Already in the Middle Ages people in the Low Countries were familiar with strong drink, in particular with the use of distilled wine, or brandy. These distillates had a medicinal background and became widespread during the plague epidemics that ravaged Europe during the Middle Ages.
Herbs were added because of the alleged medicinal effect. It is not known when juniper flavored corn brandy was first called jenever. One of the explanations is that in 1650 Professor Franciscus de le Boë Sylvius, in an attempt to find a diuretic medicine, distilled a juniper drink that he called genièvre or genova.
Thanks to King-stadholder William III, who tried to promote trade from the Netherlands with tax measures during his English kingship, the drink under the name gin also became popular in England. English distillers tried to copy jenever, but did not have the correct recipe, after which it developed in that country into what we now call gin.
Raw materials & process
The basic raw materials of the classic jenever are barley, rye and maize. The barley is processed into malt in the distillery, which releases enzymes that convert starch into sugars. The malt is then mixed with water and the starchy ingredients corn and rye. The mixture thus obtained is then mixed with yeast. The malt enzymes convert starch into sugars; the yeast converts the sugars into alcohol. The alcohol-rich substance that is created in this way can now be distilled.
After the first distillation, the so-called rough wet (about 20%) is created. The residue that remains in the boiler after this distillation is called swill and is used as pig feed. Distillation of the raw liquor then yields only wet (approximately 30%). The result of the third distillation is called bestnat or malt wine (46.5%). The rest of the process does not take place in the roastery, but in the distillery.
The jenever gets its own character in the distillery. The distiller processes the malt wine supplied by the burner according to his own recipe. Re-distillation of the malt wine, for example, produces distilled malt wine (75%) and by carrying out the same distillation with the addition of juniper berries, geide jenever is created.
Such a process can also be done with other herbal mixtures. The various gins are created by mixing these products. If necessary, the jenever can mature for a few months in wooden barrels.
Young & old jenever
During the Second World War, hardly any grain was available for malt wine. The percentage of malt wine in jenever dropped drastically. Some drinkers lamented that; others don't. As a result, two drinks became popular in the Netherlands after the war: the young jenever, which was mainly based on neutral alcohol, and the jenever according to the pre-war recipe in which more malt wine was processed: old jenever.
Korenwijn has an alcohol percentage of 38 volume percent and is characterized by a much higher percentage of malt wine than is the case with old and young jenever. Korenwijn is distilled from various grains (barley, rye and maize). Often the corn wine is also aged for a while in an oak cask, to get a softer, more pronounced taste. Because of these characteristics, a good corn wine is not inferior to a malt whiskey ...