Making Genever-style Gin

by: EJ on 06/23/2017

It’s summertime and the drinks flow easy…oh wait what, that isn’t how the song goes? Well, sorry Janis, but maybe it should. I don’t know about you but I think hot weather and cold drinks just go together and gin is one of my favourite summertime treats.

In today’s post we learn a bit about the history of genever-style gin and what distinguishes from London Dry Gin from Victoria Redhed Miller, author of Craft Distilling: Making Liquor Legally at Home. And while I will buy mine from one of our local distillers, Ampersand, if you are more adventurous than me, look to the end of the blog for a link to a recipe for distilling gin at home. (oh and don’t forget you get 35% off when you order before June 30th!)      


When I was starting to learn about distilling, one of the first things I thought about making was gin. I had only a hazy idea, at the time, of how gin was made, and no idea at all about what grains were used to make it. Then there are the juniper berries and other flavoring ingredients, referred to on gin bottle labels as “botanicals.” The more I read about gin, the more intimidated I began to feel. Compared to making whiskey or rum, the process of making gin seemed complicated and a bit mysterious.                                                                                                       

When I finally did get around to trying it, I decided to begin with genever-style gin. Although it is a multi-step process involving several distillation runs, for some reason it appealed to me as a place to start.

Genever is the Dutch word for “juniper,” the evergreen shrub whose aromatic berries supply the dominant flavor of gin. Traditionally, genever is distilled to a lower proof than London dry gin; it is also usually lightly sweetened. The two main styles of genever are oude (old) and jonge (young). These terms refer not to the age of the spirit but to the recipes used: oude is the old or traditional recipe, and jonge is the more modern recipe. As in the United States and Canada, the ingredients used and the alcohol content are defined by law. Dutch law also specifies the level of sweetening that is acceptable in different types of genever.


Genever was originally created around 1650 by a Dutch doctor, Franciscus de la Boe. It was promoted as a medicinal tonic; juniper berries were well-known even then for their diuretic properties.

Genever quickly became popular outside of Holland, particularly in England, where its use as a beverage soon outgrew its medicinal use. By the early 1700s, the more full-bodied, slightly sweet genever was changing in England to a lighter, cleaner style that became known as London dry gin. This style, still the most widely known gin type, is much closer to a neutral spirit than traditional genever, as it is distilled to a higher proof.

Compared with London dry gin, the process of making genever is unique. London dry gin is typically made from a mash of wheat or rye, while genever utilizes corn, rye and malted barley. The fermented mash is then distilled twice to make a “malt wine,” a full-bodied spirit not unlike malt whiskey. The malt wine is then steeped with juniper berries and other botanicals and then redistilled.

This results in a complex and very interesting gin. Some genevers are then aged in barrels, increasing the smoothness and flavor profile. Just reading through the process of making genever, it sounds like a labor of love. Some low-quality mass-market gins are made by simply mixing extracts of juniper berries and other botanicals with a base spirit (a neutral spirit similar to vodka). Top-quality gins are distilled at least three times; during distillation, the vapors rise through a special basket that holds the botanicals, picking up the flavors and resulting in a subtle and complex gin. Genever is usually distilled to 72 to 80 proof (36% to 40% ABV), while London dry gins are typically distilled to 80 proof or more.


When I made my first batch of genever, I decided from the start not to sweeten it. The addition of sugar, along with the fuller body of the malt wine-based spirit, has given genever the reputation of not being recommended for mixed drinks. Being a fan of the classic Gin & Tonic myself, I decided to try to make a genever-style gin that would lend itself easily to the G & T, and maybe even a martini.


To learn Victoria’s gin recipe click here.

Click on the book cover to buy Craft Distilling at 35% Off.  Just enter code summer17 at the checkout and click redeem.


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