Jenever can be considered one of the first Gins. Produced in the low countries since the 17th Century, it was developed for medicinal ends. At the time, it was believed that juniper, Gins main botanical, had curative powers, and it was juniper which gave it its name (jenever being Dutch for juniper).
Jenever is different from modern Gins because of its more limited array of botanical and dilution with malt wine, which gives it a hard, bitter flavour.
It was in Jenever that the English found inspiration for Gin. During the 80 years war, British soldiers fought alongside the Dutch against the Spanish. Before each battle, a shot of Jenever or, as it became known, “Dutch Courage”, was drunk to warm the soul. Jenever, whose name means juniper, is therefore the ancestor of Gin, and has been produced since the 17th Century.
The first recipe is attributed to Franciscus Sylvius, a respected professor at the university of Leiden. Recipe or prescription, because Jenever’s first uses were medicinal, mostly for kidney ailments, and not for enjoyment’s sake, like today. The attribution for its invention, however, isn’t consensual. Towards the theory that Jenever existed before, there are written references to this medicine, to Aqua Juniperi, made long before the birth of Sylvius.
The almost exclusive use of juniper during distillation and dilution later with malt wine are two factors that differentiate Jenever from its successor, Gin. In effect, the recipes for Jenever are very sparing in botanicals, apart from the obligatory juniper, and some herbs and citrus fruits. The spotlights always stayed on juniper, though. After distillation, the resulting spirit is diluted with malt wine, the quantity of which gives further designations to different Jenevers. Jonge (young) Jenever has a maximum of 15% of malt wine and Oude (old) can have more than that. There is a third kind, Korinwijn, which is rarer, in which the percentage of malt wine is over 50%.