper. Unusually for gin, it’s drinkable neat. That said, van Bokkel recommends serving his gin with a slice of orange, two or three cloves and a splash of tonic.
“We made a distilled gin, which meant that every botanical we use is distilled separately, so we could say we wanted more cloves or lemongrass,” he explains.
He then reveals that, in a way, jenever has been in his life for as long as he can remember.
“The funny thing was, the empty jenever bottles that my grandfather had, they were never tossed out. My grandmother held on to everything. The empty bottles were used for many purposes. First she boiled tap water, then let it cool down and filled the empty jenever bottles with tap water. As grandchildren, when we drank water, we always drank it from jenever bottles,” says van Bokkel with a smile, recalling his childhood.
So what is the key difference between jenever, traditionally a Dutch product, and gin, a beverage that the British adopted as their own and once drank, with tonic, on the verandas of clubs and bungalows throughout their once great empire?
“Typical London Dry Gin has to be based on juniper, coriander and grain alcohol. Actually the only thing that makes gin different from jenever is the re-distillation, which adds coriander,” answers van Bokkel.
The aroma and flavour of this gin is distinctive and meets with approval from the people around me. Given that the clock has not yet stuck eleven in the morning that’s a particularly impressive feat.
One of the stores where you can purchase Bobby’s Dry Gin is Barrelproof (Hoogstraat 49a, Rotterdam), which market’s itself as ‘the world’s smallest cocktail boutique.’
Try a gin and tonic with fast food at Tante Nel (Pannekoekstraat 53, Rotterdam).