What is Jenever?
The definition of jenever or genever is given in a Commodity Board Order and in European legislation. European legislation defines it as ‘a distilled beverage flavoured with juniper berries’.
The official definition is as follows:
“Jenever is an alcoholic beverage, colourless or light yellow, produced only from malt wine or malt wine distillate and from grain or from molasses-distilled alcohol, using microbiologically pure water, distilled with the addition of juniper berries and, if applicable, other spices and/or seeds, sweetened with sugar if applicable, with an alcohol content of at least 35% at 20°C”.
If the product is labelled as ‘grain genever’, the alcohol must have been obtained completely from grain. There are two types of genever: ‘old grain genever’ and ‘young grain jenever’.
Old genever (jenever) is genever prepared according to an old recipe. This type of genever has a more pronounced flavour. Furthermore, the flavour of juniper berries must be noticeable. Old grain genever is made only from grain alcohol.
Young jenever was introduced sometime around the end of World War II when genever drinkers switched to a drink with a more neutral flavour. Young grain jenever must obviously meet the requirements of grain jenever and therefore only grain alcohol will be used.
Korenwijn - Corenwijn - Dutch Malt
Korenwijn is a genever-like product that fits into a special category pursuant to the Dutch Commodities Act. Distillers add their personal signature to the end product in the form of a concentrated herbal distillate.
The origin of Jenever
Jenever is one of the oldest distilled quality beverages. It is still the most popular drink in the Netherlands: consumers drink approximately 25 million litres per year. As early as in the 16th century, Dutch distillers managed to draw a scrupulously clean liquid from their copper distilling vessels.
The discovery of alcohol
The history of alcohol is much older than the word itself. The distillation of alcohol from wine is a more or less incidental discovery by Italian alchemists that must have occurred between 1050 and 1150. The divine drink was initially used only as a medicine against a variety of diseases, whether real or unreal. Since distilling alcohol from wine proved to be a rather simple process, there was increasingly more demand for it, partly due to some major epidemics of plague.
The dissemination of distillation technology
The process of drawing distilled alcohol from wine really started to flourish in the late Middle Ages, especially, and for obvious reasons, in winegrowing regions. The central figure in the dissemination of this technology to France was Arnaud Villeneuve. Distillation significantly reduced the transport volume and the sea route also proved to be a good way to spread the distillation technology to the North. While the plan was to again dilute the brandy with water after the voyage across the North Sea, undiluted brandy turned out to have much more flavour.
The great breakthrough for Dutch distillers was due to the discovery of a mash of barley malt and other grains as basic ingredients for distillation. After germination, the grain (coorn) was dried (branden). With water and yeast added at the right temperature, a modest percentage of alcohol started to develop inside the sweet mash. A new craft was born, that of coornbrander. It started with attempts to equal gebrande wijn. Thus, the term korenbrandewijn became common in the Netherlands in the 18th century.
Three distillations resulted in the essential basic ingredient: malt wine. Distillers refined the malt wine by distilling it again while adding juniper berries and a variety of other, sometimes exotic herbs and spices since the flavour of malt wine was not always pleasant. The juniper berry proved to be the solution. Not only did the berry add flavour to the distillate, it was also thought to have a medicinal effect. Thus, genever was born.
The term ‘genever’
Although we will never know for sure who invented genever, distillers from French Flanders may have developed the recipe. This would explain the originally French term ‘genièvre’ or ‘genèvre’ used for the truly Dutch word ‘genever’. Whoever the inventor, the product has acquired a purely Dutch character over the years.
Schiedam and Amsterdam
In the 17th century, Rotterdam gained importance as a harbour and experienced significant population growth. Rotterdam was also an important grain-trading city. Distillers, however, were not desirable in the centre of town because there were often pig farms nearby that caused stench and nuisance: the spent grain remaining after distillation is very suitable as fodder. For this reason, distillers moved to the outskirts of the city and this is how Schiedam became the genever city. Around 1880, Schiedam had almost 400 distilleries. A similar development, albeit on a smaller scale, was seen in Amsterdam where distillers moved to the nearby town of Weesp.
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