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Steinhäger
(& Wacholder)
Gin

What is it?

This is a Gin, using juniper berries as it’s only botanical, from the City of Steinhägen found in the Westphalia region of North West Germany. Since 1989 it has been designated a European Union protected regional name and so, only if this spirit is distilled in or near this German city, can it legally be called a Steinhäger Gin.

Making Steinhäger Gin

Previously mashed and fermented juniper berries are distilled and then redistilled a second time with neutral grain spirit and water. Although not always, more juniper berries are usually steeped in this mixture of “juniper lutter” (the fermented and distilled juniper berries, grain spirit and water), before the second distillation for increased flavor. The use of juniper berry extract to provide additional flavor is not permitted.

The resultant distillate is diluted with water to create its final bottling strength. According to German regulations this can be a minimum of 30% ABV (see Wacholder below) although to be called Gin under European regulations it must be a minimum of 37.5% ABV. It is for this reason existing Steinhäger Gin is bottled at a minimum of 38% ABV. Similar to Genever, Steinhäger is traditionally sold in long brown colored earthenware bottles, referred to as Steingut bottles. However (again like modern day Genever) it may be found in glass bottles made to look like Steingut bottles.

History

It seems that as far back as the 1400’s the local population of Steinhägen were using juniper berries from the slopes of the nearby Teutoburg Forest to flavor Schnaps made from grain spirit. It is suspected that this was primarily for medicinal usage and may have been the influence for the creation of Genever (or vice versa). However, it no doubt influenced the propagation of similar spirit-based juniper flavored medicinal Gin drinks like Borovička in Slovakia and Brinjevec in Slovenia.

These first juniper flavored spirits from Steinhägen were initially home-produced offerings and it would take until 1640 for the H. C. König's to make the first commercial Steinhäger Gin. Because of this, König's Westphalian Gin, in later times, has been marketed asSteinhäger-Urquell” (the Original Steinhäger Gin). This “authentic” Gin was produced up until the early 1900’s and at that time König's was the largest and oldest Gin distillery in the world. Today H. C. König's still produces spirits and liqueurs as part of Mozart Distillerie GmbH in Salzberg, Austria, and is run by family descendent Harald König.

In 1688 Frederick William of Brandenburg, known as the “Great Elector” and the Count of Ravensberg, gave residents of Steinhägen the exclusive rights to produce alcohol. This gave birth to Steinhäger Gin and across the next two hundred plus years created an exclusive and booming industry in the area – with juniper berries still depicted on the City’s coat of arms today. By the late 1800’s the industry had reached its peak with around 20 distilleries producing Steinhäger Gin. By the 1900’s this had begun to dwindle and with König's ceasing their production many others followed suit. Today, there are now only two producers making this Gin

Steinhäger Brands

Schlichte Urbrannt

Made by Hans Werner (HW) Schlichte since 1766 it is Germany’s oldest Gin. It is made from a recipe dating back to the 1400’s, uses wheat based spirit, is triple distilled, produced at 38% ABV (40% ABV for some export markets) and presented in Steingut bottles. Available in the USA from: Pogo’s Liquor and Mission Liquor & Wines

Zum Fürstenhof

Fürstenhöfer is a Steinhäger Gin that has been made since 1955. Produced at 38% ABV it is distilled twice and is a subsidiary of Kisker Distilleries based in Halle, Saxony, Germany. 




Tasting Steinhäger Gin

As you may expect, Steinhäger Gin has a stronger taste of juniper berries, even more so than the average London Dry. However, it tends to be sweeter, softer and smoother and thus more akin to a Plymouth Gin. The most notable difference is the lack of citrus peel and for some this dampens it’s character somewhat although it is perhaps best described as subtle. Many people find creamy butterscotch and/or caramel notes (particularly with the offering from Schlichte) plus a peppery taste in the background, and some identify citrus aspects too (something not unfamiliar to juniper berries).

Drinking Steinhäger Gin

Traditionally Steinhäger Gin is consumed neat and, given its smoothness, this makes for a good after dinner digestif. Like Genever, it is often accompanied by a beer chaser, making it a good choice as a pre-dinner aperitif too. It can also be used as a standard style Gin and served in any traditional Gin based cocktail, making it a very versatile spirit.

Wacholder Gin

Like Steinhäger, Wacholder is a German double distilled Gin. However, it can be made outside of the City of Steinhägen and may sometimes contain more botanicals than just juniper berries. Another key difference is that it may not always be able to use the term Gin to describe it, as most Wacholder is produced below 37.5% ABV (not dissimilar to some Genevers). Interestingly Wacholder is a German styled spirit that is culturally recognized but, like Old Tom Gin and Flavored Gin, is not legally defined. Examples include:

  • Eversbusch Double Juniper - double distilled to 46% ABV.
  • Haller Tree Double Juniper - produced at 38% ABV.
  • Hulstkamp - triple distilled at 34% ABV.
  • Kisker Juniper - double distilled and bottled at 32% ABV.
  • On's Journal Berghisch Juniper - made to 32% ABV.
  • Schwarze Wacholder - made using black juniper, with a mild flavor and produced at 34% ABV.
  • Stobbe Machandel - an old Danziger national drink using a 200+ year-old recipe distilled from juniper berries. A spicy Wacholder made to 38% ABV and frequently served well chilled with a prune garnish.
  • Uerdinger - a spicy, but mild flavored, double distilled Wacholder produced to 38% ABV.
  • Wippermann Wacholder - double distilled and produced to 32% ABV.

The Future

Discounting the one exception, Steinhäger and Wacholder Gins are generally unknown outside of Germany and have been in steady decline for the last 100 years. The recent Gin craze of this century may create a shift in this trend both within Germany and, if exports increase, outside of the country too. However, it’s subtle flavor profile means that it may not be distinctive enough for any such momentum to carry it forward…we shall have to wait and see what happens!



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