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Drink of the Week: The Genever Old Fashioned

The Genever Old Fashioned.Before there was gin, there was genever — sometimes also called jenever — a concoction that is similar and yet different from the ubiquitous clear booze we now enjoy in our martinis and G&Ts. One obvious geographical difference is that most gins are now made in England or thereabouts, and by law, a liquor can only be marketed as genever if it’s from the Netherlands or Belgium. Only a few brands can be found at all in the United States and, so far, I’ve only seen one on store shelves: Bols Genever. The flavor is definitely different; the manufacturing process is more similar to whiskey, and many detect a more malty flavor.

There’s quite a bit more history on how Dutch genever became English gin, and you can learn some of it in a post I wrote a few years back. However, I never actually owned a bottle of the stuff until this week, when curiosity finally got the better of me and I purchased a bottle of Bols. In Europe, I understand that genever is often served more or less in the same way that whiskey or vodka is traditionally consumed there — more or less straight, possibly with a beer chaser or with a small amount of sugar. It’s use in cocktails is something I’m still learning about, though I know it has been mentioned in some of the oldest cocktail books.

I am, however, under the impression that Old Fashioneds are one popular way to serve genever, and the ur-cocktail seems like a pretty good place to start with one of the ur-liquors. At the same time, genever isn’t whiskey, so you might want to vary the recipe ever so slightly from the basic whiskey Old Fashioned. Or, maybe you don’t.

The Genever Old Fashioned

2 ounces genever
1 teaspoon sugar or agave syrup or 1/4 ounce maple syrup
1 teaspoon plain or soda water
1-2 dashes aromatic bitters
1 cocktail cherry and/or 1 orange twist or slice (recommended garnish)

Combine the genever, sweetener, bitters and water in an Old Fashioned glass, stir, add ice and stir some more. Alternatively, you can put all of that into a cocktail shaker with ice, shake it and pour it into an Old Fashioned glass with fresh ice. Add the garnish of your choice and prepare for something just a little bit different. Yet another option, borrowed from my favorite way to make a regular whiskey Old Fashioned by building it in the glass, is to muddle an orange slice together with the other ingredients before adding the ice and stirring.


As you might have guessed, I actually tried this drink a number of ways and, like the standard whiskey-based Old Fashioned, at least when using Bols Genever, it’s hard to muck up if you hew to the basic proportions, though it’s marked by a somewhat bitter back taste that some will enjoy and others won’t.

The only real issue I found was that it can become a little bit too sweet if you’re not careful about varying your sweeteners. In particular, I found that 1/4 of an ounce of agave syrup was too much — a teaspoon, however, was just about right. On the other hand, 1/4 of an ounce of maple syrup was on the money. The trick is to actually look at the calorie count and try to match the 16 calories you get with a teaspoon of sugar as closely as possible. For example, the amber and blue agave syrups I used say that they have 60 calories in a tablespoon on their packaging, which means they have 20 calories in a teaspoon. One ounce of my maple syrup has 80 calories, which means that 1/4 ounce has 20. I went wrong when I used a quarter ounce of agave, which is more like 1.5 teaspoons.

I should mention that some people actually do make Old Fashioneds with standard London dry gin. I’m sure it could work with the right recipe, but when I made one with Tanqueray just as a basis for comparison with using genever, it was pretty thin stuff that I didn’t bother to finish.

Next: Is the Improved Holland Gin Cocktail an actual improvement? Stay tuned.