For a true taste of old-fashioned gin cocktails, turn to genever. And, if you want to experience a classic version of this original style of gin, picking up a bottle of Bols Genever is the way to go.
While most modern drinkers are familiar with the dry qualities of London dry gins in our favorite cocktails, this fantastic Dutch genever allows you to rediscover those drinks in the sweeter style of the spirit's roots. Bols Genever is based on the Lucas Bols company's original 1820 recipe and has opened the doors for a new cocktail experience while offering a taste of the past.
The name Lucas Bols is well-known in the distilled spirits industry. However, the man that the company is now named for was not even born until the distillery was almost 100 years old. The Bols (originally Busius) family established their now-famous Amsterdam distillery in 1575 where they produced a variety of liqueurs (something they also continue to specialize in).
Genever—or genièvre, a distillate of malted grain infused with juniper and other botanicals—is considered to be the oldest style of gin. The Dutch were very good at making it, though the earliest record of the Bols family distilling anything with juniper dates to 1664. In the late 1600s, the man named Lucas Bols (1652–1719) transformed the family business. During his time, they developed over 300 liqueur recipes and began shipping their spirits worldwide, effectively creating one of the first liquor brands.
The story of the Bols Genever that we drink today began in 1820 (a century after Bols' death) when the recipe was perfected. Genever was used in many of the first gin cocktails, including a number that are credited to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, who penned the world's first bartending guides. Apparently, Bols Genever—with its wide distribution—was an instrumental brand in this golden age of cocktails. It was also around this time (1883) that Bols began aging genever in French Limousin casks (now used in their Barrel Aged bottling). When Prohibition hit the U.S., it left the market entirely and did not reappear until 2008. This revival was a result of the rising interest in old-time spirits thanks to the modern cocktail scene.
As we step back into a time when sweet gins were significantly more popular than their dry counterparts, it's good to understand how a genever like Bols is made.
The same grain alcohols and botanicals (give or take) are used in this genever as are found in the average London dry gin. It is the use of a malt wine that sets genever apart. Bols' malt wine makes up 50 percent of the spirit and is made from a mash combination of corn, rye, and wheat. Blend that with 22 botanicals, including juniper berries, hops, ginger, coriander, and sweet orange, triple-distill it in copper pot stills, and Bols Genever is born.
Today, Bols produces three genevers:
- "The Original": The 1820 recipe, which is unaged and bottled at 42 percent ABV, 84 proof.
- Barrel Aged: A premium version of the genever that's the same strength and aged for 18 months in French Limousin oak casks.
- 100% Malt Spirit: No blending, just malt genever distilled with juniper berries and bottled at 47 percent ABV (94 proof).
The original Bols Genever is an experience to taste. Rich grains fill the distinct nose with sweet cherry and malt tones. The palate is rich and smooth with malt and juniper vying for domination, although both are just below the silky surface. The finish has tangy grass notes and is quite poignant as it leaves a sweetness behind.
Traditionally in Holland, genever is slurped hands-free from a small tulip glass. However, Bols Genever shines in cocktails. It has a lush profile that is sweet, but not overly sweet. When that aspect is paired with gin's required juniper as well as the other botanicals, the result is fascinating.
It is with a genever like Bols that you can rediscover this spirit and the classic cocktails in which it originally appeared. It was the first gin for drinks like the fancy gin cocktail, gin fix, and gin daisy. Other classics like the Pegu Club and Clover Club are transformed into spectacular drinks with a shot of Bols.
There are also modern mixologists who relish in the chance to create new cocktails with genever. The aura in me, for instance, is an impressive mix of elderflower, pine honey, pink pepper, and cardamom. It's finished off with the classic foam style that only comes from the use of an egg white.
Bols can also be an aromatic delight when heated up because the botanicals come alive under the warmth. Try it in a hot gin punch for a steaming party drink with old-fashioned style and a delightful spice mix.