Traditional Dutch Drinks - Jenever

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Jenever or Genever is essentially Dutch gin. The key ingredient that gives the spirit its distinctive flavor is Juniper berry.  The invention of Jenever is often attributed to a Dutch doctor in the late 1700s.  Variations of Jenever have existed even longer as medicine, the alcohol was flavored with Juniper to improve the taste. Eventually, the medicinal use was abandoned and the Dutch began to drink Jenever as a spirit.. Distilleries sprang up all over Holland and Schiedam, Rotterdam's satellite city with 200 distilleries, became the unofficial jenever capital. 

By 1792 Holland was exporting nearly 4.2 million gallons of jenever annually to Britain, Ireland, the Orient, the Middle East, Germany, France and Spain. There are two main types of jenever known as "jonge" and "oude",or young and old jenever. "Oude" is yellowish, aromatic, and mellow because it has a higher malt content than "Jonge", which is clear in color and blander in taste. Both, however, share common elements. They are made up of juniper berries, grain and molasses alcohol.

Jenever is also often cited as the forerunner of modern Gin. It was said to have been "discovered" by British troops who were sent to fight the 80-years war against Spain.  Jenever has also been credited with inspiring the term "Dutch Courage" for its warming and calming properties before a battle.

There are other types of jenever known as "bessen", "citroen", and "corenwyn" genever, or red currant, lemon, and corn wine accordingly. 

Where to find and taste Jenever

Schiedam and Amsterdam in the Netherlands are known for jenever and are occasionally called"jenever cities" (jeneversteden). Groningen and Dordrecht also produce jenever.  In Amsterdam, jenever is made by Van Wees and Wynandt Fockinck. Well-known Schiedam jenever distilleries include Melchers, Henkes, and Hasekamp. Lucas Bols (House of Bols) is prehaps the most well known brand of Jenever and also one of the most widely distributed.   The House of Bols attraction in Amsterdam walks through the history of the Bols brand and lets you make your own cocktail.  The Scheidam Jenver Museum is also a great attraction for learning the history of this storied liquor.

Tasting houses

Tasting houses, also known as "proeflokalen", were established by distilleries to introduce their wares to the public. Prospective customers (such as the general public, owners of cafes and restaurants) would sample a few liquors and then place their orders. 

They would carry the wares home in their own bottles. The tasting houses were not decorated. Wooden casks and bottles lined the walls and a long counter ran the length of the house. There were no tables and chairs as they were not bars, and therefore also closed early. Practically every distiller had its own tasting house. One of the first tasting houses was 't Lootsje (Little Bar), built in 1575 in Amsterdam by Lucas Bols. 

Tip: some tasting houses like Wynandt Fockinck in Amsterdam fill Jenever glasses to the very rim. Visitors are expected to lean over and take the first sip on the counter, before picking up the glass.