This gin is a real Dutch treat

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      Not all gins are created equal. Well, you knew that: look at the lot of them on Page 7 of the B.C. Liquor Stores Product Guide—lemon and saffron-infused, dry and extra dry and special dry and quintessentially dry, London dry and lemon gin, and whatever is Pimm’s No. 1 Cup doing on that list? It’s hardly gin as we know it, Jim.

      Domestic and imported, there are dozens of them, and then, right at the bottom of the list, genever. Means gin in Dutch, and only one, at that—Boomsma Jonge. That second word means “young”. There’s also oude. (Guess what that means?)

      Pronunciation of genever can be tricky for smooth-tonsiled folks who don’t do gutturals. Think of the end of the Scottish loch, or the middle of Ahmed. It’s not the way a Cockney would pronounce the city in Switzerland but rather phlegmatic: ch-ay-NAY-fer.

      In terms of production, genever is distilled from a base of maltwine—a mixture of malted barley, wheat, corn, and rye—to which are added the customary, secret-formula botanicals. Juniper is abundant here, as it is in London dry gin.

      Unlike what you might assume, the difference between jonge and oude isn’t in the aging but rather the method of distillation. Jonge is the term for the newer style (circa 1900), which is lighter, more neutral genever; oude refers to the old style, requiring a minimum of 15 percent maltwine and no more than 20 grams of sugar per litre. In B.C., we don’t have any oude for sale at the moment. (We last saw some here in 1984, according to the dog-eared old Product Guides I collect obsessively.) The jonge is nice enough but the oude is where my fancy comes to rest, Dutch-gin-wise.

      Thirty dollars is the hit for the Boomsma Jonge (up 50 cents from when I bought my last bottle a couple of months ago, so someone’s getting into it), imported by an enterprising agency based in Brackendale called AFIC EXIM Canada Corp., whose main portfolio consists of fabulous beers and scarce Portuguese wines. If your palate is looking for an excursion, treat yourself to this world-famous Dutch spirit that gives our more familiar London dry gin a merry run for the money. Especially in, say, Amsterdam, in the Brainbox Bar at Schiphol airport.

      Genever has been called the backbone of Dutch spirits; the distilling industry there is one of the oldest in the world. Although demand for the traditional spirit has declined since the ’60s, some 60 individual distillers remain in the country—the top three being Bols, De Kuyper, and Nolet—and genever still accounts for 25 percent of the domestic market. Internationally, though, its popularity seems to be waning.

      There is also an “Amsterdam gin”, a patented brand of the huge Lucas Bols group, which the company modestly presents as “the finest and most complex gin in the world”. Not having access to any here at the moment, it was tough to substantiate the claim, but further research will ensue. Perhaps even at the aforementioned Brainbox Bar.

      Take a taste—mine lives in the freezer, and that’s still the best way to drink it. (The oude likes room temperature to bring out its gentle sweetness.) That’s juniper, all right, on the nose and on the tongue. First impression: softer and also a bit oilier than London dry, with a surprising bit of burn going down, even at the regulation strength of 40 percent alcohol (same as most other spirits).

      Now try a martini with it, the traditional, or what I consider to be the traditional—and only—proper martini: with dry vermouth, a double drop of bitters, and an olive or a twist. Or take a leaf from the famous Jerry Thomas’s Bar-Tender’s Guide of 1862, where one of his classics is the Holland House: two shots of genever, half a shot each of dry vermouth and fresh lemon juice, plus a quarter-shot of maraschino liqueur, well shaken with big ice cubes and strained into a cocktail glass.

      In a good, old-style Dutch bar, you might be able to get some dried green herring to accompany your shot. (And if you chase it with a cold lager, that’s a kopstoot, or “headbutt”.) But my favourite accompaniment for it is Kim Dormaar’s smoked mackerel, from Ebenezer, P.E.I. (they deliver!); chopped red onion; that President’s Choice hot horseradish mayonnaise; and some dense Russian rye or a good vollkornbrot from any European deli.



      Frank Norman

      May 13, 2009 at 9:33pm

      The only place in Vancouver I found to get Oude Genever was on board a Holland-America cruise ship. They had Bokma Egte Oude Friesch Genever (in a transparent square green bottle), and Bols (in a brown stoneware bottle). The Boomsma Jonge that sells for $29.90 in BC is $23.48 in Manitoba, not listed in Ontario and Quebec

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      Apr 1, 2011 at 5:47pm

      I was born Dutch but am Canadian now, like tons of Canadians originating from the Netherlands, I am surprised there aint no more jenevers in BC's liqour stores, just like you can just about only get Gouda cheese and there are so many more and way better brands!

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