What with the Chicago launch of Bols Genever this week and my attendance at the Low Country Libations seminar at Tales of the Cocktail last month, I've had a lot of genever lately. It's high time I wrote something about this most interesting spirit.
First, a brief background and introduction:
- Pronunciation and Spelling: They tell me it's pronounced "Jen-eee-vur" in English, "Yeh-nay-vur" in Dutch.You can spell it genever, jenever, jeniever, or even Hollands Gin if you like.
- General History: Genever is the precursor to traditional dry gin (which was the English's attempt at copying genever). It has been made in the Benelux region (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, as well as parts of France and Germany) for centuries - the first recorded mention of the word is from 1623 in The Duke of Milan by Philip Massinger. Like so many spirits, it started as a medicinal tonic, but gradually became more popular for it's flavor.
- US History - in the 1860's, genever was very popular in the US - it was 5 to 6 times more prevalent than English dry gin, and made several appearances in cocktail books from that time. Hence why we're seeing it now again - it's an essential part of exploring this country's cocktail history.
- Production: Genever is traditionally made with a malt wine base. Typical grains used include corn, rye, barley and wheat. The grain is fermented, and then distilled, into something that resembles unaged (white) whiskey. It is then infused with herbs and/or flavored with herb distillates/flavorings to give it some herb notes, and might be distilled again. The only required herb is juniper, and it does not have to be discernible in the spirit.
- In short, genever is all about the grain distillate, with hints of herbs (maybe), whereas dry gin is all about the herbs alone.
These are the two main categories of genevers. The words mean "old" and "young" but the terms don't relate to the age of the spirit. Instead, they relate to the production process and makeup of the spirit.
- Oude - the base spirit must be at least 15% malt wine, it must be at least 70° proof (35% alcohol), and can have no more than 20 grams per liter of sugar (the best have none). Aging is optional, but if you do it you must age it for at least one year. Most genevers are aged in used American whiskey barrels.
- Jonge - base must be no more than 15% malt wine, it must be at least 70° proof (35% alcohol), and can have no more than 10 grams per liter of sugar (the best have none). Jonge is often very light in flavor, some have described is as essentially vodka (highly refined distilled grain) with a tiny bit of malt flavor.
There are a few products labeled "genever" available in Chicago now, and one that is coming very, very soon.
- Bols Genever - I attended a launch party for this one this week here in Chicago, and came home with a bottle autographed by their distiller. It should start showing up very soon in these parts - it's been in SF and NYC for almost a year now. They say it's lighter in flavor than the original genevers (and former versions of itself - they say this current recipe dates to 1820). It still has lots of character, with rich malty/yeasty flavors.
- Boomsma Oude and Jonge Genevers - I've only had the Oude, and not since I've tried so many others. I need to revisit this one.
- Anchor Genevieve - this one has rich, strong malty notes with hints of herbs. It is higher in proof than the others I've tried, and definitely makes itself known in cocktails.
- Zuidam Genever - more herbal than some of the others, this one has hints of malt with a variety of herb notes. I haven't had this one in awhile either, so I'll have to revisit.
This is a much, much longer list. Here are a few of the great ones I got to try that you can't get here:
- Oude Schiedam - (pronounced Skee-dam). 100% malt wine base - made with 2/3 barley, 1/3 rye, distilled twice and infused with only one herb - juniper. Bottled at 80 proof. This was the most authentic genever we tried, true to the old tradition of genever production made with 100% malt wine, not blended. It was incredibly malty and rich.
- Rutte & Zn Oude Simon - 70 proof, and a blend of malt wine and neutral grain spirit. It was softer and lighter, and more herbal than the Oude Schiedam.
- Rutte Paradyswijn - this is reportedly the most expensive genever in Holland, it is aged in Bordeaux casks for 8 years. Eminently sippable, it has soft malt, floral and fruit notes. Delicious.
- Old Schiedam Liqueur - Mandarijnen Moutwijn Likeur - At the Tales seminar, we also tasted this fantastic liqueur. Made with a malt wine base blended with neutral spirit, it has rich fruit flavors (from hand-grated mandarin oranges) blended with hints of malt. Apparently this has been discontinued and is quite rare now - I was delighted to get a taste.
- Els La Vera - a malt wine liqueur infused with herbs. The dominant flavor is grand worwmood (Els = alsem = artemisia absinthium), so it reminded me a great deal of Jeppson's Malort. Apparently, "Els" is a style of spirit and this "La Vera" was but one version of it.