Trying to get a typical Dutch distillate like Jenever is hard to get outside of Europe. Believe me, I’ve tried persistently in various countries. I think the reason Jenever isn’t a very sexy beverage is because of its nickname; ‘old man’s drink’.
Jenever (sometimes written as ‘Genever’) is a juniper berry and malt wine distillate. The drink was first discovered by Belgian brewers and initially used for medicinal purposes. Ask any Jenever enthusiast and they will swear it still is.
Before getting a little technical, I want to point out one very important issue. Originally Jenever was derived from grain and therefor known as Graanjenever (Grain Jenever). This is important because nowadays there are a lot of differen types of Jenever in the shop, but not all of them are Graanjenever. How to tell them apart? Simple; if the label says Graanjenever, it is Graanjenever.
Jenever basically comes in two ‘flavours’; old and young Jenever. The difference between the two has nothing to do with age but with their distilling technique. Let me give a quick one-on-one.
Traditionally Barley is used to form malt, which is mixed with corn and rye to produce sugar. By adding yeast to the sugar, alcohol is formed. Distilling the alcohol three times formes malt wine (I hope I got this little story right).
Malt wine however is a semi-finished product. Old Jenever is produced by distilling this malt wine with juniper berries, a complex process which is executed differently by various brands. Old Jenever is then aged in wooden barrels (similar to whisky) resulting in a light yellow color and often a soft but rich taste.
Young Jenever was ‘discovered’ around 1900 when new distilling techniques were developed. One of these techniques was capable of producing pure grain alcohol being neutral in both taste and smell. By adding juniper berries a new type of Jenever was created.
With grain being unavailable during the second World War, young Jenever grew in popularity because it could be produced by using sugar beet. It will still be called Jenever, but never Graanjenever as explained earlier.
Gin versus Jenever
As opposed to Jenever, the world is familiar to Gin. The Gin-and-Tonic mix is consumed all over the world. But did you know that Gin is actually the bastard son of Jenever? No?
It started out in the 17th century when Willem of Orange became ruler of Britain. Willem imported Jenever to the UK which became known as Dutch Gin. But with his death so did Jenever import, leaving the British people craving for the drink they had learned to love.
That’s when British people started to try and reproduce Dutch Jenever. While they did not succeed, they did come up with their own version, simply called it Gin and created a successful marketing strategy. I must admit the merchandise paid off.
Some Jenever Facts:
- The Netherlands has 20 official Jenever cafés.
- The city of Schiedam hosts an actual Jenever museum.
- Once a year the museum hosts a Jenever festival.
- Jenever should be drunk from tulip shaped glasses.
My personal opinion
To conduct my research I have sacrificed myself into a Jenever tasting night. For that I bought different kind of Jenevers (not all Grain Jenever) to try and get a verdict. While they all tasted — sometimes only slightly — different, I agree with an earlier statement that old Jenever is more soft and more rich in flavour than young Jenever is, hence my favourite.
This conclusion leaves me with only one important question; what Jenever type/brand gave me the morning after headache? Until this very day I haven’t been able to find out.
“Even though a number of people have tried, no one has yet found a way to drink for a living.”— Jean Kerr.