Genever or Jenever: it pays to go Dutch!

Genever or jenever is a unique Dutch product that can only be made in The Netherlands, Belgium and two small
regions of France and Germany with traditionally Dutch speaking populations. It is a juniper-flavoured drink, where there must be a certain percentage of so-called “malted wine”. This is basically a new make spirit from grains that is not distilled above 50%, so the grainy flavour is kept. Juniper and other botanicals are distilled with GNS and the distillate is mixed with the malted wine.

A young genever (meaning the new style) must contain between 1.5 and 5% malted wine, an old genever (the old
style) needs to contain above 15% malted wine. A special category is the “koornwijn” (corn wine) that contains at
least 51% malted wine, but doesn’t need to have juniper berries in the mix.

Genever is getting back into vogue after a long absence. During the end of the 19th century millions of bottles of
genever where exported to the United States. The first written cocktail recipes actually call for genever as a base
ingredient, instead of gin. During the 1920’s prohibition made an end to the export and sales collapsed.

Smugglers made sure the Americans had plenty of Scotch whisky and English gin in their Speakeasies. The
recipes for cocktails were rewritten with gin instead of genever. In current times mixologists are experimenting
with the originals recipes again, using a genever as a base. You can now even find non-Dutch genevers with
names like “Geneva” or “Dutch style gin”. Also the German drink Wacholder is basically a genever, but from the
Bavarian regions.

Genever is a very old drink. It got mentioned in the 12th century already, well ahead of other spirits. There is a strong connection between genever and health. Originally, it was sold as a medicine against the black death. From the 16th century onwards, its recipe was tailored to help Dutch sailors survive the gruesome voyages to the East or West, that could take up to 9 months. How genever helped? Well, juniper is a diuretic, coriander protects the stomach lining, and St.-John’s Worth is an anti-depressant. All help was needed to survive the rotten food and loneliness at sea, apparently.

The Dutch that sailed the world also spread genever. In Africa it was the used as money. Henry Stanley, trying to discover lost tribes throughout the darkest parts of Africa, hated it, because wherever he came, he was invited to drink some … establishing that the tribe or village he visited had had prior contact with what was then called “civilization”.

In the horn of Africa, weddings are still blessed with genever. And if there isn’t any, well, then the marriage starts off on the wrong food and probably won’t last long. Now that’s another reason to drink more genever: it is a marriage saver!

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