Genever has been produced in Holland for over 400 years and could be seen as the ancestor of gin. Today, genever is often seen as the drink of the elderly, something only your grandfather will enjoy. I think this product deserves more appreciation, which is why I’ve started writing a book on this traditional Dutch spirit which will be in stores March ’20. In this article I give you a little sneak preview of my upcoming ‘Dutch Courage’ book, explaining what genever exactly is, and how you can make three tasty cocktails with it.
Simply put, genever is made out of three components; malt wine, alcohol and water.
The first ingredient, the malt wine, is made from grains such as wheat, rye and corn. The big difference between genever and the gin in your G&T is the addition of this malt wine. The recipe for malt wine was passed on from father to son and it forms the heart of the genever. It gives genever its flavour and character and it is something the British were unable to replicate. Holland gin, or genever, can be seen as the ancestor of gin and I’ll explain to you how this happened in an upcoming article.
The second ingredient of genever is alcohol. This is a neutral, tasteless alcohol flavoured with juniper berries. Jenever is the Dutch name for genever and the juniper berry is called jeneverbes in Dutch. It is because of this berry that jenever got its name, but besides the juniper berry also other seasonings may be added to the alcohol.
There are a lot of myths when it comes to water and spirits. There is a gin that only uses the pure melting water from the Himalayas or a vodka that uses the water in which topmodels bathed. Whether the water has a great influence on the taste of the final product has never been proven, but slick marketeers know how to sell a great story.
Origin of Species
The Dutch call it jenever but abroad the spirit is often called genever, geneva, jeneva, Dutch gin, Holland gin or simply even Hollands. Genever is internationally known under many different names but also in the Netherlands, there are several terms floating around the category. Below briefly the three major ones to remember.
Unlike you might have thought, ‘young’ has nothing to do with the age of the bottled liquid. It does have something to do with the age of the genever recipe. In the nineteenth century most genevers were made with a very high percentage of malt wine. At the turn of the century grain had become scarce because of the wars and, as malt wine is made in a traditional way of various grains, also the malt wine became an expensive product. Genever distillers began to use less malt wine and a new genever recipe was born. The ‘young’ refers to this new recipe, which consists of a lower percentage of malt wine. Young genevers today consist of 1,5 till 15% malt wine and have a minimum alcohol content of 30% ABV.
Also the ‘old’ in old genevers has nothing to do with being aged in wooden barrels. Although genever and malt wine may be aged in barrels. This ageing process is called lagering in Dutch, giving the genever a cask finish. A ‘gelagerde oude jenever’ translates to a genever which is made following the old pre-war recipe and has been aged in wooden barrels. Old genever, gelagerd or not, consists of 16% malt wine or up and, like young genever, has a minimum alcohol content of 30% ABV.
The genever with the highest minimum percentage of malt wine is called korenwijn, which is sometimes written as Corenwyn. This kind of genever contains at least 51% malt wine and often comes closest to the original genevers from back in the days.