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The climate in the Netherlands, or Holland, is too cool and damp to produce quality wine. However the Dutch have been very active in the European wine market through the centuries, with their geographic location perfectly positioned as a prime merchant port for German and French wines. In addition, the Dutch have heavily influenced the production of South African wines. The Dutch settled there in the 17th century and established many wineries throughout the country, and also the Koöperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika Bpkt (KWV) in 1918. First developed as massive wine cooperative, this became the regulating force in the South African Wine industry.
But while wine is not a big Dutch export, the Netherlands is known for gin. Jenever (Genever in Belgium), the name derived from juniper, which is the main botanical ingredient, was first produced in the 16th century. Chemist Sylvius de Bouve is attributed as the first to distill malt wine and add juniper to mask the harsh flavor, selling this concoction for its supposed medicinal properties. By the end of the century, this became a popular practice. In 1575, Lucas Bols was one of the first commercial jenever producers, and the company exists today.
The grains used in jenever production don’t require ripening, and its quick and inexpensive process caused a surge in popularity that spread throughout Europe, especially England. King William, ruler of the Dutch republic, and his wife Mary popularized the spirit to new heights during the late 17th century. English gin eventually evolved to a drier, lighter style, now commonly referred to as London Dry Gin.
In the Netherlands, this is referred to as jonge (young) jenever, and it can only contain up to 10% malt wine. Oude (old) jenever must contain at least 15% malt wine. The young and old are not age designations, but refer to the classic and new style. Oude jenever is also sometimes aged in wood casks, similar to a whisky.
The “malt wine” used to make jenever is a malted grain mash blend of cereals - corn, wheat, rye, and malted barley (the possible addition of molasses or sugar came into practice in the 19th century) - that are fermented and distilled in a pot still to a viscous spirit which closely resembles unaged whisky, with a yellow/amber hue. Juniper and other botanicals, such as cinnamon, anise, citrus peels, angelica root, cardomom, and coriander, among others, are used to flavor the spirit during a second or third distillation.
Dry gin, is produced in a continuous, or collumn still, much like most vodkas, from various grains to a clear, light spirit. The botanicals are added in the second or third round of distillation, or suspended over the distilling spirit in a tray for a more delicate steeping effect.
Jenever has had a resurgence of late, coinciding with the popularity of classic cocktails. Versions that have either never been imported outside of Holland, or haven’t been since the time of the Prohibition, are finally making their way to liquor shelves in the US and around the world. ~Amanda Schuster
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