Genever is amidst a mini-renaissance, popping up in renowned cocktail bars all over the world, and winning over spirits enthusiasts left and right. It’s about time you familiarize yourself with some of genever’s most influential brands.
While creeping back into the mainstream, genever is still often a forgotten spirit. It plays a huge role in cocktail history. In fact, in the mid-1800s it outsold gin (which is derived from genever) by as much as 450-to-1 in the United States. Consequently, many of the classic gin cocktails are likely to have been made with genever instead.
What is Genever?
Genever is a grain-forward spirit, much more so than your everyday gin, a drink that’s more about showcasing botanicals. First a mash bill, often comprised of malted barley, rye, corn and/or wheat, is fermented. This is then distilled in a pot-still three times, after which it is called maltwine.
During a fourth distillation botanicals are added, but they are supposed to play a supporting role, ensuring the grainy maltwine has plenty of room to shine. Depending on the percentage of maltwine (relative to the amount neutral grain spirit) in the final product, it qualifies as either Oude Genever (> 15%) or Jonge Genever (< 15%).
Since 2008 genever has its own appellation and can only be produced in The Netherlands and Belgium, as well as a few select regions in France and Germany. Many of the genever brands never make it out of those countries. However, there are a few that are distributed internationally. These are five brands you should know.
The first company to embrace genever in the current millennium was Bols. In 2008 they launched Bols Genever in the United States. While it wasn’t embraced immediately, Bols can now be found in many of the world’s best bars.
Bols Distillery circa 1920 / Photo Credit: Bols
The company itself has been around for centuries, tracing their distilling roots all the way back to 1575. Originally a producer of liqueurs, ingredients were readily available in Amsterdam at the time, mainly because of the Dutch East India Company trading all over the world. According to Bols, they’ve been producing genever since 1664.
The maltwine content in Bols Genever is more than 50 percent, which is unusually high. Pushing even further, in late 2017 they also released Bols Genever 100% Malt Spirit, consisting entirely of maltwine.
When John Rutte, the last of seven generations of the Rutte family, passed in 2003, current master distiller Myriam Hendrickx had only been working at the Rutte distillery for a month. Luckily for her, John Rutte was a meticulous note taker. Too bad he wasn’t the most organized person. He rarely had to work with anyone but himself, so recipes were jotted down on scraps of paper, and simply thrown in a safe.
Rutte Master Distiller Myriam Hendrickx / Photo Credit: Rutte
It meant chaos at first, but once order was restored, Hendrickx was sitting on a treasure trove. While developing new recipes, Hendrickx almost always draws inspiration from old recipes. This sometimes leads to the use of botanicals that are unusual now, but were commonplace way back when.
An example of this is the Old Simon Genever, named after founder Simon Rutte. It contains some traditional ingredients, such as juniper berries, but also 11 other botanicals described as unique to Simon’s creativity, such as nuts, mace and celery.
The biggest genever brand to come out of Belgium is Filliers. Not only do they distil all their own maltwine, they distil almost everyone else’s too. This includes the aforementioned Bols and Rutte. In truth, not many of the Dutch genever brands produce their own anymore. Instead Filliers makes it for them, going off recipes provided by the brands.
Filliers Genevers / Photo Credit: Filliers
Filliers is originally a farm distillery. They’ve been licensed since 1880, but have been around for at least a few decades longer. Nowadays, the company is led by the fifth generation, while the sixth is already waiting in the wings.
Many of the Filliers genevers are aged, like the Filliers 12 Year Oude Graanjenever. A product made with a maltwine consisting of equal amounts of malted barley and rye. The maturation takes place in American oak and French Limousin oak. Truly a drink to sip and savor.
Having made a name for themselves internationally through their Millstone whiskies (check out their 100 Rye!), Zuidam produces a whole slew of products, including genever. Currently led by second generation master distiller Patrick van Zuidam, the company doesn’t have the same heritage like some of the others on this list.
Zuidam Casks / Photo Credit: Zuidam
Be that as it may, it has nothing to do with the quality of their distillates. Patrick van Zuidam is a well-respected craftsman, both in The Netherlands and abroad. As an avid fan of whisky, wood maturation comes natural to Van Zuidam. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that most of his genevers are aged, and therefore very agreeable to a whiskey drinkers palate.
Founder Philip Duff is a genever purist. Having lived in The Netherlands for over fifteen years, he fell in love with genever, and became hell-bent on making his own. In 2017 he finally succeeded.
Old Duff Genever / Photo Credit: Old Duff
Being a student of genever history, Duff wanted his Old Duff Genever to be an homage to traditional, authentic genever as it was made in the 1800s. One other condition: it had to be milled, mashed, fermented and distilled in The Netherlands, which is very rare nowadays (see Filliers).
In family-owned company Herman Jansen, and their distillery De Tweelingh, he found a willing partner for his project. Duff was adamant to release a 100% maltwine genever, since that is how it was made centuries ago. It led to the creation of Old Duff Genever Single Malt.
Studying old recipes, Duff decided on a maltwine consisting of two-thirds rye and one-third malted barley. The only botanicals he used are juniper and Bramling hops. Currently only available in New York, the next market for Old Duff will be London.
Genever is a versatile drink, which should be part of the drinks cabinet of any cocktail enthusiast. While the cocktail trend is putting a spotlight on genever as a malty base for all kinds of concoctions, there are many more ways to drink it. Try it as a boilermaker; it combines well with all kinds of beers. With many aged genevers also available, you should certainly give it a chance as a standalone drink.