Dutch Courage - Genever - Jenever, Geneva or Holland Gin

Genever is made by blending a unique distillate called maltwine with a carefully selected secret blend of botanicals; the result is a superior quality spirit with a unique smooth character that can be made into a variety of delicious cocktails.

Genever is produced in several stages. In the traditional Dutch setting, there are two major steps:

1. The transition of grains into a fermented wash and distilled malt wine:
  • Takes place in a place called the “Branderij”. This is a typical Dutch word which does not exist in English, i.e. it is simply translated as “Distillery”. Also the malting process of the grains took place in the “Branderij”, and was not performed by a specialized company as we see in modern times.
2. The maltwine is then re-distilled in the “Distilleerderij” (Distillery) in combination with guniperberries and other botanicals into Genever.
  • In some cases, such as Corenwyn, the Genever will be aged in wooden barrels for 3 to 15 or even up to 20 – 25 years.

Let's get started! Make your own Geneva.....

Make Maltwine (Moutwijn) (46-48% abv)

1. Mashing and fermentation

  • Traditional recipes show that equal shares of Rye, Corn and Malted Barley. The Rye, Corn and malted Barley must be ground into a coarse flour called "grist"
  • Next step will be the “mashing” process. Enzymes that were developed during the malting process are allowed to convert the barley starch into sugar, producing a sugary liquid known as "wort".
    • This is mixed with hot water in a large vessel called a mash tun.
    • As a basic rule, for each two kgs of grain, 4 liter of warm water of 65°C must be added. Because of adding the grain, the temperature will drop to approx. 55°C.   The grist is allowed to steep, maintain the temperature at  about 55°C during 30 minutes.
    • After 30 minutes, increase the temperature to 65°C by adding hot water. (approx. 4 liter). Maintain this temperature for about 1 hour, and stir the wash every now and then.
    • After this, increase the temperature to 72°C and maintain this for another 30 minutes. All starch will have been transformed in to fermentable sugars.
  • The next step is to filter the wort in order to remove all the remaining grain particles and get a clear fermentable liquid called wort.  Based on the volume used, you will get about 12-14 liter of wort with an SG of 1050-1060.
  • Cool the wort down to around 25°C (and not more, otherwise the yeast will not survive).
  • The wort is then transferred to another large vessel called a "wash back" where it is cooled. The yeast is added, and the wort is allowed to ferment. The resulting liquid, now at about 5–7% alcohol by volume, is separated from solid matter by filtering, and is a rudimentary form of beer called the "wash". The fermentation normally takes about 5 days.
  •  The wort should be transferred to the still and is ready for distillation. Important note: make sure that you do not transfer yeast slurry into the potstill as it will give you a very unpleasant taste which is very hard to remove afterwards.

2. The classical distillation process is as follows:

  • First Distillation or strip run: Low wine (Ruwnat) of about 20% abv
  • Second Distillation: Low wine (Enkelnat) of about 30% abv
  • Third distillation: Maltwine (Bestnat) of about 46 à 48% abv

The first and second distillation can be combined into one as modern equipment is capable of arriving at the required 22% abv.

3. Final step: from maltwine to Genever (Jenever or Geneva) in the distillery
Genever is a blend of pure maltwine and a distillate of Juniperberries and other botanicals.
For this reason, the achieved maltwine is split into four different volumes.

  • One volume remains as is pure maltwine
  • The second volume is redistilled in a small potstill which has been loaded with Juniperberries. The distillate has a very strong and fruity juniperberry flavor. The Dutch call this 'gebeide'.
  • The third part will be re-distilled in order to reach 75% alcohol (abv).
  • The fourth part will be re-distilled with a mixture of various botanicals. This part will give the Genever the nice soft and round flavor.

Genever is a composition of these four different spirits in a certain proportion, which varies between the various distilleries, a.k.a. the secret of the brand..  
It is great to try and experiment with different blending ratios and create your own signature Genever.

Most modern Genevers (Jenever) are based on 2/3 neutral alcohol (grain or sugar based) and 1/3 maltwine, Juniperberry extract and Botanicals.

The secret botanicals!

The exact mixture of the botanicals is obviously not revealed by the distilleries, but ingredients which are always part of the mix are listed below (English name, Latin name & Dutch name):

  • Juniper Berries  (Juniperus communis) (Jeneverbes) 6-8 grams per kg malted barley
  • Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) (Koriander)
  • St. John's Wort   (Hypericum perforatum)  (St. Janskruid)
  • Angelica (Angelica archangelica)   (Engelwortel )
  • Anise  (Pimpinella anisum) (anijs)
  • Dried orrange peelings (Citrusschillen)

A mixture which is very close to the one used by major distilleries as follows: (for 5 liter Genever)

  • 2 gr. Alsem (alsem)
  • 2 gr.  (Artemisia vulgaris) (bijvoet)
  • 2 gr. Blessed Thistle (Carduus benedictus) bitterdistel
  • 2 gr.  Angelica (Angelica archangelica)  (engelwortel)
  • 2 gr. hops (Humulus lupulus) (hop)
  • 10 gr. Juniper Berries  (Juniperus communis) (Jeneverbes)
  • 1 gr. Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) (kaneel)
  • 2 gr.  Caraway seed (Fructus Carvi) (karwijzaad)
  • 5 gr. Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) (Koriander)
  • 1 gr. Nutmeg  (Myristica fragrans) (nootmuskaat)
  • 0,5 gr. All spice (Pimenta dioica) (piment)
  • 1,5 gr.Orange peeling  (sinaasappelschil)
  • 1 gr. orange blossom (sinaasappelbloesem)

Dissolve the botanicals in 500 ml maltwine, let it soak for 2 to 3 days and distill it in a small potstill (Erlenmeyer set up) to create the Genever esprit. Dilute the espirit with maltwine to around 38%-40% abv, while adding 2 gr of white sugar per liter. The flavor becomes nice and rounded if you allow the Genever to sit for two to three weeks before drinking it...




Various styles of Genever

In 1650 Franciscus Sylvius, a Dutch doctor, created Dutch Genever in an attempt create a diuretic medicine. This was then used by soldiers in the Thirty Years' War by English troops and was an instant success for its warming properties on the body in cold weather and its calming effects before battle. Because of the effects of Dutch gin English soldiers fighting in the Dutch Republic in the 17th century apparently called the drink "Dutch Courage".

The major Dutch distillers such as Bols have re-introduced the name “Genever” as a nice marketing gadget, mainly for the USA market.
There are styles of Genever. The most common styles are:

  • Berry Genever (Bessenjenever): A Jenever with blackberry and red berry. The genever has a nice red color and has a subtile red fruit flavor and a round sweet taste.
  • Young Genever (Jonge jenever): Young refers to the fact that it is based on a more recent recipe than the old traditional 18th & 19th century genevers. It is based on grain alcohol but also sugar beet alcohol can be used by some distillers. Normally it is based on grains and distilled twice and flavored by various botanicals such as angelica root, aniseed, ginger root, apricot nuts, learwyt seed, etc.  Most distillers refer to 14 different botanicals. It is a clear spirit and most commonly served chilled, and can also be used in mix drinks.
  • Old Genever (Oude jenever): Old does not refer to aged Genever, but refers to “old recipe”. The color of Old Genever is slightly yellowish due to the added malt wine (a distillate of malted grains). You can very easily recognize a high quality product by putting a few drops of Oude Genever on your hand and rub it in. The alcohol will evaporate and you should smell a nice malty flavor, comparable to the smell of fresh baked bread.
  • Corenwyn (Korenwijn): The exclusive "Corenwyn" is one of those products with a rich history and a loyal following. Translated literally, "Corenwyn" means, quite simply, "grain wine". The term, however, was reserved for the very finest distillations of grain, "Corenwyn" is produced in copper stills and the spirit is aged in oak casks (French Oak). From these casks the spirit obtains its pale golden colour and its distinctive, mellow taste. Finally the "Corenwyn" is bottled in hand-made stone jars, the original and traditional vessel for this King of Dutch spirits. A Dutch distiller, Bols, has now registered the name Corenwyn as tradename.

The basics of Genever manufacturing:
I will also refer to the Dutch words where possible, as with most Genevers you will see that distillers use the Dutch words as a marketing gadget to build an image of exclusivity. Do not get fooled by them and understand what it actually means.

Genever is a grain based distillate, so you need according to the historical recipes the following two grains for the grainbill;

  • Rye ( in Dutch: Rogge): provides a strong and a bit harsh flavor and a relative cheap grain to use.
  • Malted Barley (Gemoute Gerst): Malted barley is needed as it contains the enzymes which are critical to the fermentation process of Rye and Corn starch.
  • Corn ( in Dutch: Maïs) only came to europe in the 18th century and was added later to the receipe as cheaper raw material. It does softens a bit the harsh flavor of Rye. Using only corn would result in a Genever which lacks character.

Making Genever is a relative simple process which was already mastered by Dutch distillers in the 16th century with very basic equipment and under very primitive circumstances.  The commercial distilleries these days claim that it a traditional but complex process which is only mastered by them. Guess what, that is all marketing bogus and a very good Genever can be made by amateur (home) distillers like you and me. 

The first step in producing Genever is identical to brewing an all grain beer.. The traditional distilling process of Genever was to triple distill the fermented grain mash. This was need as the old distillation equipment was far from efficient and only by distilling the wash three times, you could reach the required 40% abv alcohol content. The modern distilleries in most cases only distill it two times…or even only onces in a column still.

Council Regulation EEC No 1576/89

Distilled beverage obtained by flavouring with Juniperus Communis of ethyl alcohol from agricultural raw materials and/or grain spirits and/or grain distillate with juniper berries.

The differences

Malt alcohol and maltwine (moutwijn)
Maltwine is based on a mixture of equal volumes of Corn and Rye and Malted Barley grains and distilled in potstills. Alcohol strength is between 46%-48% abv, and has a very strong malted grain flavor.
Grain alcohol has an alcohol strength of 96% and is therefore distilled in a column still. It has a neutral taste

Young and Old Genever
During the second world war, there was a significant shortage of grains to produce maltwine. For this reason, the content of maltwine in Genever was reduced significantly. After the war, two versions of Genever were available: Young Genever (Jonge Jenever),  Mainly based on neutral alcohol, and the Genever based on the pre-war recipe maltwine: Old Genever (oude jenever). The classical Genever, based on 100% maltwine (moutwijn) was hardly produced anymore. In the 1970’s the distiller tried to maintain marketshare as Scottish whiskey became more popular and re-introduced the classical 100% maltwine based Genever under the name Korenwijn, or Corenwyn – the trademark of Royal Bols distilleries.  

The composition of Genevers (Jenevers) - the facts and not the marketing story....

  • Young Genever (Jonge jenever)
    • Based on ethylalcohol  from agricultural products such as sugar beet melasse, potato starch, etc)
    • Contains Max 15% Maltwine (moutwijn), but no legal minimum is required..(!)
    • Contains max 10 gram sugar/liter
    • No color
    • Min 35% abv alcohol
    • No legal requirement regarding juniperberry extracts and/or other botanicals
  • Old Genever (Oude jenever)
    • Based on ethylalcohol from agricultural products such as sugarbeet melasse, potato starch, etc)
    • Contains Min 15% Maltwine (moutwijn).
    • Contains max 20 gram sugar/liter
    • Color light yellow/brownish
    • Min 35% abv alcohol
    • Caramel allowed to adjust the color
    • Clearly a juniperberry flavor
  • Korenwijn (Corenwyn)
    • Contains at least 51% maltwine (moutwijn)
    • Only 100% grain based ethylalcohol allowed
    • Contains max 20 gram sugar/liter
    • Color light yellow/brownish or neutral
    • Min 38% abv alcohol
    • Caramel allowed to adjust the color
    • Only natural flavor additives allowed
  • Grain Genever (Graanjenever): Young or old Genever (Jenever) based on 100% grain based alcohol with a minimum of 30% abv alcohol