Lift your Spirits with Genever

Lift your Spirits with Genever
Genever served in a tulip glass with salted sticks, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Learn about the ancestor of Gin

Siddharth Ganguly
May 29 , 2020
03 Min Read

Genever (or Jenever) is often referred to as ‘Dutch Gin,’ but actually existed long before gin came about. By the time the 14th century rolled around, this spirit was already being used in Belgium and the Netherlands due to the supposed medicinal benefits that could be found in it. But what is genever really?

Genever was first made by distilling malt wine, but because methods of distilling back then were far from sophisticated, the resultant spirit was not great to taste. To make the concoction more palatable, distillers mixed in a variety of herbs and spices, predominantly juniper berries, from which the liquor got its name.
Juniper berries in autumnThere are two stages in which genever is produced. First, the grains (rye, corn and wheat) are fermented and malted in what the Dutch call a ‘Branderij’. Following this, the malted mixture is again distilled, this time with the juniper berries and other spices, in the ‘Distilleerderij.’ 

Young and Old
The 1900s saw several factors that led to the formation of ‘Jonge Jevener’ or ‘Young Genever.’ At the time, advances in distilling meant that potent, neutral spirits could be distilled solely from sugar instead of the traditional malt. A preference for a milder taste, the lower cost of this spirit, and a lack of availability of malt grains during the Second World War all lead to the birth of this blended version of genever, akin to blended whisky. 

The terms Jonge (young) and Oude (old) don’t have anything to do with ageing, simply with the distillation process. The jonge variant may not contain more than 15% malt wine and 10 grams of sugar per litre while oude jenever must contain at least 15% malt wine and 20 grams of sugar per litre. 

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Gin likely came about due to the increased inflow of genever into England after Dutch ruler William the Orange ascended the throne in 1688. Genever was already known to the British as the troops had encountered it when they went to war in the low countries in the years before. The expression ‘Dutch Courage’ refers to the shot of genever the soldiers would often take before heading into battle.
But the two liquors, apart from the juniper berries they share in common, are fundamentally different. Gin comes from a neutral spirit base, and thus has considerably muted flavours and a higher alcohol content. Genever, coming from malt wine, has a herby and malty flavour, more reminiscent of whiskey.

Although gin has arguably eclipsed its ancestor in terms of popularity around the world, the Dutch still adore the drink and it features heavily in their drinking culture. Shots of genever are served in tulip glasses filled to the brim, encouraging drinkers to bend down with their hands behind their back to slurp the first sip before picking the glass up. Genever can be enjoyed straight-up, on the rocks, chased with a beer, or even mixed in cocktails. The original Collins cocktail (later adapted to a Tom Collins and more) featured genever as the main spirit. 

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