Some versions are unaged (white), aged (in oak), or blended (using various type of barrels).
The American Distillers Institute describes genever for their competitions as:
“A spirit made from the fermented mash of grains, usually rye, corn, barley, and wheat and distilled with juniper and other botanicals or made from a blend of malt spirt and botanical spirit. Genever may be contain up to 20g of sugar per liter and can only be produced in Belgium, The Netherlands, Départements Nord and Pas- de-Calais in France as well as German Bundesländer Nordrhein-Westfalen and Niedersachsen in Germany.”
As you can see the initial makeup of genever sounds like a four-grain whiskey. If it wasn’t for the botanical additions, that’s pretty close to what it would be. Traditionally, a combination of “Rogge” (rye), “Maïs” (corn), “Gemoute Gerst” (malted barley), and “Tarwe” (wheat) are malted, mashed, and pot distilled at a “Branderij” (no English translation exists) to create ‘Moutwijn” (maltwine). This maltwine is distilled twice, a stripping run on a “Runwat” and a spirit run on an “Enkelnat” The maltwine is then redistilled with juniper on a column still at the “distilleerderij” (Distillery). From there producers will redistill a portion of the moutwijn with more botanicals, a portion without botanicals, and a portion with more juniper berries. These four components are blended together according the distiller’s secret recipe, left to marry for a few days either proofed down, and bottled, or aged in French oak.
As for botanicals, there’s only one hard and fast rule: It must contain Juniper (which translates to Jenever or Genever depending on which European low country you’re in) Other botanicals that have been historically used are: coriander, cloves, aniseed, ginger, hops, angelica root, and licorice.
You could almost say this is a case of a spirit with multiple personalities. Is it a full-bodied malt gin? Is it a botanical whiskey? Most retailers and a few judging councils are confused by genever, and thus group it alongside other gins in the liquor store and tasting flights. In my opinion genever is neither and both at the same time. The perfect intersection of the whiskey and gin, that easily bridge the gap between two of the most recognizable spirit styles.
Genever was originally produced as a rudimentary grain spirit on simple pot stills. The unrefined distilling techniques resulted in a less palatable spirit that needed something to help mask the flavor. The strong flavor of the juniper berry did just the trick. In the 1500’s genever was sold as a medicine to cure digestive disorders, colds, plagues, and bites of venomous animals.
British soldiers “discovered” genever while fighting alongside the Dutch in a series of wars in the late 16th and early 17th century. Dutch soldiers would take a swig from a small bottle of genever on their hip before battle. The Brits deemed the spirit “Dutch Courage” after seeing the Dutch fight “valiantly, passionately, and without fear”.
Over the next few decades genever began to grow in popularity around all of Europe, even sailors of the famous Dutch East India Company were entitled to 2.5oz to 5oz of genever per day. In 1689 the Dutch Prince William of Orange was crowned the King of England. Genever popularity in England grew to 500,000 gallons a year. Through William III’s rule, distilling became legal for anyone. The process of creating a true genever was too complex, so many British distillers created a new styles of juniper spirit: Old Tom Gin, Plymouth Gin, and London Dry Gin.
Belgium was also a large producer and consumer of jenever. But unfortunately, just like our famed noble experiment of prohibition the Belgians were hit with the Vandervelde act in 1919. This act prohibited, consumption, sales and supply of alcoholic spirits in all places accessible to the general public and lasted all the way until 1984. as you can imagine, this all but decimated the Belgian jenever industry, but on the other hand, forced Belgian Brewers to make stronger and more interesting beers to fill the niche in the market. This arguably has made Belgium the world beer capital it is today.
Today genever is a protected designation of spirit. Legally Genever (or Jenever) can only be made in Belgium, The Netherlands, Northern France, and certain areas of Germany.
Serve alone in rocks glass or traditional style using a Tulip glass filled to the rim with a Pilsner chaser (“Kopstootje”)
Traditionally there have been three types of genever, Jonge (young), oude (old), Korenwijn, and 100% malt genever.
Jonge: The “New” Style of the Spirit.
This is the most “gin-like” genever, Juniper forward, bright and clear. By definition It can have no more that 15% malt spirit (the rest made up of grain neutral spirit), minimum ABV of 35%, maximum sugar addition of 10 g/L
Oude: The Old School Genever
A little bolder, and a little maltier spirit, 15 to 50% malt spirit (the rest made up of grain neutral spirit) Minimum ABV of 35%, and maximum 20 g/L sugar. Caramel color is not necessary, but is allowed, and come from artificial color or barrel aging
Korenwijn: Malt Forward Genever
The malt/botanical scale starts to shift to malt with Korenwijn, Minimum 51% malt spirit (the rest made up of grain neutral spirit) Minimum ABV of 38%, and maximum 20 g/L sugar. Caramel color is allowed. This version doesn’t have to be barrel aged, but if so, it must be aged for a minimum of one year.
100% Malt Genever: The King of Malt
The name says it all, no grain neutral spirit in this malt bomb genever, minimum ABV of 35%, and max sugar of 20 g/L. Juniper. This genever is more resembling whiskey, then any of the other styles, the juniper and other botanicals are still noticeable, but the malt whiskey notes are the star.
Similar to Gin with the infusion of botanicals such as Juniper, coriander, cloves, aniseed, ginger, hops, angelica root, and licorice.
Genever can be consumed in a variety of ways. The complexities of malt, juniper, and botanicals allow the spirit to easily stand on its own as a sipping beverage. These complexities also work well in many cocktails. The first printed cocktail book, “Bartenders guide or how to mix drinks, written by Jerry Thomas in 1862, listed genever among brandy, rum, and whiskey as the four basic cocktail spirits. Some cocktails that benefit from a genever substitution are tom Collins, negroni or Martinez. In Amsterdam genever is often served as a “Kopstootje” (little head butt). A tulip shaped shot glass is filled to the brim with genever, and a pint of beer poured next to it. The drinker is expected to place their hands behind their back, bend over at the waist and slurp off the top of the genever, followed by a sip of beer.
In a small pot, combine genever, cider, honey syrup (equal parts honey and water) and Angostura bitters. Heat over the stove until it simmers (don’t cook, just warm it). Pour into a heat-safe glass and garnish with a cinnamon stick. Embrace the aroma nose down in the glass, take a few deep breaths and savor.
In a mixing glass with ice, combine genever, maple syrup, and Angostura bitters. Stir with ice, and strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon and an orange peel, twisting both over the surface of the glass to release their citrus oils.