While you might be used to drinking your gin with a dash of tonic, in the Netherlands things are done a little differently. Today, as they have been since early in the 16th century, the Dutch have been drinking gin's predecessor, jenever, which is traditionally produced by distilling grains and malt wine.
Jenever is typically served in a small tulip-shaped glass and is often filled to the brim, forcing you to take a sip before you can even pick it up. Don’t be fooled by the small glass, the idea isn’t to down it like a shot but drink it slowly and enjoy the complex flavors. While Jonge (young) jenever has a neutral taste with a hint of juniper, Oude (old) jenever is more aromatic and malty. Many tasting rooms (proeflokaals) across the city offer the opportunity to try the different varieties, taking your tastes buds on a journey from the mellow to the whisky-like flavours of the older jenevers.
It is said that the phrase ‘Dutch courage’ originated when soldiers drank jenever to boost their courage before heading into battle. These days the age-old drink is a far more civilised affair, here are some of the Dutch capital’s best spots to get sipping.
Proeflokaal A van Wees
Located in a former distillery on the Herengracht canal in Amsterdam, Proeflokaal A van Wees serves up 17 different varieties of jenenver as well as selection of beers making it the perfect spot to try a kopstoot (head butt) — a jenever served neat alongside a glass of beer. The snacks on offer is quintessentially Dutch with bites including bitterballen, liver sausage and a selection of cheeses — opt for the borrelplanken if you want to try a mixed board of snacks. Main meals are also available. While the knowledgeable bar staff can provide an introduction to the menu, full tastings offer the opportunity to learn more about the history and distillation process and can be booked in advance online.
A little slice of Amsterdam history tucked away down an alleyway close to Dam Square, Wynand Fockink has been operating as a distillery since 1679. This small and cosy tasting room offers patrons the opportunity to taste jenevers made using 17th century methods. Want something to take home? The adjoining liquor store offers a selection of handcrafted jenenvers and tulip glasses. Private tastings including a distillery tour are available on Saturdays and Sundays and can be booked online.
De Drie Fleschjes
De Drie Fleschjes, which translates as ‘the three bottles’ is yet another historic spot that should be on your jenever itinerary. The site dates back to 1650, and upon entering you’ll spot the large wooden casks stacked up alongside the right-hand side of the bar, which only add to the feeling that you’ve stepped into Amsterdam of old. Don’t miss the quirky collection of small bottles featuring hand-painted portraits of Amsterdam’s former mayors.
Proeflokaal de Ooievaar
A strong sense of history pervades the 18th-century Proeflokaal de Ooievaar. This teeny tasting room has all the charm you’d expect from a classic Dutch bruin café, with stained glass windows, candelabras and a bar stocked to the brim with old clay jenever bottles. It is conveniently located a short stroll from Amsterdam Central Station and the friendly staff will be happy to guide you to your perfect Dutch gin.
Distillery 't Nieuwe Diep
Venture all the way to the east of the city to sip jenever in the leafy surroundings of the Flevopark. As one of the most scenic spots on the list, Distillery 't Nieuwe Diep benefits from a waterside location and is housed in an old pump house built in 1880. It opened as a distillery in 2010 and serves up homemade jenever using traditional methods. Don’t miss their special fruit flavoured options, and if you feel like a break from jenenver their liqueurs make a great alternative.
In de Olofspoort
Centrally located but still with a very much local neighbourhood vibe, In de Olofspoort is like stepping back in time. Think wooden barrels, old jenenver bottles hung from the walls, beamed ceilings and a shiny mahogany bar where the knowledgeable staff can talk you through the tipples on offer. If you’re lucky you might even wander into a good old fashioned sing-a-long.
House of Bols
Bols is the most famous jenever brand in The Netherlands and The House of Bols, located next to Museumplein, offers interactive self-guided tours that take you back to the Golden Age where it all began. After you’ve dived into the history of the drink and learnt how it’s made, you can head to the Mirror Bar and quench your thirst with a jenever cocktail (included in the entrance cost).