Weekend Spirits: Genever, Gin Before Gin + How Rembrandt Paid His Liquor Bill

In today's age of anything-goes flavored vodka, it's easy to forget the juniper berry roots of all those smoked salmon and banana vodka shots (salmon first, with a double banana chaser). And so we'd like to thank Genever, a gin-like spirit from the Netherlands dating back to the 16th century, for helping prepare our taste buds over the few centuries for fish-infused vodka.

The name Genever comes from juniper berries (how logical), the same plant that gives gin its distinct pine-like flavor. Who cares? Because gin's ancestor is damn good. Heady. Intense. In your face. The way a really good distillate should be. And it's Friday. We need a drink.

Genever is related to gin more distantly, sort of like your third cousin at that sweltering summer family reunion (but the fun one who hides sparklers in the Igloo). Should you have a backlog of old cocktail books on your shelf, like Jerry Thomas' Bartenders Guide (the 1862 edition, or the reprint), any recipe calling for gin actually meant genever (the U.S. was primarily a genever, not gin, importer for centuries).

Genever tastes maltier -- richer, fuller bodied -- than gin, a later variation on genever, because it is. Genever is distilled from maltwine, gin is made from a neutral spirit. Both are flavored with various herbs and botanicals, so what you get varies greatly by brand. Two of our favorites are Bols Genever from Holland, which hit the U.S. market again about two years ago. And California's own Anchor Genevieve (technically a "genever-style gin" because it isn't made in Holland, the Champagne vs. Champagne-method argument, if anyone still cares about that sort of thing).

Buying both for a taste-off this weekend is going to cost you - the Anchor is around $30, the Bols about $10 more. But maybe you can do as Rembrandt did, and pay your genever tasting bill with a painting (notably not his own painting, but one by a student). Because this is L.A., where everyone has some kind of talent. Right?

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