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Kopstootje: A Little Head Butt from Stillwater Artisanal Ales and Bols Genever
"First, you must slurp it," Piet said. Piet van Leijenhorst, the master distiller for Holland's Lucas Bols, was giving us pointers on how to properly enjoy a Kopstootje (kop-stow-che), the Dutch pairing of a beer and a shot of Genever. According to tradition, to approach the tulip glass filled to the brim with Genever, you must first bend over and slurp—to use your hands or to spill would be bad form. Afterward, you toast, follow up with a sip of beer, and continue to sip or shoot at your own pace.
We'd met up with Piet at Alewife in Long Island City on the second night of the New York stop of a seven-city tour, along with Brian Strumke, the gypsy brewer behind Stillwater Artisanal Ales. Brian crafted a new farmhouse ale, also called Kopstootje, especially for pairing with Bols Genever. Unlike the domestic lagers that would usually complete the pairing in Holland, Stillwater Kopstootje was created using some of the same ingredients used in Genever: a malt base of barley, wheat, rye, and corn as well as ginger, anise, clove, hops, and juniper berries.
Kopstootje (a "little head butt" in Dutch) is like a centuries-old predecessor to the modern shot of Jim Beam with a Bud back. But if the idea behind the pairing is similar, the components are certainly more refined. Genever, made from a recipe that dates back to 1820, is medium-bodied and smooth; it's swallowed without the faintest burn. The blend of twelve botanicals is a delicate one. It smells slightly bready with subtle fruitiness toward the end. It's easy to see a clear spirit made with juniper berries and immediately think "gin," but Piet is quick to remind us that Genever is not a gin—it's a spirit all its own.
The hazy gold Stillwater Kopstootje, like the Genever before it, is also lightly spiced. The aroma, like all of the Stillwater ales I've tried to date, is yeast-driven. Clove accents stand out along with the yeast, but the other components meld into one. The first sip is a seamless combination of yeast and spice, before ending with the tingle of ginger and a slightly tart bite. The pairing of Kopstootje and Genever worked on two levels: the shared flavors complemented and enhanced one another with alternating sips, but each also remained distinct without masking or muddling the other.