Ask most people what they think of when they hear the phrase “The Netherlands”, and you’ll get answers ranging from tulips to wooden clogs. Ask a drinking enthusiast, and they’ll probably say lager or “Genever”. It’s not pronounced Jen-eh-ver like the gin soaked song by Donovan; it’s Jen-ee-ver. So, what is it, and why haven’t you heard of it before?
Genever has been around far longer than gin for starters, and is one of the original cocktail ingredients. Open up Professor Jerry Thomas’ ubiquitous 1862 tome, “How to Mix Drinks”, and you’ll find 80% of the recipes call for it. One of the best in the book is the Improved Gin Cocktail. Hard as it may seem these days, Genever outsold gin 6-1 back in old J.T.’s day.
The origins of Genever go back to the 13th century when it was crafted as a juniper berry infused medicine. (Hey, alcohol always makes medicine go down in the most delightful way). At the time, they used distilled wine (aka brandy) as the spirit base, but over the centuries it became financially necessary to ultimately switch to a cheaper source of ethanol. They eventually settled on a blend of corn, wheat and rye, which lended Genever it’s distinctive sweet and malty flavor profile.
After prohibition, Genever virtually disappeared from American shores until fairly recently. Today, one of the oldest continually operating distilleries in the world is making Genever available to thirsty Americans again. Bols uses a recipe that dates back to 1820 and is thus the very same flavor profile that you would have found in authentic 19th century cocktails. In addition, Bols recently introduced a barrel-aged version of their Genever which is aged for two years in French Limousin oak to give it a completely different rendering. Read on to discover my tasting notes on each.
Bols Genever (84 proof)
Visual: Pure crystal clarity.
Nose: Light and slightly sweet. Malty with some wood notes.
Taste: Ultra smooth with a pure and fresh mouth feel. Loads of pepper and a somewhat tannic quality. Bits of sugar come through with an almost vodka-like minerality. Excellent through and through.
Finish: Medium-long finish with some spice and slight lanolin creaminess.
Overall: A fantastic rendering of Genever, and the bar at which all others are rated.
GSN Rating: A+
Bols Barrel Aged Genever (84 proof)
Visual: Light golden honey color.
Nose: Dark maltiness with some bright wood notes.
Taste: Rich honey-like quality with hints of caramel and vanilla. Somewhat sweet and light with an Irish whiskey sensibility. Elegant and perfectly aged.
Finish: Semi-long with a beautiful sweet and smokey flavor.
Overall: The perfect distillate, aged to perfection. Great on it’s own or as an interesting substitute in a brown spirit cocktail.
GSN Rating: A+
For more information go to: Bols