Genever (jenever) & korenwijn

  • Genever (jenever) & korenwijn image 8485

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Also known as jenever, jeneva, geneva and hollands is a juniper-flavoured spirit from Holland and Belgium. Helpfully, the van Dale Dictionary, Holland’s equivalent to the Oxford English, lists the first published use of the word ‘genever’ in 1672 (spelt with a ‘g’). The various different spellings stem from the French word for juniper being ‘genièvre’ while the Dutch word is ‘jineverbes’.

The juniper flavouring means that genever is technically a gin, and it was the forerunner of the London gin styles which dominate today's market. However, genever is a very distinctive style of juniper spirit. Unlike most gins, it is a blend of two very different spirits - botanical-infused neutral spirit and malt-wine, a kind of unaged whiskey. Due to this, it retains more of the flavour of some of its base ingredients - rye, malted barley and maize - than most common gin styles, which are based on neutral spirit alone.

Some might describe genever as a cross between a whiskey, a vodka and a gin. In its homeland, it is often sold with fruit flavouring, such as orange or lemon.

Genever production

Dutch genever production traditionally centres on the town of Schiedham, near Rotterdam. In Belgium, it is produced mainly around the towns of Hasselt and Ghent.

As stated above, genever is a blend of two different spirits.

The first spirit, moutwijn (malt-wine), is what gives genever its distinctive flavour. This is a kind of unaged whiskey made by triple and sometimes quadruple pot-distilling a mixture of cereals, typically rye, corn and wheat with malted barley less commonly used. After the final distillation, the malt-wine leaves the pot still at around 47% alc./vol.: a relatively low distillation strength which yields a spirit that retains more of the malty flavours of its base ingredients. The first distillation is called 'ruwnat', the second 'enkelnat', the third 'bestnat' (actually malt wine) and the optional forth distillation 'korenijn'.

The second is produced in a very similar way to most London Dry gins. Neutral spirit (very high strength vodka) is redistilled with a recipe of botanical flavourings, most typically including juniper, coriander, caraway, orris, angelica. The result, while the flavour profile can be very different from most London Dry gins, is essentially a gin. Genever must contain juniper, but it does not have to be the predominant flavour, or indeed even noticeable in the finished genever.

Finally, the two spirits are blended together. The percentage of malt wine used varies according to the style of genever being made: see below. Originally and until the end of the 1800s, genever was malt wine. The addition of the flavoured spirit to 'stretch' the malt-wine only came about after the invention of the continuous still led to the production of good quality, clean neutral spirits.

If the genever is to benefit from aging in oak then the malt wine and flavoured natural spirits may be aged separately and blended prior to bottling.

Genever styles

There are four basic styles of genever - 'oude' (literally, 'old'), 'jonge' ('young'), 'korenwijn' ('corn wine') and fruit genevers. They differ in their use of botanicals and the percentage of malt-wine contained: each must contain at least a certain percentage of malt-wine, and this is specified by law.

Jonge genever

Jonge genever is so named because it is a modern, young style. It was first developed in the 1950s in response to consumer demand for a lighter flavoured, more mixable genever. Jonge genevers contain a lower percentage of malt-wine than either oude or korenwijn styles, typically only about 5%, and generally have fewer botanicals as well: in some brands, the juniper is barely detectable.
Jonge genever must:
• Contain no more than 15% malt wine.
• Be at least 35% alcohol by volume.
• Contain a maximum of 10 grams of sugar per litre.
• If the label states 'graangenever' or 'grain jenever' then the neutral spirits used must be 100% grain based.

Oude genevers

Despite the name, Oude genevers do not have to be aged. They are so called because they are a more traditional, older-style genever, as opposed to jonge jenevers, which are modern. They usually also produced using more botanicals than jonge styles. Proportions and recipes vary from one brand to another, and different brands have very different characters, but aromatic botanicals like aloe and myrrh are often used to flavour oude genevers.

Oude genevers must:
• Contain at least 15% malt-wine.
• Be at least 35% alcohol by volume.
• Contain a maximum of 20 grams of sugar per litre.
• If the label states 'graangenever' or 'grain jenever' then the neutral spirits used must be 100% grain based.
• Oude genever do not have to be aged but if a label mentions aging, then the genever must have been aged for at least one year in a barrel of 700 litres or less.

Korenwijn' (corn wine)

The third category of genever is 'korenwijn' (which Bols spell 'corenwyn').

Korenwijn jenvers must:
• Contain at least 51% malt-wine.
• Be at lest 38% alcohol by volume.
• Contain a maximum of 20 grams of sugar per litre.
• Korenwijn does not have to be aged but like Oude genever if it is it must be aged for at least one year in a barrel of 700 litres or less.

Other terms

The initials ZO stand for the Dutch 'Zeer Oude', or 'very old'. They have no precise implication but suggest that the genever is straw-coloured and slightly sweeter than jonge. Likewise 'Extra Oude' has no legal classification but is often used to emphasise that a genever has been aged.

Fruit genevers

As the term would suggest these are fruit flavoured genevers. They are a modern phenomenon gaining in popularity since WWII. Fruit genevers tend to emphasise the fruit with little malt wine or botanical character discernible.

Serving genever

The Dutch and Belgians drink their genever neat in ice-cold glasses. The traditional Dutch method is known as Kopstoot (pronounced 'Cop-Stout') and literally translates as 'a blow for your head': simply drink a shot of ice-cold genever from a small, tulip-shaped glass, then follow with a sip of beer.

Jonge genever may be mixed with tonic, soda or cola in a similar fashion to vodka. The proportion of juniper in some brands is so low that even those who do not enjoy the taste of London Dry gin may savour a jonge genever and tonic.

Some people mix genever with bitters. Splash a few drops of bitters in an old-fashioned glass, rotate the glass to coat, then top up with cold genever and ice. This yields a drink not dissimilar in style to the British pink gin.


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