What is Jenever?
Ah Dutch culture...What do we really know about it? Not much in the world of spirits in America. But what do Americans know about the Netherlands anyway? Much too cold to visit all year around, we just tend to envy them and their perfect governments. Turns out, the Dutch are drinking more than Heineken- today we’re exploring the famous Jenver AKA Dutch Gin.
You may have seen Jenever spelled Genever- both are correct. You may also have heard that Genever is the cousin or grandpa of gin- it’s the grandpa. Pronounced "juh-nee-ver", Jenever is a juniper flavored spirit crafted by the blending of neutral alcohol and "moutwijn" or malt wine (grain mash), and it is the grandfather because it came before gin, it’s gin's precursor.
It is entirely more complex, and for a very good reason we shall soon explain, but first let’s talk about what it actually is.
Jenever is a blend of two or more distillates: first, a whiskey-like triple distillate made of corn, wheat, and rye (so-called malt wine). Second, a juniper-infused distillate. A possible third part can consist of malt wine re-distilled together with different botanicals.
“Grandfather of Gin” is just one nickname, due to how you make it some have called it, the “lovechild” of whiskey and gin. If that doesn’t scream authentic we don’t know what does.
It’s also known as genièvre, genever, peket, and it is proudly the national liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium. The European Union regulations specify that only liquor made in these two countries, two northern French departments and two German federal states can use the name jenever/genever/genièvre.
As for the culture it holds, the drink is traditionally served in a tulip shaped glass, filled to the brim, at room temp, with some sugar and a spoon to stir. Though you might see it on the rocks at some real hard core Dutch party. Because lagers are pretty much the only other thing the Dutch drink, they sometimes mix it with Jenever as a chaser, it is referred to as a kopstoot (headbutt) or duikboot (submarine) in Flanders.
A lot of people mistake Jenever for “Dutch gin”, and make the mistake of using it as a substitute for gin. They are not alike at all! The malty flavors of genever are more reminiscent of whisky than gin, so watch out for your cocktails.
A brief History
The Dutch are rich in history (they just truly keep to themselves) so get ready for a long history lesson…
We can trace the early beginnings of distilling with juniper to 11th century europe. This time it was the monks of Salerno in Italy who by making medicinal potions with distillations of wine spirits together with various roots, berries and herbs, that they came across the popular Juniper. It grows vastly in Italy but back then it was only used in medicine due to it’s believed therapeutic value, we can safely assume that at least one of the monks’ medicines was based on juniper.
In monasteries and noble houses throughout Europe spirits flavoured with herbs, flowers and berries were made and used to treat ailments. Juniper cordials were particularly popular during the years of the Black Death, the epidemics of plague, which stalked Europe in the mid 14th century because juniper was believed to protect against the deadly disease.
In the 15th century a son of French king Louis 1V came up with a wine flavoured with juniper called “the wine of the poor”. Back then, in the Low Countries, juniper spirits made their way from the medicine cabinet to the bar without much trouble as the medicines were well liked.
According to Gin Time, records of 1492 confirm that the Dutch were making more than their fair share of a spirit from cereal grains, mainly rye. Back then the spirit was called brandewijn (Dutch for burnt or heated wine). Eventually it was found out that Juniper mixed quite well with
Brandewijn. That’s when it became the “people’s drink.”
Between 1500 and 1700 every sizeable town had several distilleries making jenever, spirit or
liqueurs. Tourists explained that the cruelty of the everyday life in the Low Countries was what made drinking a part of everyday routines, but Gin Time explains it is actually the “innate Dutch inventiveness and love of experimentation meant that there was virtually nothing that they would
not make into strong drink.” And, well, damn that’s some pretty romantic way to feel about booze.
They never had much trouble finding the ingredients as the Dutch ruled the seas and the ships of the East and West Indies Companies fetched them a number of new and mysterious ingredients quite often. Amsterdam was the port for sugar and spices and soon became a centre for liqueur making. Rotterdam, also known as the grain port, located near Schiedam quickly became the main hub for the production of Jenever.
In the 1570s England became a market for Jenever and the Dutch shipping trade. There was a high demand particularly in London, Liverpool, Bristol and Plymouth all imported Dutch jenever
particularly when the trade in spirits from France and Germany was interrupted during the war years in the 1630s.
The English soldiers and sailors fighting in the Low Countries knew jenever via fighting in the same wars, it calmed their nerves before battle. This is where the invention of Gin came in, and things got messy.
When the English first gave it a go, their Jenever (gin) tasted very like Dutch version! It was heavy, sweet and aromatic often flavoured with spices like cloves and myrrh still used in modern genever production.
The heaviest and richest is Korenwijn ("corn wine"), which is made from at least 51 percent moutwijn, and is typically matured in barrel for at least a year.
That’s one strong spirit.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our introduction to the Netherlands and their crazy inventions.
Thanks for reading, and as always…