Jenever (also known as Genever or Jeniever), juniper-flavored and strongly alcoholic, is the traditional liquor of the Netherlands and Flanders,Belgium, from which gin has evolved. The first written reference to Jenever is in Der Naturen Bloeme written by Jacob van Maerlant in Damme, Belgium between 1266 and 1269. In his publication, van Maerlant described how wine, in which juniper berries had been boiled, was considered to have medicinal powers. Believed to have been invented by a Dutch chemist and alchemist named Sylvius de Bouve (or Franciscus Sylvius), Jenever was first sold as a medicine in the late 16th century. In the 17th century it began to be popular for its flavor. Traditional Jenever is still very popular in the Netherlands and Flanders. In 2008, the European Union declared Jenever a protected product of origin, receiving its own “appelation d’origine controlee”. Jenever can only be crafted in Belgium, the Netherlands, and a few nearby provinces.
Jenever was originally produced by distilling maltwine (moutwijn in dutch) to 50% ABV. Because the alcohol didn't taste very nice due to lack of refined distilling techniques (only the pot still was available), herbs were added to enhance the flavour. The juniper berry (Jeneverbes in Dutch, which comes – in its turn - from the French Genievre) was best for that, hence the name Jenever. The English produced their own version which they dubbed Gin. This new name was appropriate because the English changed the recipe by eliminating malt wine and only mixing raw alcohol with herbs. True Jenever is distilled in pot stills from a grain mash (malt wine) with hints of herbs, resulting in a more flavorful spirit.
There are two types of Jenever: ‘Oude’ (Old) and ‘Jonge’ (Young). This is not a matter of aging, but of distilling techniques. Around 1900 it became possible to distill an almost neutral high-graded type of alcohol in taste, independent of the origin of the spirit. A worldwide tendency for a lighter and less outspoken taste, as well as lower prices, led to blended whisky in Great Britain, and in Belgium and the Netherlands to Jonge Jenever. During the Great War, lack of imported cereals and hence malt, forced the promotion of this blend. Alcohol from molasses from the beet-sugar industry was used as an alternative to grainspirit. People started using the term ‘Oude’ for the old-style Jenever and ‘Jonge’ for the new style, which contains more grain instead of malt and can even contain plain sugar-based alcohol. In modern times, the label indicates when only grain and malt are used (then it's called Graanjenever). In the 1980’s it became popular in Flanders, Belgium to add fresh fruit and natural cream to the Jonge Jenever reducing the alcohol content to 18-24% Alc. by Vol. No distillery better embodies the tradition of crafting all-natural fruit & cream Jenever than De Moor Distillery, Belgium’s smallest active grain distillery.
Jenever is usually served very cold straight from a bottle that has been chilled or kept in a freezer. Jenever glasses are also often "frosted" by having been kept very cold. The first step to drinking Jenever properly is to keep the glass on the table, bend down to the glass and take the first sip without holding the glass. Once this traditional first sip is accomplished one can drink the rest of the drink normally. Jenever is often drunk with cold lager beer as a chaser; this is sometimes referred to as a kopstoot ("headbutt").
Belgian Jenever is only made by a handful of local producers, very few of whom export, making it Belgium’s best-kept secret. In 2010 Flemish Lion was the first to import Belgian Jenever to the US.