GENEVER - A FINE OLD-FASHIONED FIREWATER
It does not resemble English gin, which makes an excellent after-shave, if diluted with tap water. English gin nowadays is neutral ethyl alcohol (from a columnar or patent still) re-distilled with juniper berries, then diluted to bottle strength (40%).
Both oude genever ('old gin') and jonge genever ('young gin') are made at minimally thirty five percent alcohol or marginally higher, per legal standard. What has been produced since World War II is not at all the same as the pre-war product, being the result of modern manufacturing methods and shortcuts. Which is probably not such a bad thing - there never was enough good stuff to go around.
The modern version of old-style gin ("oude genever") is manufactured nowadays by triple distilling moutwijn (maltwine), and blending the result with pure alcohol and essences for a final distillation to finish, then diluting down to around 38%. The resultant product will have a noticeable taste of juniper and other flavourings. The sugar content amounts to a maximum of 20 grammes per litre.
What distinguishes this product from similar firewaters is the required 15% minimum moutwijn content, as well as the dominant method of distillation, that being by alembic (pot still). It is usually a pale yellow colour, and of a stronger taste qua herbals than English gin.
Look for the term 'graanjenever' or 'graan genever' on the label, as this indicates that it consists entirely of grain alcohol, rather than being partially sugar beet or potato exudate.
[The spelling 'jenever' is modern and reflects how it is pronounced: yuh nay vur. Genever is the older more traditional orthography, pronounced the same. Both spellings are common.]
Some American bartenders, blessed with limited knowledge and hugely over-active imaginations, will assert that all oude genever is aged in oak barrels for several years, giving this as the explanation for the term 'oude' to their customers . That is in fact nonsense. A few distillers do use barrels for a few months (!) cask-mellowing, but the vast majority eschew such costly methods entirely.
There are only two companies that I am currently aware of that actually mature their product for a number of years in oak; Zuidam and Rutte.
Both are family enterprises, the first started in 1975, the latter over one hundred years before that in 1872.
Zuidam Distillers is located in Baarle Nassau, Rutte & Zn, in Dordrecht, which is not too far from Rotterdam. Both have diversified product lines.
Rutte & Son make a number of exceptional liqueurs in addition to their aged gins. Their oude genever is well known for being higher in moutwijn than almost any other brand. Unfortunately I have not seen them in the United States, but their five and twelve year olds are masterpieces.
Should you visit the Netherlands, look for Rutte & Zn Paradijswynjenever, a blending of various spirits that were aged between ten and thirty years in French wine barrels. This is the ultimate nectar of the gods.
5111 PT Baarle Nassau
Distilleerderij Rutte & Zn
3311 NS Dordrecht
What we know as young-style gin ("jonge genever") is merely up to a maximum 15% moutwijn content, though many brands have far less than that or even none at all. The main building block is industrial ethyl alcohol, with only a light addition of juniper extractives if any. It is in many ways more like vodka than gin. Maximum sugar content is 10 grammes per litre.
The term 'jonge' (young) refers to the method used for producing the major part of the product, that being a patent still (called in Dutch "het nieuwe kolommenapparaat" - the new column apparatus), which is a younger method historically than the pot still. Jonge genever is clear, and nearly flavourless. It is almost entirely made from distillates purchased from factories in Germany and Russia. Only the water used to dilute it down to the standard commercial strength is Dutch.
There are a few high quality brands of jonge that are still made the old-fashioned way, but the vast majority is rather undistinguished, strictly mediocre, and meant for the common herd.
RUWNAT, BESTNAT, ENKELNAT
Pure Dutch gin is only made from three grains in combination: barley (gerst), rye (rogge), and maize (maïs). The barley is malted, after which it is mashed with the other two. One important factor is the duration and temperature of the subsequent fermentation of the wash, as this will influence the resulting product - slower and lower is better. The strain of yeast used also has a great influence.
The first distillation will render around twenty percent alcohol ('ruwnat' - raw liquid). The second or second and third distillation brings this up to 30% ('enkelnat' - single liquid), the next produces moutwijn ('maltwine') at around forty six percent.
Everything up to this stage need not necessarily be done by the distillers themselves but can be arranged at a 'branderij' which supplies moutwijn per contract, though some manufacturers take pride in having complete control of the process, and do everything in-house.
The master distiller will re-distill the moutwijn, to raise the percentage up to 75% ('gestookte moutwijn' - stoked maltwijn), which with the addition of juniper berry before the final distillation yields a gin-like product, the final taste still requiring adjustment by blending with other extractives, such as coriander, St. Johns Wort, caraway, et autres.
It is the proportion of the 'middle run' that is kept which will determine the quality of the end product; standardly in distilling the first three percent (fore shot) that comes out of the condenser is discarded, as well as most of the next fifteen percent or so (head shot), and also the final twenty plus percent (tail run). There are variations per factory, and different genevers represent different formulae.
[Experienced moonshiners and other enterprising scoff-laws are invited to forward corrections to the explanation above. My personal experience with pot stills was minimal, and somewhat eruptive. It didn't go well.]
Note that copper pots are far better than stainless steel for most of the process, as copper functions catalytically in the production of esters, and helps separate out oily scum, thus improving the clarity of product.
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