Jenever (also known as geniévre, genever, peket or Dutch gin), is the juniper-flavored national and traditional liquor of the Netherlands and in Belgium, from which gin evolved. To this day traditional jenever is very popular in these areas. European Union regulations state thatonly liquor made in the Netherlands, Belgium, two French provinces and two German federal states can use the name jenever/genever/geniévre. And only jenever made in East-Flanders, Belgium can use the name O’de Flander-Oost Vlaamse graanjenever.
Jenever was originally produced by distilling malt wine (Dutch translation moutwijn) to 50% ABV. The resultation spirit was not palatable due to the lack of refined distilling techniques (only the pot was still available), therefore herbs were added to mask the flavour. The juniper berry (Dutch translation jeneverbes), was chosen for its alleged medicinal effects, hence the name jenever (English translation gin).
It was first sold as a medicine in the late 16h century. While many believe that Dutch chemist & alchimist Sylvius de Bouve, the problem with this theory is that Dr. Sylvius was born in the 17th century and that during his fourteen-year tenure as a professor at the University of Leyden, his research included distilling medicines with juniper berry oil, but none of his research papers contain any reference to genever.
Additionally, in 1606 the Dutch had already levied taxes on genever and similar liquors which were sold as alcoholic drinks, suggesting that genever had stopped being seen as a medicinal remedy many years before Dr. Sylvius was even born.
There remains no definitive proof from either Belgium or the Netherlands as to who invented genever but we can unambigously claim that the early history of genever lies in Flanders, Belgium.
Old jenever and young jenever
There are two types of jenever: old jenever and young jenever. This is not a matter of aging, but of distilling techniques. Around 1900, it became possible to distill a high-trade type of alcohol almost neutral in taste, independent of the origin of the spirit. A worldwide tendency for a lighter and less dominant taste, as well as lower prices, led to the development of blended whisky in Great Britain, and in the Netherlands to Jonge (young) Jenever. During the Great War, lack of imported cereals and hence malt, forced the promotion of this blend. Alcohol derived from molasses from the sugar beet industry was used as an alternative to grain spirit. People started using the term oude for the old-style jenever, and jonge for the new style, which contains more grain instead of malt and can even contrain plain sugar-based alcohol. In modern times, jenever distilled from grain and malt only is labeled Graanjenever. Jonge jenever can contrain no more than 15% malt wine and 10 grams of sugar per litre. Oude jenever must contain at least 15% malt wine, but no more than 20g of sugar per litre. Korenwijn (grain wine) is a drink very similar to the 18th century style jenever, and is often matured for a few years in an oak cask; it contains from 51% to 70% malt wine and up to 20g/l of sugar.
Although the name oude jenever does not necessarily mean that the jenever is, in fact, old; there are some distilleries that claim their jenever is aged in Oak barrels.
Jonge jenever has a neutral taste, like vodka, with a slight aroma of juniper and malt wine. Oude jenever has a smoother, very aromatic taste with malty flavours. Oude jenever is sometimes aged in wood; it’s malty, woody and smoky flavours lend a resemblance to whisky. DIfferent grains used in the production process make cause of different flavoured jenevers. These include barley, wheat, dinkel wheat and rye.
Hasselt and East-Flanders in Belgium, and Schiedam and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, are well known for their jenevers and often referred to as “jenever cities”. In Amsterdam, jenever is made by Van Wees and Wynand Fockink. Well-known Schiedam jenever distilleries include Nolet, Onder De Boompjes, Wenneker, De Kuyper, Dirkzwager and Hasekamp (who export significant quantities to Africa). Near the Dutch-Belgian border, in Baarle-Nassau, Zuidam produces traditional jenevers and Dutch liquors. Other jenever-cities in the Netherlands are Groningen and Dordrecht. In Belgium, Deinze is very well known for the Filliers distillery and Aalst is well known for Stokerij De Moor, Belgium’s smallest distillery and only Belgian distillery to export genever to the USA.
Traditionally the drink is served in a tulip-shaped glass filled to the brim. Jonge jenever is served at room temperature, sometimes, though this is now quite old-fashioned, with some sugar and a tiny spoon to stir. The drink is sometimes served cold from a bottle kept in a freezer or on the rocks (with ice), but this is frowned upon by purists. The higher quality oude jenever (and korenwijn) is usually served at room temperature. When jenever is drunk with beer (normally lager) as a chaser, it is referred to as a kopstoot (headbutt) or duikboot (submarine) in Flanders. Traditionally, jenever is served in full shot glasses taken directly from the freezer. As the glass is very cold it is advisable to take the first sips without holding the glass, leaving it on the table and bending one’s back to apply one’s mouth to the glass.