Monday, 2 February 2015

A Journey through Gins lesser known relatives (Part 1: Genever)

So we have talked about Gin and what Craft Gin represents in my earlier posts, one area we haven’t covered is the fringe Gin categories, you may have heard of Genever, Sloe Gin or Old Tom but perhaps had no idea of what that meant. Stay tuned over the next few days to find out what these are, how they are produced and a little bit of History about these unique relatives of traditional distilled Gin.
I thought it only appropriate to start at the beginning with Genever or Jenever as this style of Gin is the
forefather of Gin, without Genver Gin as we know it today would not exist.

Gevener /Jenever

How is it made

Genever is a traditional Dutch spirit created containing Juniper berries. Genever differs from English Gin in that it is made using barley malt/rye made into malted wine and is distilled to a lower alcohol content ~50% similar to whiskey.
This differs from traditional Gin that uses a neutral spirit as a base ie a spirit that has been distilled at a very high, up to 96% alc/vol which removes most of the taste of the original grain/fruit/potato used in your mash.

Next you take your distilled malted wine and re-distill it or a portion of it with your botanicals which must include Juniper as you would when producing a British style Gin. Genever is often redistilled 3 or 4 times adding different botanicals at different stages before finally blending back the various distillations at the end to get the desired intensity/flavour and alcoholic strength.

To be named Genever it must be produced in the Netherlands or Belgium and there are 2 types of Genever.
Oude Genever  (old) is the traditional style as described above and must contain upwards of 15% malt wine and no more than  20 grams of added sugar per litre.
Jonge Genever (young) came about around the 1900s when distilling techniques had improved and is created using mostly neutral spirit as with British Gin. Jonge Genever is produced with no more than 15% malted wine and a maximum of 10 grams of sugar per litre.

So Genever is often sweeter than British style Gin, Oude  Genever is often aged in casks for up to 3 years. So you can see that Jonge is more like a lighter british style Gin and Oude can be sweeter with heavier malty characters like a whiskey.

The History
The exact date of creation for the first Gevever is unclear but there are references to Genever used for medicinal purposes in Belgium and the Netherlands going back as far as the 1400s and it is believed to be much older than this. By the late 1400s the Dutch had levied excise taxes against Genever so one can assume that by this stage it was seen as an alcoholic beverage rather than medicine. Genever is also responsible for coining the phrase Dutch courage. English soldiers fighting in the Netherlands used to drink Genever to steady there nerves before going into battle referring to it Genever as “Dutch Courage”. It is believed that these same English soldiers returned from the war bringing with them a taste for Genever which they shortened to Gin and hence started the original production of Gin in London leading to the Gin Craze in the late 1600s.
Genever has continued to be the traditional spirit of Choice in the Netherlands and Belgium until the prohibition there in 1919.

An interesting aside: The strength of modern day Belgian beers owe something to Genever or should i say the lack of Genever due to prohibition in Belgium from 1919-1983. It is said that many brewers increased their alcohol content around this time to console drinkers forced to give up Genever due to laws prohibiting serving of distilled spirits in public places.

Tune in next time for the low down on Sloe Gin.

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