Recently, I’ve been diving into the fascinating history of Genever, a history rich with pirates, melodrama, and globe-trotting. Long before the London Dry Gins we know today were even a drop in the glass, Genever ruled the drinking world.
The Dutch spent a lot of time sailing the high seas through the fifteenth, sixteen and seventeenth centuries. Their swashbuckling sailors sailed the world, trading with major global powers and bringing their treasures of foreign spices back home to the Netherlands.
When the Dutch ships docked at Rotterdam, they unloaded their worldly treasures at a local warehouse suburb in the shipping port of Schiedam. But the fruits, spices, and other raw goods didn’t last long in the warehouses, especially after weeks on the high seas.
So the Dutch started to use a fleet of four hundred pot stills in the warehouses to turn these spices, herbs, and the grains that were also stored at Schiedam into something with a longer shelf life—Genever.
Early Genever was a vibrant, whisky-like malt-based alcohol. Juniper was the central part of their brew and global spices that came off the ships and into the stills. Bols took the concept of a local grain brandy (korenbrandwijn), and added these exotic global spices to the grain-based spirit to make the low-class swill more enticing to the Dutch upper crust.
The idea took off, and Genever became the drink of the who’s who of Amsterdam spreading around the world. But it fell out of favor as the Brits started distilling, and eventually, British gins (notably Plymouth, Old Tom, and London Dry) eclipsed Genever.
How can I write about Martinis without talking about the predecessor of the crystal-clear drink we sip today?
The Martinez, made with Dutch Genever over English old tom or dry gin, was first cataloged in the 1884 manual The Modern Bartender. This malty martini riff called for both sweet and dry vermouth, plus a splash of orange curacao.
Jim Meehan adapted this recipe for the modern drinker with the addition of maraschino liqueur (and the exclusion of orange curacao).