By now, chasing whiskey with beer is as common an American combination as peanut butter and jelly. But if you sail across the Atlantic Ocean to the Netherlands and request a whiskey with a beer back, you may be met by a blank stare. Instead, call for a kopstootje, the nation’s signature one-two combo of genever chased by a beer.
Gene-what? Genver is a singular spirit that’s often mistakenly lumped into the gin realm. The difference: Gin is crafted with a neutral spirit that’s then dosed with an armload of aromatics. On the other hand, genever is fashioned with a whiskey-esque distillate composed of rye, corn, and wheat (called “malt wine”), which is then blended with herbs and spices such as juniper berries. Genever boasts a malty, botanical bouquet married to an unaged whiskey’s body — think elegant moonshine, suitable for cocktails or sipping neat.
In the Netherlands, the traditional way to savor genever is via the kopstootje, a.k.a. “little headbutt.” The moniker comes from the practice of filling a tiny tulip-shaped glass to the brim with genever. Drinkers then take a hands-free slurp without knocking the glass over with their foreheads — hence, the headbutt. After the first nip, imbibers can sip the genever at a more relaxed pace, alternating the spirit with a light, brisk beer such as a pilsner.
To try this Dutch tradition yourself, seek out a brand such as Bols Genever and chill it icy-cold. As for the beer, try booking a ticket to Portland, Oregon. There, Upright Brewing’s Alex Ganum has created Kopstootje Biere, a take on the French style of beer called bière de garde. He doses it with Bols’ signature ingredients, including cloves, ginger, aniseed, juniper berries, and licorice root. The rich, musty result is gentle and balanced, with an easygoing quality that never bulldozes the genever into submission.
If Portland is out of the question, no problem. Opt for a nationally available pilsner such as Victory Prima Pils or Avery Joe’s Premium American Pilsner. They have a lot more in common with genever than you’d think. Besides containing malt (a key beer component), Bols is also flavored with hops — the flowering cones that give beer its bitter bite.
What are you waiting for? Go on, knock yourself out with a little headbutt.