Bols Genever re-introduces itself to the Denver market

“Genever is genever.”  Jacob Grier of Bols Genever said it best about this malty spirit. And I have to admit, I always considered it a “type of gin.” After all, I have genever to thank for getting me into gin (specifically Bols Genever because, well, it’s the only genever I’ve had). Fact of the matter, it really isn’t a “Dutch gin” as it’s so often described.  It’s something much more.

For those that aren’t knee-deep in the cocktail culture, genever is not the go-to spirit on the backbar.   It doesn’t all-to-well go with tonic, like a typical G&T would.  In this context, it’s misunderstood.   To borrow Grier’s analogy in his eloquent post about genever, genever is to “Dutch gin” as tequila is to “Mexican whiskey.”  It’s just different.  So what is genever?

The spirits do have one thing in common: They are both flavored with juniper berries. Early Dutch distillers sold spirits flavored with juniper and other botanicals for their alleged medicinal qualities. The spirits were produced in pot stills, which retain much of the character of the grain, producing a product that was essentially whiskey with botanicals added. It was called genever, from jeneverbes, the Dutch word for juniper. English speakers shortened this to gin.

With the invention of the column still in the nineteenth century, Dutch genever and English gin began to diverge in style. The English went for the new, purer spirit, essentially making botanical flavored vodka. The Dutch stuck with their malty genever. To distinguish between the two, English speakers called the latter “Holland’s gin.” It was a useful distinction until the triple blow of changing tastes, Prohibition, and World War II reduced genever’s prominence in the American market.

Thus gin evolved from genever, but that doesn’t mean that we should declare genever a kind of gin any more than we should think of the blues as just a proto-form of rock and roll. Gin and genever are “about” different things. Gin is primarily about botanicals. If you line up three different gins and want to describe the differences among them, you’re going to talk mostly about their botanical profiles. This one has very assertive juniper, this one is more floral, this one has a licorice note, etc.

Genever is partly about botanicals, but it’s also about the malty base spirit. As agave is to tequila, this maltwine (moutwijn) is to genever. When tasting different genevers, the differences in maltwine and the effects of barrel ageing are at least as important as the botanicals, often even more important.

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It works with cocktails in such a different way that London dry gin, for example, would.  Let me show you how.

Genever Still Life First, a personal story, and hopefully not a confusing one.  Remember, genever is different than gin.  When I was just getting into cocktails, the last spirit I had to muster through was gin.  We all have those “gin nights” filled with visceral reactions–mine was close to gagging.  I had just gotten to love bourbon and my trusted bartender weened me onto gin by way of genever.  The malty flavor with the bit of juniper was the ticket.  When I think of using genever in a cocktail, I think of using a prohibition-style whiskey, but with a clean, juniper finish and that’s the focus of it.

Second, the versatility of genever. While the mind may think, “oh geez, just another specific spirit that is focused to just one cocktail (i.e. Pisco).”  Au contraire, my friend.  Genever works eloquently in 50/50 cocktails (martini, typically half gin and half vermouth).  It works so well in an old-fashioned, playing careful mind to the bitters (Nick at Williams & Graham rocked a fabulous one using celery bitters that brought out the aromas).  Take your standard Mai-Tai recipe, or even better, the Original Trader Vic Formula (white rum, lime juice, curaçao, orgeat, and simple syrup).  Swap the 2 ounces of  rum for 1 ounce of rye whiskey and 1 ounce of genever.  Yessiree.

Genever can work in place of gin cocktails, as long as you consider how to bring out the juniper aromatics and the malty flavor.  Play up the mouthfeel of the spirit.  Play up the strengths of the spirit, just as any cocktail should.

Jacob Grier will be guest bartending at Bitter Bar in Boulder on Wednesday from 5-7pm. There will be a guest menu of 5 discounted drinks made with Bols Genever and Galliano, along with the Kopstootje genever and beer pairing.  It’s a great chance for you to talk about and explore the spirit.  I hope the next time you’re in your bar and they have a genever on the back bar, you order it.

Cheers!

About Jess Hunter


Jess is a lady and a scholar. If she's not mulling over the various names of famous mustaches and their respective bitter cocktails, she's nibbling on American Craft Singles and Cantillon. Connect with her by email at jesshunter@denveroffthewagon.com.