If you live in the Netherlands or have visited the country, the chances are that you came across the drink jenever. Either at a bar, through distilleries arranging tastings, possibly during a crazy Dutch birthday party (where sitting in a circle is a must!), or simply via word of mouth.
Jenever (or genever), as it was originally called, is a brandy, a distilled spirit that has been named after the juniper berry (Dutch: jenever bes). The consumption of this drink started off just like in the case of other liquors such as rakia, grappa, etc. — as a medicine for intestinal problems. At the height of its popularity, some historical documents even claimed it cured the plague. It didn’t take much time though before it became even more well-liked for the sensation it created rather than its healing powers.
Jenever is one of oldest liquors still around – there have been records of it being distilled as early as the 16th century in Dutch distilleries with very basic equipment and under very primitive circumstances.
Before we dive deeper into how to drink jenever here is a fun fact: gin actually originates from jenever. During the Glorious Revolution of 1688 William of Orange brought jenever over to Britain. The British were no strangers to jenever. By that time it had been introduced to its countrymen and soldiers by the Dutch in the late 16th century where it was mainly used as a means to make both the Dutch and British fearless in battles. A few shots before and after (the latter if you were lucky enough to survive) led to the coining of the term “Dutch Courage”. William made sure to tax heavily alcoholic beverages from Catholic countries, which made it impossible to bring them into the country, however, taxes were not imposed on the production or sale of jenever.
As the British had difficulties pronouncing the whole word jenever, it was eventually shortened to “Gen” which ended up morphing into “Gin” with the pronunciation we now recognise. Nowadays the two drinks are very much different both in terms of ingredients and also in production.
Onto our do’s and don’ts of jenever drinking:
- There are different styles of jenever; the two most common are young jenever (jonge jenever) and old jenever (oude jenever). The former has a more recent recipe than that of the old one, which dates back to the 18th and 19th century.
- During the distilling process for the young jenever, grains are used, and the drink is distilled twice and flavoured by various botanicals such as aniseed, ginger root, apricot, nuts, etc. It is a clear spirit with an alcohol percentage of 35%. Most commonly served chilled; it also used in mix drinks.
- Old jenever is based on an old recipe and has a slightly yellowish colour due to the added malt wine. It has a slightly higher alcohol percentage of 40%, a malty flavour, and smells just like fresh bread.
- If you want to enjoy the smoothness of the flavours, always drink jenever at room temperature. However, if your aim is to get drunk, you’re probably better off drinking it chilled (as most Dutch bars serve it nowadays).
- Jenever is usually served in so-called ‘tulip glasses’. The shape of the glass enhances the smell of the drink which will allow you to taste the flavours better. Jenever is usually poured to the rim of the glass, so you’re advised not to pick up the glass but rather bend over and try to get the first sip without touching it.
- Real connoisseurs of jenever suggest that you drink it slowly like a whisky.
- Old jenever is typically drunk as a digestive while the young as an aperitif.
- Bonus Tip: Drinking beer accompanied by a glass of jenever is called a kopstoot (headbutt). While jenever dropped into a glass of beer is a “u-boat”.
We hope the above tips and tricks will help you navigate yourself amongst the many jenevers out there… or allow you to impress your host at one of those (in)famous birthday parties.
Writer’s Note: A big thank you to the friendly staff at Van Kleef Distillery Museum who helped me find my way in the labyrinth of liquors.