DrinkWire is Liquor.com’s showcase for the best articles, recipes and reviews from the web’s top writers and bloggers. In this post, Tony Sachs offers insight into genever.
It's hard to wrap one's head around 100% maltwine genever when the entire genever category is still little more than a vague rumor to a lot of imbibers who aren't from the areas of Europe where it's made and consumed (mainly Holland and Belgium). The knee-jerk response to "what the heck is genever, anyway?" is often "Dutch gin." Which is sort of true — its dominant botanical is juniper, and its history can be traced forward to the London Drys we know and love today. But while gin's base is neutral spirits, genever comes from a distillate heavy on the malted rye and barley known as maltwine, which is closer to an unaged whiskey than a vodka. Sounds a little weird, but the taste is complex and fascinating, and it substitutes brilliantly for gin in just about any cocktail that isn't a martini (genever and dry vermouth don't play particularly well together).
In the 19th century, genever and gin were essentially one and the same. The "Holland gin" called for in vintage bar books like Jerry Thomas' is in fact genever. Today, genever is generally a combination of maltwine and neutral grain spirits, but back then it was 100% maltwine. 100% maltwine genever is so rare nowadays, especially Stateside, that many people don't know it's even a thing. When I posted about how few there are on social media recently, I was gently reminded of deserving brands I may have forgotten, like Rutte and By The Dutch. And while they are indeed deserving of attention, they're not 100% maltwine.
To the best of my knowledge, there are exactly two 100% maltwine genevers currently available in the U.S. Both are newly released, and both claim to be limited editions. Bols' 100% Malt Spirit ($70), made by the most established name in genever, claims to be a recreation of their original recipe, a mixture of corn, wheat and rye along with juniper which dates back to 1664. It's got a lot more going on than Bols' standard genever — it's much heavier and more complex, with malt, spice, and piney juniper notes standing out. It's a raucous sipper, a party in your mouth that's gotten just a wee bit out of hand. In a Martinez, the best-known genever cocktail in this day and age, it really makes its presence felt.
Old Duff Genever ($50) dates all the way back to 2017, but one-man operation Philip Duff knows his genever, so much so that he's worked with Bols in conjunction with his consulting firm, Liquid Solutions. A native of Ireland, Duff lived in Holland and owned a bar there for many years, developing an outsized appreciation for genever in the process. He takes pains to convey that Old Duff is "Real Dutch Genever," meaning it's made in Holland rather than Belgium, where most "Dutch" genevers are currently made (Bols is made in Holland as well). Old Duff is distilled from a mash of 2/3 rye and 1/3 malted barley and blended with juniper and hops. Compared to Bols, it's much cleaner and smoother, starting off with hints of cool menthol and finishing with a tingly rye spice. The hops make their presence known as much as the juniper, and linger a lot longer on the aftertaste.
The nice thing about these genevers is that they don't taste very similar, which means you don't have to think about which one to get — you should get them both. And if they wind up leading you down the genever rabbit hole, so much the better. There's a whole new world out there to discover.