Also known (wrongly) as Holland Gin or Dutch Gin, Genever or Jenever, depending on how you spell it, is not gin at all. Genever is its own category protected by its own AOC. It was created over 100 years before gin, it is not made using the same process as gin, and it doesn’t carry the same taste profile or properties of gin. Quite frankly, using Genever as replacement for gin in cocktails will definitely alter the cocktail profile and taste. Oftentimes, as in the case of tonic and Genever versus tonic and gin, the result is atrocious! Yes, it is true that without Genever, gin would have never existed. And yes, that means Genever is the ancestor of gin as we know it, but that is where it should all stop. Genever is named after the juniper berry, jeneverbes in Dutch, which in turn comes from the French word genievre. Bols Genever, the most popular of Genevers in the U.S., is distilled at Lucas Bols, which was established in 1575 in Amsterdam and started producing Genever in 1664.
Genever was originally made of a mixture of rye and wheat, which was infused with juniper berries, the health elixir to life and an herb that would be put in anything just to prevent a sudden death. Of course, it would also add a better taste/flavor to what was most likely crude alcohol being made in those days. The addition of other botanicals helped the Genever become more palatable. Today, Genever is distilled from a mash of rye, wheat, and corn, also known as malt wine, and distilled three times to 94 proof. It is taken straight from the still and is not aged. This allows the comparison to white whisky-same color, similar base, but much less hot on the palate.
There are two types of Genever on the market today: oude (old) Genever, which is produced in the original style using more than 15% of that precious whisky-like distillate (the malt wine); and jonge (young), which contains more neutral grain spirit instead of the malt wine and can contain sugar-based alcohols. The terms have nothing to do with aging; they indicate the old and new way of producing this unique spirit. Under European Union regulations, only the spirit made in the Netherlands, Belgium, parts of France, and Germany can officially be called Genever.
Genevers are increasing in popularity around the country, partly due to the relentless and tireless work done by the Managing Director USA of Lucas Bols, Tal Nadari. Tal covers the country promoting his Bols Genever. I had coffee with Tal in New Orleans last year; be prepared if you sit down with him as he can go on for days about this spirit. You figure they have been making it for over three centuries, so there is evidently a lot to say about it. I had the chance to talk with Tal again recently so I asked him a few questions.
Extremely well. The brand doubled its volume last year as compared to the first year in its key states and we are up for another year of triple digits. We also launched Bols Genever in 16 states in 2010.
ITM: Do most Americans know about Genever and what it is?
The American trade knows. From the on- to the off-premise, the bottle and the rich history have sparked much interest from both channels. We made a big splash when we entered the U.S. in 2008. Since then, the hundreds of hits in trade media and also the lifestyle media have spurred our growth and brought great awareness of the brand.
ITM: What areas or cities have caught on, besides NYC? I mean, this spirit is in every original cocktail book ever published so everyone should know how to use it, right?
We are in all major cities, from Boston to Chicago to Nashville to L.A., and have even been picked up in smaller whisky-drinking towns like Jackson, WY. We are regarded as one of the authentic classic cocktail spirits and used that way, like in the 1800s in the U.S. when the cocktail started to flourish. So the cocktail market has embraced us. But the other growth comes from not only picking up in use as the classic cocktail ingredient but also increased use in its other authentic form, neat with or without the pilsner beer. So yes, everyone should know how to use Genever and we will continue to push the education regarding the brand and the category.
ITM: What is your one sentence description that bartenders could use when asked about Genever?
Genever is Genever – it’s like nothing else out there; it’s the No. 1 Dutch spirit category; it doesn’t get any more authentic than this, and you can enjoy it in your classic cocktail, in the mix, or neat.