You wouldn't trust a skinny chef, and I'm drunk as hell

A World of Spirits: Bols Genever

Hello and welcome back to the return of “A World of Spirits” ! And I guess, the return of drink society! I have been AFC (away from computer) for almost a month due to birthday shenanigans, holidays and various changes in my job world. However I will be posting twice this week to hopefully slightly make up for it. Today, as I went to Amsterdam last month, I will be covering Bols Genever.

Read more after the break.

This may be my longest post yet, so grab a coffee and get comfortable.

Today I will be talking about genever, a relatively uncommon spirit in the rest of the world nowadays. But it is the forefather of gin, in fact the name gin comes from the word genever. The story goes that when english soldiers were over in Holland, they were drinking the local spirit for courage (this is also where the phrase “dutch courage” comes from.) When they brought the spirit back with them to England, they bastardised the name to “gin”

It wasn’t quite the London dry we know today, there was a step between that called old tom, but thats a story for another day. Haymans? Jensen? Anyone fancy inviting me to their distillery to talk about you guys next?

In the last century or so genever has become not as favoured for mixing as it was in the end of the 19th century. Back then, whenever a recipe called for “gin” it was probably talking about genever. Recently we are seeing a resurgence in classic drinking and so that’s why we are seeing products like Bols genever making a return in a lot of the high end cocktail bars.

So on my trip to Amsterdam I made a stop by the “House of Bols” thinking that it was a distillery. I was a little annoyed to find out that it wasn’t – it was more of a museum for the genever, a tasting experience for the liqueurs, and a flairing academy for bartenders. Pfft. But it did have a bar attached, and the museum of genever was pretty cool, and provided enough information for me to break down the genever with you guys today.

It was a self guided tour, and we got there around 4:00 and it would have been 11 euros for the tour, one free cocktail and 2 free tasters each, but the lady very nicely told us if we came back in an hour the price would be reduced by 25%! So because we needed something to eat anyway, we came back a little later and went around the museum. I will tell you more about it after this arty photo and a picture of all the genevers we got to try at the bar.

The Bols museum shows a selection of old spirits and paraphernalia. They are encased in big glass cases, and all around the place on the walls is the history of the company.

It was founded in 1575 as a liqueur company, it was not until 1664 that the Bols family began producing genever.

In the next 200 years, the company spreads its tendrils throughout the world, in 1700 Lucas Bols obtains exclusive rights to trade in liqueurs through the Dutch East India Company

By 1816, the last descendant of the Bols family passes away, and the company is taken over by a company who promise to uphold the Bols family name.

In 1820, the recipe for the genever is streamlined to be more smooth and balanced, and better for mixing.

The year of 1823 is when the product finally lands on the fair shores of the United States of America and in 1844 the bottles change to the iconic ceramic bottles that you can see above.

Bols built a lot of pubs in various cities around the world to try and promote their products, by 1880 the export to america of genever was 6 times the amount of gin.

The first corenwyn was released in 1883, this is a mixture of aged and blended genever distillate.

By 1900, Bols is distributed in 100 countries across the world.

There doesn’t seem to be very much information about Bols between 1900 and 1970, I’m guessing this is probably due to prohibition in American affecting sales, and then the industrialisation of food in the 50s and 60s probably saw trends head toward new, less flavourful products (such as ol’ smirnov vodka)

In fact, genever seems to fall off of the map completely up until very recently.

So we see that in 2006, Bols reopened their distillery in Amsterdam, and by 2008 they had re-launched the famous Bols genever.

So after that brief history lesson, we are left with one final question? How exactly do they make this stuff?

Well, according to ‘The Art of Making Whiskey’ by Anthony Boucherie in 1819 “I will now offer to the public the manner of making Gin, according to the methods used by the distillers in Holland. It may be properly joined to the art of making whiskey, as it adds only to the price of the liquor, that of the juniper berries, the product of which will amply repay its costs…”

Production after a little photo break 😉

Right so, genever production! (Adapted from the bols museum wall and the bartenders gin compendium by gary regan)

Firstly, a malt wine is distilled from a mash of cereals, typically rye, corn, barley and wheat. Bols uses only barley.

It is run through a pot still, to get the flavour characteristics desired.

The process behind this is a little too complicated for a blog post about bols, so if you are really interested you can email me with any questions, or you can wait until I do a post about the distillation process, which is in the works. Just not soon. Ha.

It comes off the pot still between 46 and 48% ABV.

By running it through more than once they get the product to the ABV desired, so the third run nets you ‘malt wine’ and the fourth gets you ‘corn wine’ which is where they stretch the run to get more product. More on that later.

They then make a neutral spirit with a continuous still.

Then the neutral spirit is infused with botanicals.

The botanicals for bols are:-

  • juniper (standard)
  • anise seeds
  • clove
  • angelica root
  • ginger
  • orris
  • coriander
  • liquorice
  • and slightly more unusually – hops
  • possibly several more

This is allowed to steep for several hours, and then redistilled.

Bols is unusual in that it infuses and distills the juniper berries separately to the other botanicals and then married at the end.

The neutral spirit is wheat based.

This product is then mixed with the malt wine.

Roughly 60% of the final product is the malt wine product.

So in effect, the difference between dry gin and genever is that the dutch marry up regular dry gin with the malt wine (which is the whiskey like distillate i was talking about earlier – the stuff made from barley)

This is why in David Wondrich’s Imbibe, the book I covered here, he suggests if you can’t get hold of genever, to do a gypsy version where you mix plymouth gin 7/8ths with irish whiskey 1/8. Interesting stuff. Never tried it.

They then have the option to age it, if desired. Sometimes a little sugar is also added.

So finally a couple of different types of genever, and their various properties.

Malt-wine genever:

This generally refers to a genever with a malt wine content over 51%. This is what Jerry Thomas would have been mixing with in the 1800s. However this style is pretty uncommon these days.

Corn-wine genever (aka corenwyn, korenwijn):

Corenwyn must contain at least 51% malt wine, be at least 38% ABV, and contain no more than 20g sugar per litre.

Old genever (Oude):

Old genever must contain at least 15% malt wine, be at least 35% ABV and contain no more than 20g of sugar per litre.

Young genever (Jonge):

Young genever must contain a maximum of 15% of malt wine, be at least 35% ABV and contain no more than 10g of sugar per litre.

Bols Jonge genever contains 3% malt wine, and therefore is very popular with young people as it fits in with the vodka drinking pallete and crowd.

One cocktail to follow a picture break 😉

The Holland House:

1 3/4 shot genever

>1/4 shot maraschino

3/4 shot noilly prat

1/2 shot lemon juice

Lemon twist garnish

That’s all for today folks, if I’ve missed anything let me know, I’m pretty tired. I’ll leave you with a couple of my favourite Bols posters from my trip, and I’ll see you in a couple of days.



One response

  1. I tried Genever recently, but not Bols. I have a bottle fo Bokma Oude, and I REALLY like it. It seems liek a halfway between my two favourite spirits at the moment – gin and rye whiskey. It’s makes nice variations to substitute for either of these. Like, I had a delciious Genever Old-Fashioned the other day – superb!

    11 April, 2012 at 1:35 PM

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