Poppies Gin – An English Style Mystery in Belgium

By alison - September 10, 2013 (Updated: November 18, 2014)

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series CheeseWeb Drinks (Responsibly).
Poppies Gin by Rubbens Distillery

Poppies Gin by Rubbens Distillery

Belgium is well known for its jenever production but one distillery has created a traditional gin in honour of the soldiers who died in WWI. Rubbens distillery, in Zele, still produces Poppies Gin, which was “beloved by British soldiers.”

We stumbled across Poppies Gin while browsing the Vraie Confiture du Durbuy shop. This little shop was a treasure trove of goodies from the region and it turns out their wares weren’t limited to Walloon products.

The bright white, traditional earthenware jug of Poppies Gin caught my eye. Used to seeing only the term jenever used in Belgium, I was curious about this English-style gin.

We took a bottle home and gave it a try. The taste is quite herbal, with a strong flavor of aniseed or licorice. Reading the bottle, we learned it is distilled with a secret recipe including a ‘balanced blend of selected herbs.’

Of course, I wanted to know more. But that’s where it got tricky.

A google search of Poppies Gin brought back very little; just a couple of distributors. So, I decided to go to the source, the Rubbens distillery website. I learned more about the distillery (with the help of Google translate) but there was no mention of Poppies Gin.

Poppies Gin - We can't find out much about it, other than we like it!

Poppies Gin – We can’t find out much about it, other than we like it!

Rubbens Jenever Distillery was founded in 1817, in the tiny East Flanders community of Zele. By 1872, Charles Rubbens had a thriving jenever distillery. The distillery has been passed down through the generations but still remains in the Rubbens family.

They produce 9 different jenevers, both old and young. They also make a wide variety of fruit jenevers, including: apple, black current, lemon, passion fruit, strawberry, cherry, melon and prune. Finally there are 4 cream jenevers: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and kiwi.

But no mention of Poppies Gin.

In fact there are dozens of products listed on the website: vodka, gins, liqueurs, even wines, but Poppies is nowhere to be found.

It’s a mystery, and if you know more about this English-style Belgian gin, I’d love to hear it. What I will say is if you like gin and you like licorice, Poppies Gin is well worth a taste, if you can get your hands on it.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
I loved my time in Riga, Latvia a few years ago and Adi's post takes me right back. It's a European travel... - 3 days ago


  1. Comment by Ann Hubert

    Ann Hubert September 10, 2013 at 19:19

    I found this :

    Beloved by Soldiers – Original recipe
    During the Great World War (WW I), Charles Rubbens distilled fine Flemish ‘gin’ in his famous distillery.
    This exceptional spirit was made with only outstanding grains.
    The typical flavor was the result of a refined balanced blend of selected herbs.
    The precious recipe is still kept secretly safe till nowadays by the Rubbens family and it’s descendant master-distillers.
    Rubbens “Poppies Gin” was a beloved delight behind the frontlines in Flanders’ Fields by British soldiers and their officers. It gave them strength and courage and let them forget for a moment the hard and cruel war…
    Poppies Gin 14-18 distilled by Stokerij-Distillerie Rubbens from Wichelen is now for sale at
    100% Made in Belgium

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison September 11, 2013 at 09:29

      Hi Ann, Yes that was the text on the bottle/box as well. We did find it odd though there is no mention of it on the distillery website.

  2. Comment by Ann VG

    Ann VG September 11, 2013 at 12:54

    Alison, everywhere in Flanders events are being planned for the in 2014. I fear that this gin is just a byproduct to jump on the bandwagon. There is indeed nothing to be found on the gin, not even on the site of the distillery itself.

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison September 12, 2013 at 10:00

      I don’t think that’s the case Ann. It seems this gin has been around for quite some time.

  3. Comment by Ingrid Hautekeete

    Ingrid Hautekeete September 23, 2013 at 16:16

    Beste Alison, ikzelf werk bij Stokerij Rubbens. Deze ‘gin’ jenever bestaat al heel lang, we hebben enkel de verpakking aangepast.
    Het is een recept die we gekregen hebben tijdens de oorlog van een engelse soldaat. Sindsdien wordt de ‘gin’ hier geproduceerd met de kruiden van onze kruidenzolder. De naam ‘gin’ is toen ook ontstaan omdat de engelsen het woord ‘jenever’ niet konden uitspreken.
    Het staat inderdaad niet op onze website omdat we deze aan het
    herwerken zijn. Wordt nu

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison September 25, 2013 at 08:47

      Thank you for your reply Ingrid. We’re looking forward to sampling some of your other products as well as we really enjoyed Poppies. Cheers!

  4. Comment by Antoine

    Antoine September 28, 2013 at 14:57

    If you like similarly aromatic gins I would strongly recommend Hendrick’s gin – this is made with cucumbers and roses and smells like no other alcohol does. Mixing it into cocktails changes the drink in ways you couldn’t imagine. I also drink it on ice, with a slice of cucumber in it. It sounds strange but that’s how they recommend you drink it … and once you try it, it’s hard to imagine drinking it in any other way.

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison September 30, 2013 at 09:01

      Yes! We love Hendricks. Another of our favourites is The Botanist – very herby and delicious.

  5. Comment by Paul Claes

    Paul Claes November 20, 2013 at 16:43

    Looking for a retailer of Poppy Gin I came accross your blog.
    no need to hide I feel a bit embarrassed.
    I like this gin or jenever, but what has it really to do with WWI, and the British soldier story, I have some doubts, sorry Ingrid Hautekiet.
    They do really have some delicious drinks I like.
    But unless they provide a more detailed explanation it can’t stand against the historical and geographical facts.
    But this will not prevent me enjoying the poppy gin.

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