Interview: Lucas Bols CEO Huub Van Doorne

Angel Brown caught up with Lucas Bols CEO Huub Van Doorne in the Lucas Bols distillery in Amsterdam.

What is the background to Bols Genever and the inspiration behind the new 100% Malt?

Genever has been around for a very long time but we as Dutch have neglected the category and although in the past it was part of the spirits and cocktail industry it was not exploited [in marketing terms] in that way. That is where we made the difference. We started Lucas Bols again in 2006 and brought it back to Amsterdam.

We were in New York and met David Wondrich. David in those days was making at-home cocktails from the Jerry Thomas book and some of those cocktails did really not taste, as they should. He said: “why is that?” And the reason was that those cocktails were [originally] made with genever. It was exactly the time [to bring back genever but] he didn’t know it and we didn’t know it.

I was in San Francisco and I met a top bartender there who had written a cocktail book. He gave it to me and had written in the book “When will you bring back the forgotten spirit genever?” I said hang on this is meant to be. So we had encouragement on the project and that is when we brought the 1820.

So nine years later, we are in more than 30 countries (major cities). The experience shows that we need to differentiate ourselves from gin. We are not gin but we are the grandfather of gin. The difference is we are a malt spirit. The 1820 recipe is a [blended] spirit so we thought: what if we were to do a 100% malt spirit? So then we started to work on it. We decided this is for the connoisseur and the people in the know and this is how we can illustrate the product and the brand of genever. We couldn’t rush this, it is not about the next thing, it is about bringing back the category. We are the leader and we have made a commitment to really build the category.

What are the differences between your genevers?

The difference between the 1820 and the 100% malt is the level of malt spirit. Of course, the 1820 is the ideal genever for cocktails. With the 100%, it will be very dominant, so you can drink this neat or you can create simple cocktails. Genever 21 is even less malt like [than 1820], you get close to vodka. You remove the maltiness and move from whisky to vodka almost.

What was behind the decision to make your genever the focus of the Bols Around the World competition?

We have done it with our liqueurs and we thought, okay, it would be great now that we are in 30 countries to do it with genever. We have done all the hard work so let’s go and look for the next Bols Genever Pioneer. The fascinating part is that while we are only in 30 countries, bartenders from 75 countries participate. We started with 2,000 and then we brought it down to 500, to 50, then we had seven regional winners and then seven finalists. The competition is based on taking the professional bartender seriously.