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Jenever (also known as junever, genievre, genever, jeniever, peket or in England as Holland gin), is the juniper-flavored and strongly alcoholic traditional liquor of the Netherlands, Belgium and Northern France (Nord département), from which gin evolved. Believed to have been invented by a Dutch chemist and alchemist named Sylvius de Bouve, it was first sold as a medicine in the late 16th century. In the 17th century it became more popular for its flavor.

Left: Hollandse Graanjenever.

Traditional jenever is still very popular in the Netherlands and Belgium. European Union regulations specify that only liquor made in these two countries, two French provinces and two German federal states can use the name jenever.

Jenever was originally produced by distilling maltwine (moutwijn in Dutch) to 50% ABV. Because the resulting spirit wasn't palatable due to the lack of refined distilling techniques (only the pot still was available), herbs were added to mask the flavour. The juniper berry (Jeneverbes in Dutch, which comes in its turn from the French genievre) was chosen for its alleged medicinal effects, hence the name jenever (and the English name Gin).

Jenever evolved from malt wine spirits, and is a distinctly different drink from later styles of gin. Jenever is distilled at least partially from barley malt (and/or other grain) using a pot still, and is sometimes aged in wood. This typically lends a slightly malty flavor and/or a resemblance to whisky. Jenever is typically lower in alcohol content and distinctly different from gins distilled strictly from neutral spirits (e.g. London dry gin).

There are two types of jenever: "Oude" (Old) and "Jonge" (Young). This is not a matter of aging, but of distilling techniques. Around 1900 it became possible to distil a high-graded type of alcohol almost neutral in taste, independent of the origin of the spirit. A worldwide tendency for a lighter and less dominant taste, as well as lower prices, led to the development of blended whisky in Great Britain, and in the Netherlands to Jonge Jenever. During the Great War lack of imported cereals, and hence malt, forced the promotion of this blend. Alcohol derived from molasses from the beet-sugar industry was used as an alternative to grain spirit. People started using the term ‘Oude’ for the old-style jenever and ‘Jonge’ for the new style, which contains more grain instead of malt and can even contain plain sugar-based alcohol.

In modern times, jenever distilled from grain and malt only is labelled Graanjenever. Jonge jenever can contain no more than 15% malt wine and 10 grams of sugar per litre. Oude jenever must contain at least 15% malt wine but not more than 20 grams of sugar per litre. Korenwijn ("cornwine") is a drink very similar to the 18th century style jenever and is often matured for a few years in an oak cask; it contains from 51% to 70% malt wine and up to 20g/l of sugar.

Hasselt and Deinze, Belgium, and Schiedam and Groningen, the Netherlands, are famous for their jenevers.

Jonge jenever is sometimes served cold from a bottle that has been kept in a freezer. However, the higher-quality oude jenever (and korenwijn) is usually served at room temperature. When jenever is drunk with lager beer as a chaser, it is referred to as a kopstoot (headbutt).


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