Time to introduce another distillate on Master Quill. This time, we’ll have a look at Dutch Jenever (or Genever) and even dedicate a whole week to it. Jenever is a distillate common to The Netherlands and Belgium, but also to the North of France (Genièvre) and the West of Germany (Korngenever). Jenever is sometimes (wrongly) known as Dutch Gin, since Jenever is the forefather of Gin, although different in taste and smell. Both are made with juniper berries, but with Jenever that’s not so obvious as in Gin. So Dutch Gin is Gin made in The Netherlands and not Jenever.
Jenever came into existence, by distilling malt wine. Malt wine is produced by distilling a fermented grain mash in a (pot) still from barley and other grains. In the old days it was not particularly nice to drink, so spices were used to mask the not-so-nice flavour. Primary spice was the juniper berry (jeneverbes) which was chosen for its medicinal properties, hence the name Jenever. True Jenever was first distilled in the thirteenth century in Flanders, Belgium. Jenevers can be classified into three groups. Although officially only two groups exist, I feel Korenwijn is more than just a variant of Oude Jenever. Today, as with Gin, distillers experiment a lot and come up with variants to the theme. Unusual herbs and spices are added, or their product is finished in casks not common to traditional Jenever production or only a single grain is used. So for the time being, I will add even a fourth category called “Specials”.
- Jonge Jenever,
- Oude Jenever,
We’ll start our journey with a special Jenever, since a very unusual spice was used in the production of this Jenever. In this particular case, Kombu was used to get a subtle briny aroma. Kombu is an edible kelp common throughout Japan, China and Korea. Although it isn’t mentioned on the label, this Zeeuwier Jenever can be seen as a Jonge Jenever with added Kombu. So in our journey, this Jenever will not only cover the “Specials” category, but the “Jonge Jenever” category as well, since it is the only example of a Jonge Jenever I will review in this week.
Jonge Jenever got its name from young, or new style Jenever. It stems from the time when neutral, and foremost cheaper, alcohol could be distilled in a proper way from almost anything (neutral spirit). Neutral spirit is usually made in a column still from molasses and/or potatoes. The original Jenever thus became Old (style) Jenever. So in fact “Old” and “New” have nothing to do with the age of the Jenever itself. Jonge Jenever can not contain more than 15% Malt Wine and 10 grams of sugar per litre. Strange enough, no minimum percentage is set for Jonge Jenever, so it can be made without any Malt Wine whatsoever. This is usually the case with very cheap Jonge Jenevers. Jonge Jenever is often unaged, has a neutral taste, somewhat similar to Vodka, with a slight aroma of juniper (and Malt Wine). No rules exist for the usage of the spices as well, so it is common practice to add the aroma of juniper berries after distillation. Again this is true for most run of the mill Jonge Jenevers. Jonge Jenever has an ABV of 35% or higher.
If Jenever is distilled only from grains and malt, the Jenever can be labelled as “Graanjenever” (Grain Jenever).
Color: Almost colorless, smallest hint of green.
Nose: Sweet alcohol and juniper. Fresh and warming. Good balance. Very soft with a breath of fresh air, more than a breath of fresh air. Windy beaches. Salty. Very much coastal (cold weather) and coastal vegetation, dare I say fresh fish? Great nose, and unbelievably un-alcoholic. A treat.
Taste: Soft, very soft and creamy. A bit too light, since it tastes like a soft, watered down Vodka. Slightly warming going down. Hints of vanilla and even smaller hint of wood. The attempt of a bitter note in the finish, shows me some wood, but not much. Alcoholic sweetness without the alcohol. Not a lot of the coastal notes in the taste though.
Very nice nose. Smells interesting and well made. Going down it has its warming qualities, but on the palate a bit too young and too soft for my taste. I would like this to be stronger in taste, since this makes hardly a ripple in the ocean, whereas we like to see some waves. Maybe an aged version? So elegant and over the top soft. The nose is there, but the taste could be stronger.