If you’re not familiar with genever, you’re certainly not alone. But an influx of genevers to the U.S.—as well as domestic gin bottlings inspired by the spirit—means that now is a great time to get to know Holland’s native distillate.
But what is genever, exactly? One pun-loving producer of the spirit likes to explain it this way: “Genever defined, for Trekkies: ‘It’s like gin, but not as we know it.’ ”
Kidding aside, that’s an apt description. Genever is a lot like gin. Both contain juniper, and often familiar spices like coriander or anise; citrus peels; or bittering agents like orris root or angelica.
But it’s also not gin. Gin can be made anywhere while genever has specific regional denominations. It is mostly produced in Holland and Belgium, as well as specific areas of France and Germany.
Gin can be distilled from any raw material, while genever is always made from grains like rye, malted barley and corn.
Gin can be distilled from any raw material, while genever is always made from grains like rye, malted barley and corn. No wonder genever producers often describe it as a cross between gin and whiskey.
A few years ago, it might have made sense to say that gin is always unaged, while genever may be either unaged (jonge) or aged (oude) even if caramel coloring is all that’s used to give the impression of age. Yet, with a growing number of gins rested in barrels, that line has blurred. In both cases, those barrel-aged spirits sidle up to whiskey-adjacent territory, tempering bright juniper with warmer vanilla and almond notes, similar to oude-style genevers.
Usually, gin is regarded as crisp and classic—a bit of a fuddy-duddy with a prim country club reputation. But standing next to tradition-bound genever, gin seems downright freewheeling. As long as it has plenty of juniper, anything goes.
We reviewed traditional genever bottlings, as well as some gins, with a few that emulate the Dutch style.
de Borgen Malt Genever Cask Finished (Holland; Hooghoudt Distillers Import, Bridgeport, PA); $45/1 L, 94 points. Aging in oloroso sherry casks has imparted a deep amber hue with hints of cocoa and sarsaparilla in the mild aroma. The complex palate suggests cocoa-dusted orange peel, anise and espresso, finishing with caraway and sweet coconut on the exhale. Mix into and Old Fashioned or similar cocktail, or sip alongside dessert. abv: 40%
Old Duff Genever Single Malt (Holland; Disruptive Craft Spirits, Manhasset, NY); $50, 93 points. Clear in the glass, a malty, warm aroma hints at anise. The palate echoes that anise tone more boldly, finishing with racy, mouthwatering white and pink peppercorn, juniper and a citrusy note around the edges. abv: 45%
de Borgen New-Style Genever (Holland; Proof and Wood Ventures, New Canaan, CT); $35, 90 point. Brightly scented in anise, look for a faint straw tinge in the glass. The palate echoes that anise note, layered with a touch of sweet almond. The finish shows a fleeting floral note before fading into a spicy ginger and peppercorn tingle. abv: 40.8%
Bols Genever (Holland; Lucas Bols, Manhasset, NY); $30, 90 points. Still made with the original recipe from 1820, including 22 botanicals, this genever is clear in the glass with a warm, sweet vanilla-tinged aroma. The malty palate is grainy and slightly viscous, finishing long with vanilla and cinnamon heat. abv: 42%
Old Duff Genever (Holland; Disruptive Craft Spirits, Manhasset, NY); $30, 90 points. This genever from bartending/brand legend Philip Duff seems made for mixing. It’s clear in the glass, with a malty aroma and mild palate that opens with anise and vanilla, then finishes spicy with white pepper, cayenne and ginger heat. abv: 40%
Citadelle Gin (France; Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, Stamford, CT); $25, 94 points. Brisk, clean, and citrusy enough to induce Martini-with-a-twist cravings. The aroma is mild, almost neutral. The palate opens with soft brushes of mint, juniper and citrus, growing more insistently citrusy, juniper-forward and drying with every sip. Best Buy. abv: 44%
Fords Gin Officers’ Reserve No. 01 (England; 86 Company, Ukiah, CA); $35, 94 points. A limited-edition offering, at heart this is an overproof version of the original Fords Gin finished in amontillado sherry barrels. The cask finishing adds a pale straw tinge and mild almond notes on nose and palate. Bold flavors of dried fruit and vanilla are layered over subtle baking spice, with juniper emerging on the finish. Dilution transforms the gin into a softer, warming, more gently spiced sip. abv: 54.5%
Bimini Gin (USA; Round Turn Distilling, Biddeford, ME); $32, 93 points. Bright, bold and bracing, this opens with flavors of juniper, mint and fennel. Lemon verbena and grapefruit zest add interest to the midpalate and extend into a long, palate-coating finish that sizzles with white peppercorn heat. abv: 47%
Glendalough Wild Botanical Gin (Ireland; Mark Anthony Crafted Spirits, Chicago, IL); $33, 93 points. Look for subtle fennel, licorice and sage notes on nose and palate, with a gentle, refreshing exhale that hints at lemon and lime peel. It is “foraged from what grows in the mountains,” says the producer of this Irish gin’s botanicals. abv: 41%
McQueen and the Violet Fog Gin (Brazil; Sovereign Brands, New York, NY); $37, 93 points. This gin is clear, with a distinctly sweet candied lemon peel fragrance. The soft palate finishes with mild violet jazzed up by white pepper and a hint of coriander. Tailor-made for an Aviation. abv: 40%
Roku Gin (Japan; Beam Suntory, Chicago, IL); $28, 93 points. Subtle, nuanced and light, the first sips open with citrusy yuzu peel and a mild floral note reminiscent of sakura flower, which lingers effortlessly into the finish. Tea botanicals sencha and gyokuro add a grounding, earthy element wrapping up with a flicker of ginger heat. Best Buy. abv: 43%
Copley London Dry Gin (The Netherlands; Copley Spirits, Boston, MA); $17/1 L, 92 points. The soft, nuanced aroma layers juniper and licorice, while the minty palate is bright, finishing with a tingly mentholated note, white pepper and lemon-lime peel. Well suited for a Gimlet. Best Buy. abv: 42%