During my recent trip to Amsterdam, I was introduced to a spirit I had never heard of before, let alone tried: Bols Genever. And what a delightful introduction it was!
One of the less-famous destinations in Amsterdam, even though it’s right across the street from the Van Gogh museum, is the House of Bols Cocktail and Genever Experience. If that name sounds familiar, it should. Bols has been making liqueurs since 1575. That is not a typo; it has been making sippables many of us find delightful for well over 400 years.

Most recently, Bols has re-introduced a classic spirit called Genever. Though you may never have heard of it Genever has, in many areas, been an essential cocktail ingredient for nearly two centuries. The original recipe was conceived by Lucas Bols in 1820 and world’s first cocktail book, “The Bartender’s Guide” cited Genever as one of only four basic cocktail spirits in 1862.

Well, fine, but it’s nearly 2010. So why should we care?

The reasons are as varied as the number of bartenders and their guests around the world. For me, though, suffice to say “It’s interesting.”

What makes Genever interesting is, of course, its taste. Genever, which is considered to be one of the four “original white spirits” (the others being brandy, rum, and gin) is being reformulated by Bols so we 21st century types can experience classic cocktails as they were originally meant to taste. In a way, the ultimate “old school.”

Before I get ahead of myself, let me answer a basic question: what, exactly, IS Genever?

It is a clear spirit that looks similar to vodka or gin but with a flavor profile all its own. Unlike vodka, its base is a unique distillate called maltwine. Made from rye, corn and wheat, it carries a malt-like flavor and gives Bols Genever a taste that is far more complex and interesting than vodka. Like gin, Genever is made with a blend of botanicals but it’s not gin, either; it is its own unique spirit. It is extremely smooth, with an alcohol content is 42% or 84 proof – slightly higher than the 80 proof that is typical of most spirits.

During my visit to the Bols Experience (see previous post), I enjoyed an “Improved Holland Gin Cock-Tail” made with Genever, orange bitters, dry orange liqueur and sugar syrup. It was delightful, but it was only a single drink – hardly sufficient to really evaluate the stuff. Upon my return to the U.S., Bols’ representative provided me with a bottle of Genever so that I could experience its complexity and variety in a broader context.

The company has created a cocktail collection to inspire today’s mixologists, whether amateur or professional, to discover the flavors of a bygone era, including the Improved Holland Gin Cock-Tail mentioned above.

As of this writing, Bols Genever is available throughout New York, California, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Illinois, Louisiana and Arizona, with plans to continue rolling out nationally. Even if your favorite liquor store doesn’t carry it, they may be able to order it for you. The suggested retail price for the 750 ml bottle is $38.95. For a delightful experience, procure a bottle for yourself and enjoy the taste of the past, reformulated for the future.

Here are some of the recipes I’ve made so far. Because we each have our personal taste, adjust the ingredients as you see fit.

Improved Holland Gin Cock-Tail
(as I’ve interpreted it):
2 parts Bols Genever
½ part Grand Mariner
½ part rich sugar syrup (2:1 sugar to water)
Five drops orange bitters

Stir the ingredients in a bar glass with cold, hard ice cubes (the variety you buy at the grocery rather than the milky cubes produced by your freezer’s ice maker), then strain into a chilled martini glass. (Commercially-produced ice melts more slowly so it will chill the drink without diluting it the way homemade ice will.)

Holland House Cocktail
2 parts Bols Genever
1 part dry vermouth
½ part freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ part maraschino cherry juice (or maraschino liqueur if you have it on hand)

Shake as you would a martini, then strain into a chilled martini glass.

Genever Collins
1 part Bols Genever
1 part freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ part rich sugar syrup (2:1 sugar to water)

Strain into a long-drink (Collins) glass filled with large ice cubes.
Top with club soda.

In the spirit of today’s cocktail culture, I’ve also played with fresh herbs and come up with a couple of originals:

Sage Martini
Muddle one or two fresh sage leaves in
3 parts Bols Genever.
1 part Triple Sec
Add a few drops of orange bitters if you like.

Shake as you would a martini, then double-strain into a chilled martini glass. (The double-straining is necessary to remove the little bits of herb that result from the muddling and make for a more attractive presentation.)

Rosemary Martini
Muddle 9-10 fresh (not dried) rosemary leaves in
3 parts Bols Genever.
2 parts fresh lime juice
1 part simple syrup (1:1 sugar/water)

Shake as you would a martini, then double-strain into a chilled martini glass.

Genever also makes interesting versions of the classics.

Genever Sour
2 parts Bols Genever
1 generous part freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1 scant part rich sugar syrup (2:1 sugar to water)

At the 2009 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Bols Genever took home the Double Gold. For more information, visit (access restricted to those 21 and older).

Visit my main page at for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.