Spirits & Liqueurs Gin

Everything You Need to Know About Genever

Learn the backstory behind the term “Dutch Courage.”

A stemmed tasting glass filled with genever in front of a cup of pretzel sticks
Ivonne Wierink-van Wetten

Calling all botanical lovers: Gin, everyone’s favorite juniper-proud spirit, is having something of a moment across the globe. From Hong Kong (where gin-drenched hot spots like Origin and Ping Pong 129 dominate the scene) to Spanish destinations like Xixbar in Barcelona and The Gin Room in Madrid, the warm-weather favorite has found fresh legions of fans excited to celebrate its boozy complexity.

Not to scoff at gin’s resurgence, but for the brassy among us, it’s the arrival of genever en masse to bars that makes our hearts skip a beat. The Dutch granddaddy of gin, genever has finally found its way to U.S. soil and beyond in critical capacity after centuries of wooing devotees in its native Netherlands (as well as Belgium and France) with a malty herb-forward flavor that feels simultaneously accessible and mature.

Genever (a.k.a. jenever, Dutch courage, ginebra, genièvre, Holland gin; American pronunciation: juh-NEE-ver; Dutch pronunciation: ye-NAY-ver) has been a staple of Dutch and Belgian drinking culture since the 16th century, when it was considered the kind of high-spiced cure-all ideal for making one’s medicine go down in a more palatable fashion. It’s a veritable anchor of neighborhood bars and tasting rooms from Amsterdam to Delft.

Two side-by-side photos of genever in glasses on tables
Ignard Karel Maria ten Have (left

The spirit typically falls into one of three uniquely distilled categories: oude (“old”), which tends to skew dense and aromatic; jounge (“young”), which only has up to 15% malt wine content and is relatively neutral; and korenwijn (“grain wine”), a rara avis variant with a whopping 51 to 70% malt wine content. If you’re really devoted, there’s even a genever museum in Holland just waiting for your arrival.

Genever is traditionally served in a tiny tulip-shaped glass for sipping (filled to the brim, naturally) and is often accompanied by a smorgasbord of sidekick fruity liqueurs or beer. When genever and beer show up together in Holland, it’s known as a kopstootje, or “little head-butt.” Drinkers clasp their hands behind their back, purse their lips to the glass of genever, sip off the top, then down the rest of the shot in a more traditional one-gulp fashion. The beer? Just sip it after the show is over.

“I like 2 ounces of genever, .75 ounces of fresh lime juice and one heaping barspoon of powdered sugar,” says Braden Lagrone, a bartender at Cure in New Orleans. “Stir this all up in a Collins glass, add cracked ice, top with three dashes of Angostura, swizzle a little, then garnish with straws and a mint bouquet that has been dusted in powdered sugar. Voilà!”

Below are three ways to sample the drink in the United States, ranging from earthy to deeply boozy, no head-butting required.

holmes bonfire cocktail
Holmes’ Bonfire.  Whitechapel

The menu at Whitechapel in San Francisco is a love letter to all things gin but also boasts one of the most diverse and impressive selections of genever cocktails in the U.S., including a whole menu of high-end kopstootje options. The Holmes’ Bonfire comprises No. 3 gin, Bols genever, salted licorice liqueur, toasted orgeat, egg white and lemon.

In addition to drinks categorized by their relationship to various natural elements like earth and fire, Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago has a solid selection of creative “Spanish-style” spins on Gin & Tonics, including a rich spice-heavy genever iteration, with Bols genever, golden raisins, clove and Fever-Tree Indian tonic water.

Wisdom in Washington, D.C., is one of the few spots in the U.S. possessing an entire roster of genevers on hand for sampling, allowing the juniper-curious to find the one that speaks most directly to their palate. Its old-style genever Diep 9 Oude is infused with juniper berries, sweet orange peel, blessed thistle, carob, nutmeg, grains of paradise, angelica root, cinnamon and coriander.