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Genever

Genever – Everything You Need To Know

Genever, often revered as the grand ancestor of modern gin, boasts a rich tapestry of history and tradition deeply woven into the cultural fabric of the Netherlands and Belgium. Originating in the 16th century, Genever is distinguished by its unique production process, which involves the distillation of malt wine—a mixture of fermented grains including barley, corn, and rye—blended with a careful selection of botanicals with juniper berry being the most prominent. This method imparts Genever with a characteristically smooth, complex flavor profile that bridges the gap between whisky and gin. Served neat or as the base in classic cocktails, Genever offers a refined and nuanced drinking experience, making it a cherished choice among connoisseurs and those with an appreciation for historical spirits.

Bols Genever Gin

Bols Genever Gin

As we raise our glasses to Genever, we’re not just savoring a spirit; we’re sipping on history. From its humble beginnings as a medicinal tonic to its current status as a beloved, multifaceted spirit, Genever continues to enchant, inspire, and connect us with a heritage that is worth savoring, one smooth sip at a time. Whether you’re a longtime enthusiast or a curious newcomer, Genever awaits to unfold its tales and tastes, inviting you to be part of its ongoing story.

What is Genever?

Often hailed as the ancestor of modern gin, Genever invites enthusiasts on a journey back to the roots of distillation, offering a taste that is as rich in history as it is in flavor. Originally developed as a medicinal elixir, Genever quickly gained popularity for its smooth, well-rounded taste. Distilled from malt wine and harmoniously blended with botanicals, with juniper berries taking center stage, Genever provided a foundation upon which the gin we know today was built. However, unlike its descendants, Genever preserves a malty, rich character reminiscent of its whisky cousins, setting it apart in the family of spirits.

Let’s delve into the world of Genever and discover the legacy, production, and enjoyment of this time-honored spirit.

History of Genever  

The history of Genever is a fascinating journey through time, culture, and the evolution of distillation. This distinctive spirit, with roots in the Netherlands and Belgium, weaves a rich narrative that spans centuries.

Origins (13th – 16th Century)

The story of Genever began in the Middle Ages when the distillation of spirits was primarily a monastic activity. Monks, with their knowledge of herbs and spices, distilled various concoctions for medicinal purposes. Among these was a juniper-based tonic, believed to have therapeutic properties, especially for ailments like stomach problems.

The Dutch Golden Age (17th Century)

The 16th century marked a turning point in the history of Genever. The spirit began to be produced commercially, especially in the region that is now the Netherlands and Belgium. Dr. Franciscus Sylvius, a Dutch chemist and physician, is often credited with its invention, although historical evidence suggests that Genever was already in production before his time. However, the 17th century, known as the Dutch Golden Age, saw a significant rise in Genever’s popularity. It became widely consumed in the Netherlands and started to be exported. British soldiers fighting in the Thirty Years’ War developed a taste for it, calling it “Dutch Courage” for the warming, morale-boosting effects they felt before the battle.

Evolution and Distinction (18th – 19th Century)

As Genever continued to evolve, two distinct styles emerged: Oude (old) and Jonge (young). Oude Genever, made with a higher proportion of malt wine, is smoother and more reminiscent of whisky. In contrast, Jonge Genever has a lighter, more neutral flavor profile, akin to modern gin, but still distinct. The categorization into Oude and Jonge was officially recognized in the 19th Century, partly in response to advancements in distillation technology and changes in consumer preferences.

Competition and Revival (20th Century – Present)

The 20th Century brought challenges and competition, especially from British gin, which gained popularity at the expense of Genever after World War II. However, Genever maintained its cultural significance in the Netherlands and Belgium. In recent years, there has been a global resurgence of interest in artisanal and craft spirits, leading to a revival of Genever. Contemporary distillers, while paying homage to the rich heritage of Genever, are experimenting with new flavors and distillation techniques, introducing this traditional spirit to a new generation of enthusiasts.

Today, Genever is not just a spirit but a symbol of Dutch and Belgian heritage. Its complex history, from a medicinal concoction to a celebrated staple in the world of spirits, reflects a journey of innovation, tradition, and enduring quality. Whether enjoyed in its traditional form or as part of innovative cocktails, Genever continues to offer a unique and nuanced experience for those looking to explore the depths of its rich heritage and flavor profile.

Did You Know?

  • The term “Dutch Courage,” often associated with boldness or bravery, originated from British soldiers who fought in the Thirty Years’ War. They drank Genever to stay warm and steady during battle.
  • Genever has a protected geographical status within the EU. Only spirits produced in the Netherlands, Belgium, and parts of France and Germany can legally be labeled as Genever.
  • Traditionally, Genever is served in a tulip-shaped glass filled to the brim. The first sip is taken without holding the glass, bending down to the table to avoid spilling, demonstrating a unique ritual associated with its consumption.
  • Genever greatly influenced the development of gin in England. When William of Orange became king of England, he encouraged the production of ‘English Genever,’ which eventually evolved into the London Dry Gin.
  • Like many spirits, Genever was initially concocted as a medicine. It was believed to treat various ailments, especially kidney diseases, due to the diuretic properties of juniper berries.
  • The Dutch phrase “Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg” (Just act normal, that’s already crazy enough) may have influenced the English word “genever,” which later evolved into “gin.
  • While Genever can be enjoyed neat or with a simple mixer, it’s also a versatile cocktail ingredient. Classic cocktails like the Martinez and the original recipe for the Collins were originally made with Genever.

How Adaptable is Genever?

Genever is remarkably adaptable, both in its traditional consumption and in its role in the modern world of mixology and spirits. This adaptability stems from its rich flavor profile, historical significance, and the creativity it inspires among bartenders and enthusiasts alike. Here are some aspects that highlight Genever’s versatility:

Flavor Complexity

Genever’s flavor, a blend of botanicals with a malt wine base, is more complex than most spirits. This complexity allows it to be enjoyed neat or on the rocks, providing a rich, nuanced experience that changes with each type of Genever, whether it’s Oude or Jonge.

Cocktail Versatility

Genever’s unique taste profile makes it an excellent base for cocktails. Its depth of flavor adds an extra layer to drinks, making it suitable for both refreshing, light cocktails and more robust, spirit-forward concoctions. Classic cocktails like the Martinez and the Negroni can be made with Genever, offering a different twist on these traditional recipes.

Cultural Adaptability

While deeply rooted in Dutch and Belgian culture, Genever has transcended its origins to become a global spirit. This adaptability to different cultural tastes and drinking habits speaks to its universal appeal.

Mixing with Other Flavors

Genever pairs well with a wide range of mixers and ingredients, from traditional choices like tonic water to more innovative combinations involving herbs, spices, and fruit. This makes it a favorite among bartenders looking to experiment with new and exciting drink recipes.

Food Pairings

The diverse flavor profiles of Genever make it suitable for pairing with a wide array of foods. From cheese and charcuterie to more substantial, hearty dishes, Genever can complement and enhance a variety of culinary experiences.

Influence on New Product Development

The resurgence of interest in craft and artisanal spirits has led to new interpretations and innovations in genever production. Distillers are experimenting with aging processes, distillation techniques, and the use of unique botanicals, contributing to the spirit’s evolving legacy.

In essence, Genever’s adaptability is a testament to its enduring appeal. Its ability to reinvent itself while staying true to its heritage is what makes Genever a timeless classic in the world of spirits. Whether through traditional sipping or creative mixology, Genever continues to offer a versatile and richly rewarding experience.

Genever Regulations

Genever is subject to specific regulations, particularly in the European Union, where it enjoys a protected status. To be legally labeled as Genever, the spirit must adhere to strict criteria regarding its ingredients, distillation process, and geographical origin. The spirit is primarily produced in the Netherlands, Belgium, and parts of France and Germany, and these regions are granted a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) to preserve the authenticity and traditional methods of Genever production. The regulations ensure that Genever maintains a minimum alcohol by volume (ABV) of 30%, and the spirit is categorized into types such as ‘Oude’ (old) and ‘Jonge’ (young), which reflect differences in distillation techniques and taste, rather than aging. These stringent regulations not only protect the heritage and integrity of Genever but also provide a framework that guides producers and informs consumers about the spirit’s rich legacy and quality.

What are the Ingredients in Genever?

Genever is a unique spirit known for its rich, complex flavor profile, which is a result of the carefully selected ingredients used in its production. The primary ingredients in Genever include:

Malt Wine (Moutwijn)

This is the backbone of Genever and what distinguishes it from other spirits. Malt wine is made from a fermented mash of grains, typically including barley, wheat, and rye. The grains are malted, mashed, fermented, and then distilled. The malt wine gives Genever a rich, malty, and somewhat earthy flavor akin to whisky.

Juniper Berries

Juniper is the signature botanical in Genever (as well as in gin). It provides a distinctive piney and slightly fruity flavor. The use of juniper berries is essential in genever production and is what originally gave the spirit its reputation as a medicinal tonic.

Other Botanicals

In addition to juniper berries, a variety of other botanicals are used to flavor Genever. These can include herbs, spices, and fruits. Common botanicals include coriander, angelica root, anise, licorice, and citrus peel. The specific combination of botanicals varies among producers and is often a closely guarded secret.

Neutral Spirit

Particularly in Jonge Genever, neutral spirits (distilled to remove most flavors) are used to dilute the malt wine and create a lighter, more mixed spirit. The neutral spirit is typically made from grain or molasses.

Water

Pure water is used to dilute the spirit to the desired strength. The quality of water is crucial, as it affects the overall purity and taste of the final product.

Sugar (Optional)

Some types of Genever, especially Oude Genever, may contain a small amount of sugar to add a subtle sweetness and round out the flavors. The amount of sugar used is regulated and contributes to the classification of Genever as Oude or Jonge.

The precise recipe and the proportion of each ingredient can vary significantly between different producers and styles of Genever, contributing to the wide range of flavors and profiles found in this traditional spirit. The craftsmanship lies in the careful selection and balancing of these ingredients to create a harmonious and distinctive final product.

What are the Tools Used to Make Genever?

  • Mashing Tun
  • Fermentation Vats or Tanks
  • Pot Still
  • Column Still
  • Botanicals Basket or Infusion Chamber
  • Aging Barrels (Optional)
  • Hydrometer and Alcohol Meter
  • Bottling Line

How is Genever Made?

The making process of Genever is a fascinating blend of tradition and craftsmanship, involving several key steps to produce its unique and complex flavor profile. Here’s a step-by-step guide to the traditional Genever-making process:

Selection of Ingredients

The process begins with the selection of quality ingredients, including grains (like barley, wheat, and rye) for the malt wine base, juniper berries and other botanicals for flavoring.

Mashing and Fermentation

  • The grains are milled and then mixed with water in the mashing process. This mixture is heated, allowing enzymes to convert starches in the grains into fermentable sugars.
  • The mash is cooled and transferred to fermentation vessels, where yeast is added. The yeast ferments the sugars, producing alcohol and creating a grain-based beer or malt wine.

First Distillation

The fermented malt wine is distilled in a pot still. This first distillation increases the alcohol content and starts to concentrate the flavors. The result is a raw spirit, often called “low wine.”

Second Distillation with Botanicals

  • The low wine is distilled a second time, now with the addition of juniper berries and other botanicals. This can be done by placing the botanicals directly in the still or in a special botanical basket where the alcohol vapors can extract the flavors.
  • The second distillation refines the spirit, infusing it with the complex flavors and aromas of the botanicals.

Separation of Fractions

  • During distillation, the spirit is separated into fractions: the ‘heads’ (the initial part containing unwanted alcohols), the ‘heart’ (the desired middle cut), and the ‘tails’ (the final part containing heavier alcohols and oils).
  • The heart cut is what becomes Genever, while the heads and tails may be redistilled or discarded.

Infusion with Botanicals

  • Botanicals Selection: Juniper berries are the primary botanical used in Genever, but other herbs, spices, and citrus peels are also selected based on the recipe. Common botanicals include coriander, angelica root, anise, and licorice.
  • Infusion or Distillation with Botanicals: The botanicals can be infused in the malt wine or added to a botanicals basket during a subsequent distillation. This allows the alcohol vapors to extract flavors from the botanicals, creating a complex, aromatic spirit.

Blending (for Jonge Genever)

For Jonge (young) Genever, the distilled malt wine is often blended with neutral grain spirits to create a lighter, more mixed spirit.

Aging (Optional, mainly for Oude Genever)

Some Genevers, especially Oude (old) Genever, are aged in oak barrels. The aging process can impart additional flavors and complexity to the spirit.

Dilution and Bottling

  • The distilled and possibly aged Genever is diluted with water to reach the desired ABV (typically around 30-35% for Genever).
  • The final product is then filtered, bottled, sealed, and labeled.

How is Genever Different from Others?

Genever is distinct from other types of gin in several key ways, from its ingredients and production process to its flavor profile and historical context. Here’s how Genever differs from other gins:

Compared to Gin

  • Base Spirit: Unlike gin, which is typically made from a neutral grain spirit, Genever’s base is malt wine, a rich, flavorful distillate made from fermented grains. This gives Genever a depth and complexity akin to whisky.
  • Flavor Profile: While juniper is a common ingredient in both Genever and gin, Genever often has a more subtle juniper presence. Its flavor is also significantly influenced by the malt wine base, offering malty, woody, and sometimes fruity notes, compared to the predominantly botanical and juniper-forward profile of gin.
  • Varieties: Genever comes in two main types – Oude (old) and Jonge (young), which differ in malt wine content and flavor profile. Gin, on the other hand, has various styles like London Dry, Plymouth, and Old Tom, primarily differentiated by the distillation process and botanical recipe.

Compared to Whisky

  • Distillation and Ingredients: While both Genever and whisky are distilled from grain, Genever includes a blend of malt wine and neutral spirits, and it’s often flavored with juniper and other botanicals. Whisky, in contrast, is purely grain-based and gains its flavor from the fermentation, distillation, and aging process, especially in wooden barrels.
  • Aging Process: Aging is a defining stage in whisky production, with strict regulations on the duration and type of barrels used. For Genever, aging is optional and typically reserved for Oude Genever. Even then, the aging period for Genever is usually shorter compared to most whiskies.
  • Flavor Complexity: While both spirits offer complex flavors, Genever’s profile is shaped by both the malt wine and the botanicals, resulting in a unique blend of whisky-like richness and gin-like herbaceousness.

Unique Characteristics of Genever

  • Protected Geographical Status: Genever has a protected geographical indication, meaning it must be produced in specific regions (the Netherlands, Belgium, and parts of France and Germany) to be labeled as such.
  • Serving Traditions: In the Netherlands and Belgium, Genever is often served in a tulip-shaped glass filled to the brim, encouraging the first sip to be taken without holding the glass – a tradition known as ‘kopstootje’ (little headbutt).
  • Cultural Heritage: Genever is more than a spirit; it’s a cultural icon in the Netherlands and Belgium, with historical significance dating back centuries. Its production methods and consumption are deeply rooted in tradition.

In summary, Genever’s rich malt base, distinctive blend of botanicals, and historical and cultural significance make it a unique and cherished spirit, differentiating it from other spirits like gin and whisky.

Types of Genever 

Genever, with its rich heritage and unique flavor profile, comes in various types that cater to different palates and preferences. The types of Genever are mainly categorized based on their production methods, ingredients, and aging processes. Here are the primary types of Genever you might encounter:

Jonge (Young) Genever

  • Characteristics: Jonge Genever is a lighter, more neutral spirit compared to Oude Genever. It contains a maximum of 15% malt wine and a maximum of 10 grams of sugar per liter.
  • Flavor Profile: Due to the higher content of neutral spirits, Jonge Genever has a subtler flavor with mild botanical and juniper notes. It’s clean and smooth, making it versatile for mixing in cocktails.
  • Popularity: Jonge Genever became popular after World War II and is more widely produced and consumed today compared to Oude Genever.

Oude (Old) Genever

  • Characteristics: Contrary to what the name might suggest, ‘Oude’ doesn’t necessarily refer to aging but rather to the traditional style of genever making. It must contain at least 15% malt wine but no more than 50% and up to 20 grams of sugar per liter.
  • Flavor Profile: Oude Genever is richer and more aromatic. The higher malt wine content imparts a malty, woody, and sometimes fruity profile, reminiscent of whisky, but with the distinct botanical and juniper notes of a classic genever.
  • Serving: Oude Genever is often enjoyed neat or on the rocks and can also be used in cocktails that benefit from its depth and complexity.

Korenwijn (Corn Wine) Genever

  • Characteristics: Korenwijn is a subtype of Oude Genever with an even higher malt wine content, typically between 51% to 70%.
  • Flavor Profile: It has a richer, more full-bodied flavor, with pronounced grain and malt notes and a balanced botanical character.
  • Serving: Like Oude Genever, Korenwijn is usually enjoyed neat to appreciate its complex flavors.

Graanjenever (Grain Genever)

  • Characteristics: Made exclusively from grains (usually a combination of maize, rye, and wheat), without any added molasses.
  • Flavor Profile: The flavor is typically cleaner and more refined, with a smooth, grain-forward character.
  • Usage: It’s versatile and can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or as a base in sophisticated cocktails.

Aged Genever

  • Characteristics: Some Oude Genever and Korenwijn are aged in oak barrels, a process that can last from a few months to several years.
  • Flavor Profile: Aging imparts additional flavors to the genever, such as vanilla, caramel, and toasty wood notes, further enhancing its complexity.
  • Serving: Aged genever is typically savored neat to appreciate the depth of flavors derived from the aging process.

Each type of genever offers a unique taste experience, reflecting the rich heritage and craftsmanship of this traditional spirit. Whether you prefer the light and mixable Jonge or the rich and complex Oude, genever provides a versatile and nuanced choice for a range of palates and occasions.

Buy Genever Online

Genever is produced by several distilleries, with some brands known for their traditional methods and others for their innovative expressions. Here are a few high-quality Genever brands, both traditional and contemporary, that are known for producing this classic Dutch spirit:

Bols

Bols is one of the most well-known Genever producers in the Netherlands, with a history dating back to the early 17th century. They offer a range of Genevers, including young and aged varieties and fruit-flavored expressions.

Bols Genever Gin

Bols Genever Gin

Rutte

Rutte, based in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, is renowned for its artisanal Genever production. They produce both traditional and contemporary Genevers, including aged and fruit-infused variations.

Rutte– Old Simon Genever Gin

Rutte– Old Simon Genever Gin

Diep9

Diep9 is a contemporary Genever brand that designs premium Genever expressions with a modern twist. They offer a variety of aged and oak-matured Genevers.

Diep 9 Old Grain Genever



De Borgen’s

De Borgen’s New Style Genever is a contemporary take on the traditional Dutch spirit, offering a bridge between the classic Genever profile and modern mixology trends. De Borgen, hailing from the Netherlands, prides itself on crafting premium genes that pay homage to the spirit’s rich heritage while embracing innovation and modern tastes.

De Borgen New Style Genever



Filliers

Filliers, based in Belgium, has a history of Genever production dating back to the 19th century. They offer a selection of Genevers, including traditional Oude Genever and newer expressions.

Boomsma – Jonge: Young Genever Gin

Boomsma Jonge Genever is a notable expression of the Jonge (young) style of genever produced by Boomsma, a well-respected distillery in the Netherlands with a rich history. The Boomsma brand is known for its commitment to traditional methods and quality, and its Jonge Genever is a testament to this dedication.

Boomstam Jonge Genever Gin

Boomstam Jonge Genever Gin

Boomsma – Oude: Fine Old Genever Gin

Boomsma Oude (Fine Old) Genever is a premium expression of the traditional Oude (old) style genever, crafted by the esteemed Boomsma distillery in the Netherlands. With a rich history and a commitment to quality, Boomsma’s Oude Genever is a testament to the enduring appeal of this classic spirit.

Boomsma Oude Fine Old Genever

Boomsma Oude Fine Old Genever

Notaris

Notaris is known for producing Genever using traditional methods, emphasizing quality and craftsmanship. They offer both young and aged Genever variations.

Other brands you might like sipping are 

  • Bokma
  • Ketel One
  • Wenneker
  • De Kuyper
  • Van Wees
  • Biercée
  • Amsterdam Craft Spirits
  • A Van Wees de Ooievaar
  • Cooymans

Recipe Variations

Genever’s unique flavor profile makes it a versatile and intriguing base for a variety of cocktails, from traditional classics to modern creations.

Here are the top few recipe variations that showcase the versatility of Genever:

Classic Genever Collins

Ingredients

  • 2 oz Genever
  • 1 oz Lemon Juice
  • 0.5 oz Simple Syrup
  • Soda Water
  • Lemon Slice
  • Maraschino Cherry for garnish

Instructions: In a shaker filled with ice, combine Genever, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Shake well and strain into an ice-filled Collins glass. Top with soda water and garnish with a lemon slice and a maraschino cherry.

Description: A refreshing and effervescent cocktail, perfect for showcasing Genever’s smooth and nuanced flavor profile.

Dutch Negroni

Ingredients

  • 1 oz Genever
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 oz Sweet Vermouth

Instructions: Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir well until chilled and strain into a rock glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with an orange peel.

Description: A Dutch twist on the classic Negroni, where the malty richness of Genever adds depth and complexity to this beloved aperitif.

Genever Old Fashioned

Ingredients

  • 2 oz Genever
  • 1 Sugar Cube
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Orange Peel
  • Cherry for garnish

Instructions: Place the sugar cube in an old-fashioned glass and saturate it with bitters. Muddle the sugar, then add Genever and ice. Stir well and garnish with an orange peel and a cherry.

Description: A maltier version of the classic Old Fashioned, highlighting Genever’s rich and aromatic qualities.

Genever Gimlet

Ingredients

  • 2 oz Genever
  • 0.75 oz Lime Juice
  • 0.75 oz Simple Syrup

Instructions: Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Description: A crisp and tangy cocktail, with Genever providing a smooth and flavorful base that pairs beautifully with the sharpness of lime.

Midnight in Amsterdam

Ingredients

  • 1.5 oz Genever
  • 0.5 oz Crème de Violette
  • 0.5 oz Lemon Juice
  • 0.25 oz Simple Syrup
  • Sparkling Wine

Instructions: Shake Genever, crème de violette, lemon juice, and simple syrup with ice. Strain into a flute and top with sparkling wine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Description: An elegant and sophisticated cocktail, combining the floral notes of crème de violette with the smoothness of Genever, topped with the celebratory fizz of sparkling wine.

These recipes demonstrate Genever’s adaptability and its ability to enhance a wide range of cocktails, from refreshing sippers to complex, spirit-forward concoctions. Whether you’re a seasoned mixologist or a cocktail enthusiast, these Genever-based drinks offer a delightful exploration of this historic spirit’s potential. Cheers!!

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