Expert Guide to Genever

By Timo Torner / Last updated on May 28, 2024

Genever has been popular in the Netherlands and Belgium for a very long time. This traditional Dutch spirit is not only the predecessor of Gin but also has similarities to Whiskey.
Genever, Geneva, Dutch Gin -bottles with juniper in background

Genever (or jenever) is an important part of Dutch and Belgian culture. The distilled spirit dates back to the 1500s and, initially, has been used as an alcoholic and herbal-infused cure-all. Translated to English, jenever means juniper, revealing the importance of juniper berries for the spirit.

The Dutch spirit goes by many other names, like geneva, genièvre, jenever, Holland-style Gin, or Dutch Gin. It can be clear and unaged, lightly aged with a pale amber color, or aged in wooden oak barrels for several years resulting in a darker brown color similar to Whiskey or Rum.

Today, many people know that Genever is related to Gin. However, asking Genever producers about their product, they often say it's more of a cross between Whiskey and Gin. So, what is it exactly?

What is Genever?

Genever is a blend of malt wine and botanical distillates that produces separately and are then combined. The amount of malt wine used for classification into oude (old) and jonge (young) Geenver. 

As mentioned, Genever was the forerunner of Gin, which, in turn, was developed by the British after William of Orange became King and drove the popularity of Genever in Britain. 

Yet, Genever is not only closely connected to Gin but also to Whiskey. It is made from a base of malted grain - in most cases, that is either rye, barley, or corn. However, unlike Whiskey, Genever is then flavored with botanicals before it's blended.

How is it related to Gin?

Gin was invented after William of Orange became King of England and introduced Genever to England. As the distillers in England were unfamiliar with the distillation process of malted grains, they simplified the production process by using neutral spirits, later infused with a selection of botanicals, predominantly juniper berries.

These early versions of Gin have been refined over time and ultimately led to Gin as we know it today. The flavor profile of Gin today is a lot less complex than that of a Genever. That mostly got to do with the complexity the malted grains bring to the spirit. 

Different Genever types

The spirit is typically classified into one of three categories: oude, jonge, and korenwijn. The main differentiator between these three types is the amount of malt wine used in the blend. - Depending on the type of Genever, the blend contains up to 75% of malt wine in it. 

  1. Jonge Genever - Jonge translates to "young" Genever and contains a maximum of 15% malt wine. That leads to a fresher, cleaner, and mild flavor, making it more approachable for people new to the spirit.
  2. Oude Genever - An Oude ("old"), on the other hand, contains at least 15% and up to 50% of malt wine. The flavor profile of this type is a lot more aromatic and way more robust. 
  3. Korenwijn - If the spirit is made from more than 50% malt wine (up to 70%), it's called korenwijn. That translates to "grain wine" and the spirit is even more aromatic than Oude. It's a very old and traditional Genever style, often bottled at 35% to 40% ABV.

How Genever is produced

Genever is made in three steps. During the first step, malted grains are distilled into a low-ABV malt wine. The second is re-distilling the malt wine with different botanicals in separate batches. In many cases, one is made with juniper berries only, while the other is infused with the selected botanicals. 

During the last step, the batches are blended, then malt wine is added to the mix to create Genever.

How to serve

Genever is traditionally served neat in a tulip-shaped glass filled to the brim. It often comes together with a fruity liqueur or a glass of beer. The latter combination is called "kopstootje", which can be seen as the Dutch equivalent of a Boilermaker

Jonge Genever is also often served on ice for a cleaner taste. In contrast, Oude and aged Genevers are best at room temperature. Just like with good Whiskey, Rum, or Tequila, this should help to appreciate the different aromas and flavors in the spirit.

3 Genevers to try

Bols Genever

Bols Genever bottle

One of the oldest and most beloved producers, Bols, has been crafting their original recipe since 1820. Made with 22 botanicals, their distinctive spirit is translucent in the glass with a warm, sweet vanilla-tinged aroma. The malty palate is grainy and slightly viscous with a long finish of vanilla and cinnamon heat. 

Diep9 Oude Genever

Diep9 Oude Genever bottle brown

For a connoisseur of malty spirits, Diep 9 Old Genever is a perfect choice. With just a subtle hint of sweetness, this Dutch-style Genever provides an exquisite balance on the palate - a delight for Genever fans and an accessible entry point for those new to the style. 

Unlike other Genevers, juniper is less dominant, allowing the malt and grain to become the stars of the show. You'll get just a hint of juniper, but it's more part of the background than the lead. Enjoy a unique taste experience that's sure to please!

DeBorgen Malt Genever Cask Finished

DeBorgen Malt Genever cask finished bottle

Aged in oloroso sherry casks, this Genever produced by DeBorgen has a deep amber hue with hints of cocoa and sarsaparilla in the mild aroma. The palate is overall quite complex and finishes with notes of caraway and hints of coconut. 

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