'Clap Your Hands' is part of a series of blog posts focusing on items which were previously only available out of state.

Bols Genever has actually been on the shelves up here for a little while. It showed up right around the same time as Diep 9's young and old genevers. So this post is a little late but totally warranted as genever is a unique product with a long tradition. Bols is about $35 and 42% abv. It's likely that genever is the style of gin bar guides from the late 19th century were referring to when gin was called for in a recipe. That doesn't mean you have to make old school cocktails with it...but you might as well, for research and all. And because the stuff is delicious and completely different than London dry.

The exact time genever appeared is difficult to pin down. Probably around the 16th century though there is a reference to a juniper based health tonic from a Dutch publication dating back to 1269. What made genever unique among other cereal grain distillates was the introduction of juniper, along with other spices the Dutch had access to due to their extensive trade network. Apparently the inclusion of juniper was done for medicinal reasons as it was supposed to be beneficial to the kidneys. Genever doesn't really taste like gin, at least the gin we've all grown accustomed to, but it is gin, the original gin. Genever/jenever, gin, juniper...etc are all tied together etymologically to the latin juniperus.

Even though the juniper doesn't rush right up to your nose and dominate on the palette like it does in most London drys, it is in there. But unlike London dry and the more recent New Western Dry designation, which are mostly neutral grain spirits infused with botanicals, genever has a large amount of malt wine which contributes to it's signature flavor, aroma and body. Malt wine is made by mixing cereal grains, usually rye, wheat, corn and barley malt (though no barley malt in Bols) and adding yeast to facilitate fermentation. This mash gets distilled several times, increasing in proof at each step. The third distillation results in a malt wine with a proof of about 45% abv. This distillate gets blended with another one (or sometimes more than one) in which the botanicals have been infused. Often there's some sugar added prior to bottling though the amount, along with the quantity of malt wine used, is regulated.

Farmers used to have pot stills and saw genever as a viable way to make use of surplus grains which even after distillation could still be used to feed livestock. A lot of the windmills we fondly associate with that portion of European countryside were being used to grind up grains that in turn were used to make genever (and probably some bread too).

Eventually wars, ridiculously oppressive taxes and a mounting concern over the social ills associated with the abuse of what was seen as a workingman's beverage resulted in genever falling out of favor and pretty much off the radar for much of the 20th century. Production dropped dramatically and eventually the column still (which genever production also incorporated) would be used to create, among other things, the London dry style that began to take hold late in the 19th century. Prohibition certainly didn't do genever any favors and it was pretty much all but gone from most American bars after the Noble Experiment ended.

Bols makes their genever by combining four different distillates. The first one is a malt wine made with rye, wheat and corn and distilled to 47% abv. Secondly there is a wheat based neutral grain spirit distilled to 96% abv. The third distillate is juniper berry based. They soak juniper berries in malt wine for a period of time prior to distilling it. The fourth and final distillate is botanical based. The botanicals that Bols uses for this stage include anise seed, cloves, ginger, hops, angelica root, licorice and juniper berries among others. A lot of the herbs and spices used in genever are also used in London dry with the exception of hops which are frequently incorporated in the botanical mix used for genever.

Like gin, botanicals used can vary. Amount of malt wine can vary. Grains used for malt wine can vary. Styles include oude (old style, more malt wine involved - not necessarily aged, though sometimes it is for at least a year), Jonge (young, as in this style is not as old as the oude style. More neutral grain spirits in this one), and Korenwijn (this style has the most malt wine, at least 51%). Graanjenever ('grain genever' where the malt wine is cut with only grain based neutral spirits) could be used to describe any of the previous three styles provided the neutral spirits were distilled from grain only. Oude and jonge are the two most likely to get any shelf space these days. Oude will have more of that sweet, earthy round malt wine presence than the jonge which retains some of the aroma of the malt but is overall much drier.

The Bols genever available here is an oude and there's no mistaking the presence of a significant amount of malt. Traditionally it's served neat, filled to the top of a small glass, often with a beer served on the side. You can certainly go that route, it's an interesting enough spirit to sip straight. It really shines in cocktails though, where its unique flavor can be used as a foundation for some interesting and tasty drinks.

Improved Holland Gin Cocktail
Improved Holland Gin Cocktail

There is nothing wrong with this drink. It's a perfect showcase for genever. Absinthe and maraschino support the genever's earthy maltiness without getting in the way. Simple, rich, smooth and fantastic.

Martinezes - Ransom Old Tom and Bols Genever
Martinezes - Ransom Old Tom and Bols Genever

This was a fun experiment. The Martinez is a favorite and I've pretty much used every gin I've ever had in one at some point. Often cited as the link between the Martini and the Manhattan the Martinez is a combination of gin, vermouth, maraschino liqueur and bitters. I think the Old Tom style is what was originally used and making one with Ransom results in an incredible drink. Using genever however also makes for a fine variation (as will one made with London dry).

Tammany Hall on the left, Ghost Light at right
Tammany Hall on the left, Ghost Light at right

The Tammany Hall is an interesting one in that the genever is paired with Irish whiskey. This combination provides a nice malt foundation with botanicals from the genever mingling with those in the vermouth. Benedictine rounds out the sweetness while contributing additional herbal qualities. It's a great choice for the Manhattan-minded. The Ghost Light also employs monkish herbal awesomeness (in the form of Chartreuse) but this time in more of a sour style format.

Genever Old Fashioned
Genever Old Fashioned

Thanks to Andrew Volk for turning me onto using genever for this one. I hold the Old Fashioned in high regard but I hadn't actually mixed one up with genever. It's fantastic and rivals the Improved Holland in it's ability to highlight genever's attributes in a simple yet powerfully deep cocktail. Maybe it's because access to genever is relatively recent but my favorite drinks with this spirit have an element of mystery to them. That earthy, sweet, funky flavor is singular and drinks which showcase it well are likely to leave a lasting impression.

Recipes:

Improved Holland Gin Cocktail - Jerry Thomas, How to Mix Drinks...,1876
3 oz Genever
1 1/2 barspoons Simple Syrup
1 barspoon Maraschino
1/2 barspoon Absinthe
2 dashes Angostura
Garnish - Lemon Twist

Stir with ice, strain, up

 

Martinez - Jerry Thomas, Bar-tender's Guide, 1887
1 1/2 oz Gin
1 1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth
1/4 oz Maraschino
2 dashes Angostura (subbing orange bitters can make for a nice twist)
Garnish - Lemon Twist

Stir with ice, strain, up

 

Tammany Hall - Rafa Garcia Febles
1 oz Redbreast Irish Whiskey
1 oz Bols Genever
3/4 oz Carpano Antica (I subbed Cocchi's Vermouth di Torino)
1/4 oz Benedictine
1 dash Angostura
Garnish - Lemon Twist - express over drink and discard Garnish - Cherry

Stir with ice, strain, up

 

Ghost Light
2 1/2 oz Genever
1/2 oz Green Chartreuse
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
-1/4 oz Simple Syrup

Stir with ice, strain over fresh ice

 

Genever Old Fashioned - George Kappeler, Modern American Drinks, 1895
3 oz Genever
-1/2 tsp Rich Demerara Simple*
2 dashes Angostura
Garnish - Lemon Twist

Stir briefly with ice, strain over fresh ice

*For the rich demerara simple combine 2 parts demerara to 1 part water over low heat stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat, bottle and put it in the fridge.