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The International Writers Magazine: Holland

The World of Jenever in Amsterdam
• Paul-Christian Markovski
What was invented by a Dutch chemist and alchemist, thought to help against gout, and spread quickly to become an attractive item to trade in the 16th century? The answer is Jenever. The inventor was Franciscus Sylvius and the origin of the name is the Dutch word for Juniper. The beverage was meant to be a diuretic to help against maladies such as gout but as it happened it was also a source of drunken joy as well.

The drink is served in a small glass that is filled to the brim with the first sip always taken by lowering one's chin to the table. After that the remainder is downed in one gulp in an act of bravado, just as any shot.

Most people describe the taste as rather neutral with a slight sensation of Juniper berries. To further understand the drink though, one has to understand that there are two types of Jenever, namely oud (old) and jong (young). They have distinct characteristics, the former with a smoother taste and the latter with traces of malty and smoky flavours. To enrich the flavours even more, lemon or blackberry is used.

Jenever a cross cultural product

When Franciscus invented Jenever a huge number of healthy people appreciated his efforts, somewhat unexpectedly but now clearly a fact.  As could be expected, such an invention in the middle of Europe, and in particular in Netherlands, could only lead to it being traded actively in the global Dutch trading network. In the 16th century and onward, the port of Rotterdam was the center for Jenever production and the benefit was the influx of the necessary spices from the East Indies arriving at the port. Today's distillers in Amsterdam can often be traced to the 17th century.

Amsterdam is the obvious city to order a glass of Jenever in proeflokaals (tasting rooms). In old times one could pop into one of these for a free glass. Unfortunately we are not so lucky nowadays. We make due with having to pay for our Jenever, and so we set out to visit two tasting rooms in Amsterdam.

House of Bols and Wynand Fockink

bols The visit to the House of Bols is an experience of colours and flair, in addition to the varied assortiment of Jenever available. Situated right next to Museumplein, this is one of the most popular venues for cocktail events. This is without any doubt the most famous place for tourists looking to wet their throats with Jenever. More of a museum and event facility, House of Bols offers such varying events as cocktail mixing courses, corporate events and complete tours with a history of the House of Bols' Jenever production.
If you want a more traditional tasting room, then Wynand Fockink suits well enough. This tasting room has a wide range of Jenevers and liqueur in general. This is a very different tasting room with antique furniture and interior design, giving you an idea of what tasting rooms used to look like.

How Jenever became Gin

Wyn Jenever has reached a certain status in Europe with the protected status that EU awarded it in 2007. Since that year the production is restricted to Netherlands, Belgium, a couple of French provinces and two German federal states. It has thus earned its right to be an exclusively produced drink. The fact that these three countries have been awarded production rights also show how culturally connected they are with sharing of beverages as well as cuisine.

The exploration of Jenever should culminate in a mix of old and young Jenever's, the occasional duikboot and a healthy buzz. And when looking back on an evening with Jenever, remember that it has a kin in the English speaking world, namely Gin. Jenever is the origin of Gin which is created by adding flavouring substances, as opposed to the traditional distillation process.

Although a very tasty drink, Jenever comes with quite a distinctive aftertaste. As such, having more than one or two Jenever shots can be a challenge. So it is understandable if you want to wash it down with the occasional beer. Now should you feel to go wild during your Jenever tasting evening, you can always try the kopstoot (headbutt in Dutch), which is a glass of Jenever followed by a beer as a chaser, although sometimes the shot of Jenever is dropped into the beer.. Mind you, memorize the address for your hotel and steer clear of the bicycles as you wander off through Amsterdam ater having enjoyed your submarine Jenever.

© Paul-Christian Markovski November 2013

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