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Jenever (also known as genièvre, genever, peket, or in the English-speaking world as Holland gin or Dutch gin), is the juniper-flavored national and traditional liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium, from which gin evolved. Traditional jenever is still very popular in the Netherlands and Belgium. European Union regulations specify that only liquor made in these two countries, two French provinces and two German federal states can use the name jenever/genever/genièvre. And only jenever made in East-Flanders, Belgium can use the name O'de Flander-Oost-Vlaamse graanjenever.
Jenever was originally produced by distilling malt wine (moutwijn in Dutch) to 50% ABV. Because the resulting spirit was not palatable due to the lack of refined distilling techniques (only the pot still was available), herbs were added to mask the flavour. The juniper berry (jeneverbes in Dutch, which in turn comes from the Latin Juniperus) was chosen for its alleged medicinal effects,hence the name jenever (and the English name gin).
Believed to have been invented by a Dutch chemist and alchemist named Sylvius de Bouve, it was first sold as a medicine in the late 16th century.The problem with this theory is that Dr. Sylvius was born in the 17th century and that during his fourteen-year tenure as a professor at the University of Leyden, his research included distilling medicines with juniper berry oil, but none of his research papers contain any reference to genever. The dates also don’t add up: Dr. Sylvius certainly wasn’t the first to distill with juniper or call a concoction genever, as proven by written references to genever in 13th century Bruges, Flanders (Der Naturen Bloeme) and 16th century Antwerp, Flanders (Een Constelijck Distileerboec). The latter contains the first printed genever recipe.
Additionally, in 1606 the Dutch had already levied taxes on genever and similar liquors which were sold as alcoholic drinks, suggesting that genever had stopped being seen as a medicinal remedy many years before Dr. Sylvius was even born. Genever’s prevalence can also be observed in Massinger’s 1623 play, “The Duke of Milan”, which references “geneva”. Geneva was the Anglicized name for genever, which British soldiers had brought back with them upon returning from battle in the Low Countries in 1587 and again during the early 1600s. Dr. Sylvius would have been just nine years old when Massinger’s play opened. So while the legend of Dr. Sylvius’s “medicine” may be more myth than fact, it has become the tale most people know.
There remains no definitive proof from either Belgium or the Netherlands as to who invented genever.
There are two types of jenever: oude (old) and jonge (young). This is not a matter of aging, but of distilling techniques. Around 1900, it became possible to distill a high-grade type of alcohol almost neutral in taste, independent of the origin of the spirit. A worldwide tendency for a lighter and less dominant taste, as well as lower prices, led to the development of blended whisky in Great Britain, and in the Netherlands to Jonge Jenever. During the Great War, lack of imported cereals, and hence malt, forced the promotion of this blend. Alcohol derived from molasses from the sugar beet industry was used as an alternative to grain spirit. People started using the term oude for the old-style jenever, and jonge for the new style, which contains more grain instead of malt and can even contain plain sugar-based alcohol. In modern times, jenever distilled from grain and malt only is labeled Graanjenever. Jonge jenever can contain 'no more than' 15% malt wine and 10 grams of sugar per litre. Oude jenever must contain 'at least' 15% malt wine, but no more than 20 g of sugar per litre. Korenwijn (grain wine) is a drink very similar to the 18th century style jenever, and is often matured for a few years in an oak cask; it contains from 51% to 70% malt wine and up to 20 g/l of sugar.
Although the name oude jenever does not necessarily mean that the jenever is, in fact, old; there are some distilleries that claim that their jenever is aged in Oak barrels.
Jonge jenever has a neutral taste, like vodka, with a slight aroma of juniper and malt wine. Oude jenever has a smoother, very aromatic taste with malty flavours. Oude jenever is sometimes aged in wood; its malty, woody and smoky flavours lend a resemblance to whisky. Different grains used in the production process make cause for different flavoured jenevers. These include barley, Wheat, Dinkel Wheat and Rye.
Hasselt in Belgium, and Schiedam and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, are well known for their jenevers and often referred to as "jenever cities" (jeneversteden). In Amsterdam, jenever is made by Van Wees and Wynand Fockink. Well-known Schiedam jenever distilleries include Nolet, Onder De Boompjes, Wenneker, De Kuyper, Dirkzwager and Hasekamp (who export significant quantities to Africa). Near the Dutch-Belgian border, in Baarle-Nassau, Zuidam produces traditional jenevers and Dutch liquors. Other jenever-cities in the Netherlands are Groningen (Hooghoudt) and Dordrecht (Rutte). In Belgium, Deinze is very well known for the Filliers distillery and Aalst is well known for Stokerij De Moor, Belgium's smallest distillery and only Belgian distillery to export genever (Diep9) to the USA.
Dutch-based Lucas Bols produces and sells oude genever, known as ginebra in Spanish, in South America. Ketel One is now more known for producing vodka, but started out as, and still is, a jenever distillery.
Traditionally the drink is served in a tulip-shaped glass filled to the brim. Jonge jenever, colloquially a jonkie ("young'un"), at room temperature, sometimes, though this is now quite old fashioned, with some sugar and a tiny spoon to stir. The drink is sometimes served cold from a bottle kept in a freezer or on the rocks (jonge met ijs), but this is frowned on by purists. The higher-quality oude jenever (and korenwijn) is usually served at room temperature. When jenever is drunk with beer (normally lager) as a chaser, it is referred to as a kopstoot (headbutt) or duikboot (submarine) in Flanders. Traditionally, jenever is served in full shot glasses taken directly from the freezer. As the glass is very cold it is advisable to take the first sips without holding the glass, leaving it on the table and bending one's back to apply one's mouth to the glass.
Recognized for its historic and cultural contribution, the European Union protected genever with 11 appellations or AOC’s of which most are exclusive to Belgium.
Exclusive to Belgium, the Netherlands, small parts of France, and small parts of Germany: genever (jenever), grain genever (graanjenever), fruit genever (fruitjenever)
Exclusive to Belgium and the Netherlands: old genever (oude jenever), young genever (jonge jenever)
Exclusive to Belgium: O'de Flander Original East-Flemish grain genever (O'de Flander Echte Oost-Vlaamse graanjenever), Hasselt genever (Hasseltse jenever), Balegem genever (Balegemse jenever), Peket (Pékèt)
Exclusive to small parts of France: Flanders Artois genever (genièvre Flandres Artois)
Exclusive to small parts of Germany: East-Frisia cereal grain genever (Ostfriesischer korngenever)