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Jenever: The Production

Jenever: The Production

Jenevers started off as an medicine in the late 16th Century. After the 17th Century it was consumed less and less for medicinal purposes and more as an alcoholic beverage.

Known as the Dutch gin, Jenever has been around since the 17th Century. It is believed that the first jenever distiller was Franciscus de le Boë Sylvius. He first distilled the beverage to relief muscle pains and named it “Genièvre”, which is French for juniper berry. In the 18th Century, it became a very popular drink which led to the export of large quantities of jenever to England. When it arrived in London it became the inspiration for London Dry Gin.

Since 2008, Jenever was only allowed to be produced in The Netherlands, where it is always consumed neat. Its soft, subtle flavor and malty taste makes it an ideal sipping drink. 

Just like vodka, there is also some speculation when it comes to the origin of Jenever. The Dutch are convinced that it’s a Dutch invention, while Belgium claims that it’s theirs. Whatever the origin may be, it is considered a typical Dutch drink, since the most popular jenever brand “Bols” is originally from The Netherlands.

Jenever Production
Before the 19th Century, only malt wine was used for the production of Jenever. After the discovery of column stills, the distillers discovered that in addition to the traditional grains, they can also produce jenever from molasses. Molasses is the  syrupy residue from sugar production and produces a neutral pure spirit. If the label on the bottle says “grain jenever” then you can conclude that only grains have been used during the production. The production of Jenevers starts with the raw materials that form the basis of the final product. The raw materials are malt, wheat, corn, maize and rye, each adding their own character to the drink. Something very much appreciated by the connoisseurs.

The raw materials are grounded and then steeped into liquid and cooked. During this process the malt is converted into maltose sugar, which is then converted into alcohol. Next stop is fermentation. The grinded grains are mixed with water and yeast, which produces milky beer like liquid containing numerous by-products. This is when the craftsmanship of the distiller is put to the test, because these by-products can either improve the final product's taste or worsen it. Finding the right balance will make a final product with the right taste.

The liquid is then moved to copper stills and gently heated. Because alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, it evaporates faster. The vapors are then cooled and liquefied. This process increases the alcohol level from 8% to 20%. In order to produce jenever, the liquid can be distilled up to four times. Each distillation increases the alcohol level to a maximum of 72%.

The final step in making jenever can be done in two methods. A mix of juniper berries, herbs, fruits and seeds are hung over malt wine, molasses alcohol or a combination of the two. The first method includes heating the liquid so the vapors rise and extract the flavors from the hanging mixture. The other is mixing the alcohol with the mixture of juniper berries, herbs and fruit and heating them all together. Whichever method the distiller chooses, the liquid must be watered down to a 35% alcohol level before bottling.