First things first. What Is Genever?
Genever is a juniper-accented spirit distilled from malt wine. It was first created by a Dutch doctor around 1650. It's the great-granddaddy of the London Dry and American-style gins we commonly know today - although genever's distinctive malty flavor puts the spirit in a category all its own.
Genever comes in two classifications: jonge ("young" or unaged) and oude ("old" - aged in oak barrels for at least one year).
The world's oldest distilled spirits company, Lucas Bols, recently issued an unaged as well as an aged version of their genever for the export market.
Bols Genever (Unaged)
Price: $39/750 ml
The Story: In a quest for authenticity, Bols looked deep into their archives and found an all-but-forgotten 1820 recipe for genever. In 2008, they re-released this spirit in a smoky-gray glass bottle decorated with the loopy typography typically found on the hand-painted signage in Amsterdam cafes.
Taste: Malty with a slightly funky nose. Made of a blend of distillates from a combination of rye, wheat, and corn; juniper; and other botanicals.
Ways to Enjoy: Don't try this one in a Gin and Tonic or Martini - the spirit's malty flavor is actually more similar to that of whiskey than that of gin. In Holland, unaged genever is traditionally slurped from a small tulip-shaped glass filled to the very brim, accompanied by a beer chaser. (This classic combo is called a Kopstootje or "little head butt.") But, if you want to take a New World approach to things, use it to mix cocktails calling for white whiskey.
Bols Genever (Barrel Aged)
Price: $49/750 ml
The Story: A new release from Bols, which became available in select American markets earlier this month. Made according to the same 1820 recipe used in the white genever above, but then aged for 18 months in casks made from oak from the French Limousin area, which gives the spirit a more complex taste and a pale amber color. It comes in a distinctive clay bottle that echoes the iconic design of old-timey genever jugs.
Taste: Rounder and mellower and more whiskey-like. Accents of vanilla and spice.
Ways to Enjoy: Use it the way you would bourbon: sipped neat or on the rocks, or in cocktails such as Manhattans or Old Fashioneds.
Nora Maynard is a longtime home mixologist and an occasional instructor at NYC's Astor Center. Her culinary writing has appeared in Food Republic, Leite's Culinaria, CHOW, and The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries. She previously covered food and drink in film at The Kitchn in her weekly column, The Celluloid Pantry.
Have you tried genever?
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(Images: Nora Maynard)