What Is Jenever?
Bols Genever Ingredients
Also known as genever, genièvre, pecket, and even Dutch gin, jenever is a grain-based alcoholic spirit produced using juniper berries. As one of its names suggests, it’s historically Dutch. However, it also has a strong Belgian heritage too.
Furthermore, there are neighbouring French and German regions that can also use the names “jenever”, “genever”, and “genièvre”. Outside of these regions, most similar liquors may only legally use “Dutch-style” gin.
Jenever’s name stems from “juniperus”, the Latin for “juniper” of which the berries play in key ingredient in its production just like gin.
Before Gin There Was Jenever
Bols Distillery, 19th Century
As hinted in the introduction, jenever was the precursor to gin. In fact, gin was developed by the British after the Dutch introduced jenever to the United Kingdom during the late 1500s. Interestingly, its prolific use by soldiers before battle gave rise to the expression “Dutch courage”.
The earliest records of gin date back to 13th Century Belgium. Originally, jenever was produced by distilling moutwijn or “malt wine”, which is essentially a mix of different malt grain varieties. Because the distillation process of the time was primitive at best, herbs were added to make it more palatable.
Nevertheless, jenever has arguably been produced since the Middle Ages but mostly as a medicine or remedy. Indeed, it was believed that the use of juniper and other herbs and spices could treat a number of ailments, which is actually true to a certain degree.
Therefore, it was initially mostly available in pharmacies during most of its early life. While this practice continued in the UK, jenever was taxed as an alcoholic drink by the Dutch in the early 17th Century. Consequently, evidence suggest that it was no long particularly considered a medicinal product.
With the early development of gin in the UK, jenever exports waned drastically. However, domestic consumption boomed following Holland’s Glorious Revolution when William of Orange restricted French brandy imports.
Thanks to the recent Gin Boom, international interest for jenever has been renewed given its significance and heritage.
Different Jenever Types & How They Taste
Traditionally, jenever was produced using malt grain in a relatively similar way to whisky, which results in a smooth and aromatic flavours with unsurprisingly malty flavours. The is still practised today and is referred to as oude jenever.
Although “oude” refers to the old style of producing jenever, there is actually now a tendency to age the spirit in oak barrels too. Nevertheless, this is not a requirement for its production.
During the First World War, however, grain imports struggled. Therefore, producers turned to distilling alcohol from other ingredients such as sugar beet molasses and potatoes. As a result, this became known as “jonge” or “new style” jenever.
Today, jonge jenever consists of less than 10 grams of sugar. Consequently, jonge jenever has a much more neutral taste, which is reminiscent of vodka or dry gin. Similarly, it must not feature more than 15% malt wine whereas oude jenever must contain at least this amount.
Additionally, jenever can still be made from other non-grain base spirits. Meanwhile, those only produced from grain and malt can be labelled as Graanjenever.
Finally, there is also Korenwijn, which is a throwback to historical jenever from before the 18th Century. By comparison, it contains an average of 60% malt wine as well as a maximum of 20 grams of sugar.
How Jenever Is Made Compared To Gin
Biercée Distillery, Belgium
How jenever is made depends largely upon the intended type as those described above. Overall, however, the manufacturing process isn’t altogether different than gin save from a few techniques that are reminiscent of whisky.
Whatever the type of jenever, the process will consist of at least two distillates. The first one is a triple-distillation similar to whisky. The chosen ingredients is the deciding factor of what type of jenever is being made. For instance, a predominantly malt grain distillate will result in Oude Jenever.
In either case, a second process will follow where juniper and other herbs are steeped in the base spirit before being distilled. While gin can sometimes be made using vapour infusion, most brands will undertake the same process.
A third and final distillate may be desired with more botanicals to produce a particular flavour.
Finally, the resulting spirit is blended with malt wine and sugar before being diluted with water and bottled. In some cases, the jenever is even aged in oak barrels beforehand.
Typical Alcohol Volume Percentage
Historically, gin was distilled and diluted to 50% ABV. However, most modern varieties now are somewhere between 40% and 45% ABV.
This amount greatly depends on the variety and where it was produced. For instance, traditional Belgian and Dutch aren’t particularly strong and are usually somewhere between 35 and 40% ABV.
Meanwhile, international “Dutch-style” gins may be much stronger and anywhere from 40 to 50% ABV. Unlike London Dry Gin, genever isn’t subject to the same type of regulations so there appears to be more freedom in this area according to the distillery and the desired blend.
How To Serve & Drink Jenever
Bols Aged Genever
As far as we’re concerned, there’s no right or wrong way to drink jenever as long as you enjoy it. Nevertheless, there are certain traditions in the way jenever has been consumed in its home country.
Firstly, jenever is served in a stemmed tulip glass similar to Polish karczmiak flutes for vodka. This is filled until the spirit’s service tension allows it to rise above the glass’ brim without spilling. Traditionally, the first sip is taken by leaning forward with the glass on the table to avoid spilling it.
Nowadays, jenever is served from the freezer like vodka. However, jonge jenever used to be drunk at room temperature with sugar and a spoon similar to absinthe.
Occasionally, jonge jenever may instead be served with on the rocks in a tumbler glass with ice. Alternatively, jenever will be paired with a beer chaser, which is colloquially called a kopstoot or “headbutt”.
Meanwhile, oude jenever is often appreciated like whisky where it is served at room temperature in a copita nosing glass.
Can Jenever Be Used In Cocktails?
Damrak Gin Cocktails
Because of their shared heritage, it has started to become fashionable to replace gin with jenever in certain cocktails. Indeed, jenever can be equally as versatile and can add a unique twist to a cocktail when used as its base.
Furthermore, the different varieties of jenever means that they can creatively be incorporated to create new flavours into classic cocktails. Indeed, many bartenders outside of Holland and Belgium have taken notice of jenever and its potential for mixology.
Whether you’re looking to produce a negroni or a gimlet, jenever can be used as an alternative to produce some surprising results.
Similar Drinks & Jenever Substitutes
As mentioned above, jenever is actually used as a substitute for gin despite it being its predecessor. Indeed, if you’re looking for an alternative to a specific jenever recipe, gin was likely the original ingredient in the first place.
Alternatively, you may not be fond of gin or jenever or you may even have an intolerance to junipers. If this is the case, vodka would likely be the best option as it’s chemically quite similar save for the absence of botanicals.
While vodka is also the easiest substitute, you may instead want to want to consider akvavit if it’s available. Rather than juniper, it features other herbs including cumin or caraway seeds. Therefore, you’ll still have an overall botanical theme but with a slightly different resulting flavour profile.
Are There Benefits To Drinking Jenever?
Hotaling & Co Jenever Distillery
We’ve already covered some of the health benefits of gin in its own dedicated guide, which are actually the same due to the similar production process. This mostly consists of juniper’s unique properties given that it’s a natural antioxidant.
Furthermore, juniper has anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties.Therefore, jenever can be used to help with coughs and sore throats, especially when used in combination with other herbs. For instance, ginger can be an excellent addition when using jenever as a remedy.
Additionally, juniper is diuretic, which means that it helps flush out bacteria and toxins in your system. As it can also help with stomach acid production, it can even help as a digestif.
Gluten, Carbs, & Calories In Jenever
As a clear grain-based distillate, junge jenever is particularly low in energy with a single shot containing fewer than 100 calories. However, oude jenever will likely be more. In either case, carbs are essentially absent, though.
As for gluten, many brands and experts will argue that the distillation process removes gluten from the grain. However, people with celiac disease are probably better off not taking the risk as there have been reports that it causes adverse reactions.
Where To Buy Jenever
Unlike gin, jenever is actually still rather rare outside of Holland and Belgium. While it is growing in popularity, it’s unlikely that you’ll find it in a convenience store or supermarket any time soon.
Therefore, you’re better off going to specialised store but their stocks may also be limited. In most cases, shops in the USA will also favour mostly American-made “Dutch-style” gin but will rarely sell authentic genever from the Appellation zones.
Alternatively, you can consider shopping for it online. When in a hurry, we often use Drizly as it partners with the shops in your area in order to provide you with the liquor you need on the same day.
However, the prices depend largely on where you live and their service isn’t available everywhere. Alternatively, Reserve Bar is a great website with a reasonable stock. That said, we have yet to find genever on their website.
Pricing: How Much Does Jenever Cost?
Cost-wise, jenever sits in a similar ballpark to premium gin. You can usually expect a bottle to cost anywhere between $20 to $30. Most domestic jenever will likely cost less and sit around the low $20.
Conversely, authentic genever from the Belgian, Dutch, and French appellations will cost more. Nevertheless, this is never much more than around $30.
Top 10 Best Jenever Brands
As mentioned above, we will now cover the top 10 best jenever brands that you can buy online:
- Bols Genever Gin
- Biercée Peket de Houyeu Genever
- Hotaling & Co Genevieve Gin
- Deerhammer Dutch Style Gin
- Boomsma Jonge Graan Jenever
- NY Distilling Company Chief Gowanus
- Damrak Gin
- Old Duff Real Dutch Genever
- Diep 9 Old Genever
- Sons Of Liberty True Born Gin
Scroll down to see them all or jump ahead using the links above.