June 10, 2009
Last week I declared that gin would be Happy Hour’s operative agent of inebriation for the month of June. In accordance with that declaration, part 2 of Gin & June is about a lesser known variety of gin called Genever, the forefather of modern-day gin.
Although gin was popularized by the English, it originated with the Dutch. Invented in the late 16th century, Genever (also known as Jenever or Hollands) is a juniper-flavored spirit which gets its name from the Dutch word for juniper. It was the first type of gin ever produced, from which all other gins evolved, without which there would likely be no gin at all. In fact, while contemporary references to gin are understood to mean standard dry gin, many pre-20th century cocktail recipes which called for gin were really references to Genever.
As with many spirits, Genever was initially used for medicinal purposes–in this case promoted as a diuretic. However by the late 17th century its recreational consumption surpassed its use as a medicine as it gained popularity on the other side of the English Channel.
Genever is made by distilling a mix of malted barley, wheat, corn, and rye, called “malt wine.” These are essentially the same necessary components of malt whiskey, although whiskey ultimately travels a different path to become what it is. The distilled malt wine is then infused with a number of different botanicals, juniper being the primary one. This yields a spirit that is distinctively malty and much fuller-bodied than regular gin, which only has grains such as wheat and rye as the spirit base.
Today, as a result of the growing number of establishments dedicated to well-crafted classic cocktails, Genever is beginning to make a comeback in this country, as a handful of distilleries have responded to the increased demand by marketing their product in the U.S.
I had a difficult time trying to figure out which Genever cocktails I would share this week. The creative demons seemed almost unrelenting, as the flavor profile of my bottle of Bols Genever unlocked a practically endless array of options. Should I do a straight classic? Classic with a twist perhaps? Or maybe I should unlease the demons and make a cocktail involving 15 ingredients and 11 different steps? Ultimately I decided that less would be more in this case, and present a couple of cocktails that would allow the Genever to really shine.
The first cocktail is the John Collins, the less famous twin of Tom Collins. Although both siblings have effervescent personalities, and are always refreshing to be around, over the years John became somewhat of a forsaken and misunderstood sibling. Traditionally the only difference between Tom and John was that John was a bit more old school, and as such had an affinity for Genever; whereas Tom, ever the slave to the latest trend, felt dry gin better suited his taste.
For some reason however–perhaps having to do with the decrease in availability of Genever over the past century–John stopped coming around as often as he used to, and people began to forget what he was really like, to the point where they started to believe John was somehow a bourbon fanatic. Eventually the misinformation spread so far and wide that if you ask for John at a bar that doesn’t have its wits about it, you may end up with a drink that has bourbon in it! Well it’s certainly time to set the record straight and let John have his due time in the limelight, a task which Happy Hour is devotedly obliged to do. So for your summer sipping enjoyment please allow me to reintroduce you to the real John Collins as I know him.
John Collins (pictured above, left)
1 1/4 oz Genever
1 oz simple syrup
3/4 oz lemon juice
chilled club soda to top
Orange slice, lemon slice, and cherry for garnish (optional)
Tools: shaker, strainer
Glass: collins (I used a 10 oz collins glass; simply adjust upward if using standard 12 oz collins glass)
Fill collins glass with ice. Place everything except club soda in a shaker also filled with ice. Shake vigorously, strain into the collins glass, top with club soda, give a light stir, and add optional garnish.
Genever Old Fashioned (pictured above, right)
1 1/2 oz Genever
1/4 oz Grand Marnier
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 raw sugar cube
Glass: old fashioned
Place the sugar cube in the glass and pour the Angostura and Grand Marnier over it. Muddle the sugar cube until it dissolves. Add the Genever plus a couple of large pieces of ice (larger pieces keep the drink colder and melt slower). Squeeze the lemon twist over the glass to release its citrus oils; rub it around the rim and drop it in; give it a good stir, and let it sit for a minute or so before enjoying to allow the components to become better acquainted.
The lemon twist is essential in this drink. To cut a good twist simply take a knife or peeler and cut a section of lemon rind, trying to avoid as much white pith as possible.
The maltiness of the Genever really shines in both of these drinks, but in two different ways, and that’s ultimately why I provided these two recipes, to showcase Genever’s versatility. In the John Collins, the Genever, citrus, sugar, and club soda combine beautifully to form a drink that’s malty yet still crisp and refreshing. The Genever Old Fashioned, on the other hand, is a stronger cocktail with minimal non-alcoholic ingredients that really accentuate the smooth, rich maltiness of the Genever.
If you didn’t know about Genever before, I hope you’ve gained some appreciation for it and perhaps enticed you to try it in your next cocktail. For more creative cocktails made with Genever check out this recent post by the inimitable Kaiser Penguin.
Next week will be part 3 of Gin & June, where we’ll uncover another forgotten breed of gin you probably didn’t know existed, called Old Tom. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to make myself a Genever Old Fashioned. It is Happy Hour you know. Cheers!
Come back every Wednesday for Paystyle’s weekly Happy Hour column.
Photography by Vanessa Bahmani