Five Cocktails that Prove You Need to Drink More Genever
Distilled from grain and flavored with a modest amount of pine-like juniper, genever (pronounced je-NEE-ver) might be described best as the malty, mellow love child of gin and whiskey. And, just as the American cocktail renaissance brought gin roaring back, this historic spirit is likewise experiencing a renewed interest.
In fact, genever is considered the predecessor to London dry gin and other modern-day styles. The Dutch first popularized the botanical spirit in the 16th century, and it was a common cocktail ingredient at U.S. bars by the mid-1800s.
Today, it can only be made in legally defined areas, including Belgium, areas of France and Germany, and, most notably, the Netherlands, which is why it’s often nicknamed “Holland gin.” Though genever can be sampled straight, it’s arguably most enjoyable when in a cocktail.
“It’s such a versatile spirit,” says Jessie Smyth, lead bartender at Genever in Los Angeles. “It plays well with others.”
Malty notes tend to stand out in stirred drinks, like a Martinez or a bitter Negroni variation. While in citrusy or sour concoctions, like a riff on the classic Bee’s Knees, genever can blend in with ease.
“You just have to be willing to play with it, to be a little bold,” says Smyth.
Try the following drinks, sourced from bartenders in the U.S. and Amsterdam, and you’ll become a believer in genever, too.
Jump Straight to a Recipe
Courtesy Bols Genever, Amsterdam
This easy riff on the Negroni substitutes robust genever for sprightly gin. Bols Genever spotlights it as a sassy homage to the red-light district in Amsterdam, near to the producer’s headquarters. It’s even served there in lightbulb-shaped vessels. Similar novelty glasses can be purchased online, though the cocktail tastes just as good in a rocks glass.
Red Light Negroni
- 1 ounce genever, like Bols Barrel Aged Genever
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth
- 1 ounce Campari
- Orange peel, for garnish
Combine all ingredients except garnish in mixing glass filled with ice. Stir well, then strain into lightbulb-shaped glass. Serve alongside glass filled with ice and garnished with orange peel. Alternately, strain into rocks glass over fresh ice and garnish with orange peel.
Courtesy Ivar de Lange, global education manager and ambassador, Lucas Bols, Amsterdam
In the early 19th century, the Dutch began to ship genever to the U.S., where a large population of expatriates had settled. By 1880, considered the first golden age of cocktails, approximately one in four cocktails mixed in America was made with genever, according to legacy producer Bols. But after two world wars and Prohibition, the spirit all but disappeared from the U.S. This drink riffs on the classic Bee’s Knees cocktail. Bijen means “bees” in Dutch.
- 2 ounces genever, like Bols Genever
- ¾ ounce honey syrup (2 parts honey, dissolved in 1 part hot water)
- ¾ ounce lemon juice
- Lemon peel, for garnish
Combine all ingredients except garnish in cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well, and strain into coupe glass. Garnish with lemon peel.
Courtesy Jessie Smyth, lead bartender, Genever, Los Angeles
“This drink is like a spicy spa water,” says Smyth. “Cucumber, mint and aloe bring out the sweeter, malty flavors of genever, balanced out with a bit of spice.” It showcases the versatility of genever, though in a pinch, it’s easy to imagine this drink made with blanco Tequila or vodka. Opt for a young-style genever to play against this drink’s bright vegetal freshness.
- Salt, to rim
- 2 slices cucumber, plus one for garnish
- 2 slices serrano pepper
- 3–4 mint leaves
- ½ ounce lime juice
- ½ ounce simple syrup (1 part sugar dissolved in 1 part hot water)
- 2 ounces genever, like de Borgen New-Style Genever
- 1 ounce aloe juice
Moisten rim of rocks glass with lime juice, then roll lip of glass in salt. Set aside.
In cocktail shaker, muddle cucumber slices, pepper slices and mint leaves with lime juice and simple syrup. Add genever, aloe juice and ice. Shake well, then double-strain into prepared rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with cucumber wheel.
Courtesy Will Oxenham, general manager, Dante, New York City
Often thought of as the predecessor to the gin-based Martini, the Martinez more resembles a classic Manhattan, a whiskey-based drink, thanks to genever’s malty notes. While some early mentions of the Martinez cocktail call for sweeter Old Tom-style gin, batch up this drink by the pre-chilled bottle with Genever as the sturdy anchor.
- 2 ounces sweet vermouth
- 1 ounce genever, like Old Duff Genever
- 1 teaspoon maraschino liqueur
- 3 dashes Boker’s Bitters (or Angostura Bitters)
- Lemon peel
- 3 brandied cherries, for garnish
Stir first 4 ingredients in mixing glass filled with ice. Strain into chilled coupe or Nick & Nora glass.
Twist lemon peel atop drink to express oils, then discard peel. Garnish with brandied cherries.
Courtesy Jessie Smyth, lead bartender, Genever, Los Angeles
Opt for a jonge, or “young,” genever for this refreshing variation of a French 75, since it more closely resembles gin. By comparison, oude, or “old,” genever contains more malt spirit and is more likely to have some color, often a result of barrel aging. Young-style genever is required to be crystal-clear, but it still holds up to the pronounced peach and basil notes. Smyth recommends this fruity sparkler as “perfect for brunch.”
- 1½ ounces genever, like Boomsma Jonge
- ½ ounce peach liqueur, like G.E. Massenez Crème de Pêche
- ½ ounce honey syrup (2 parts honey dissolved in 1 part hot water)
- 1 ounce lemon juice
- 3–4 fresh basil leaves, plus one for garnish
- Champagne or dry sparkling wine, to top
Combine first 5 ingredients in cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well, then strain into large coupe glass. Top with Champagne or other dry sparkling wine. Briefly slap remaining basil leaf against palm to release aromatic oils, then float atop drink.
- 1An Easy-to-Make Riff on the Negroni Cocktail
- 2A Sour Cocktail with a Genever Twist
- 3The Sum Nice, Sum Spice Genever Cocktail
- 4The Martinez, a Genever-Based Manhattan
- 5A Genever Cocktail Perfect for Brunch