Given a limited bar of only 12 bottles, genever may seem an odd – if not downright foolhardy – choice. Part of our devotion to genever comes from its utterly unique profile, while another part comes from the historic significance of “Dutch Courage”, as the English soldiers referred to it during the Thirty Years’ War. Even though today the spirit is a minor player on the bar scene, there was a time when – along with whiskey, brandy, and rum – genever was a cornerstone of any respectable drinking establishment.
Modern genever is essentially a blend of two distinct spirits. The first is triple or quadruple pot-distilled “maltwine”, equal amounts of corn, rye, and malted barley. The second is neutral spirit like that used in London Dry. And then, of course, there are the botanicals, which must include juniper. It’s the use of juniper that has caused many to call genever “gin”; the term “genever” translates quite literally as juniper. Indeed, when genever made its way to America in the mid-1800s, it was often referred to as Holland gin. And, while it is easy for some people to simply continue to refer to genever as “Dutch gin”, it is a phrase that truly rankles genever purists. So, for the record. Genever is not gin. Gin is not genever. One taste will tell you what genever lovers know. With its use of malty grains, its rich, fiery flavor has far more in common with whiskey, especially when compared to the crisp, clean profile of London Dry.
While genever and gin are vastly different in profile and origins, it can still be said without any quarrel that gin would not exist without genever – much like CDs would not exist with vinyl records having come before. In fact, as dominant as London Dry gin is today (which is much less than it was before vodka took hold), genever is the “gin” of the history books. For the bulk of the golden age of the cocktail (which we’ll claim to be 1803 to 1912), in America, genever dwarfed the sales of its English cousin. In fact, Bols tells us that in 1880, six times as much genever was imported to the Unites States as English gin. As far as we are concerned, both genever and gin — gloriously distinct yet forever linked comrades — belong in any proper, old-school bar.
PREMIUM ($30 – $40 / 750 ml)
An American “genever” worthy of our bar is Anchor Distilling’s Genevieve, so named because of the EU naming restrictions as to where genever can be made. Anchor’s version is as true an evocation as ever produced, even going so far as to be pot-distilled as traditional genever has always been. At 47.3% ABV, you might expect Genevieve to pack a punch, and it does — but a punch of malt and botanicals. Not for the faint of heart, but oh so delicious.
MID-RANGE ($20 – $30 / 750 ml)
The 12 Bottle Bar staple genever is Bols. The recipe is based on one from the early 1800′s and is geared toward the American and British markets. It has a high malt wine content (over 50%), which offers up that tremendously meaty, malty mouthfeel, as well as a hint — not an overabundance — of juniper. Note, Bols also produces an 18-month barrel-aged genever that has even more in common with whiskey.