A note for cocktail history buffs: Despite the fact that many of the best gins in the world come from England, the herby liquor actually traces its origins back to the Dutch—specifically their spirit genever. It was the Dutch who brought their preferred tipple to England, which soon evolved into the more-familiar gin we know today.
Like gin, genever is a white spirit steeped with botanicals. Unlike gin, genever has a distinctively malty grain base—its maltiness might remind you more of a much, much lighter Scotch; and though it's still a clear, juniper-steeped liquor, it tends not to be quite as sharply herbal as gin.
The brand you'll often find (and one we'll happily recommend) is Bols Genever. Their barrel-aged line is excellent, but the standard genever works beautifully for each of these cocktails. Give it a try and see if you can't appreciate what the Dutch have loved for all these centuries.
Easy: Genever and Soda
There are plenty of liquors out there that can be well-appreciated with enough ice, a good garnish, and a big splash of soda. Genever is one of them. A simple genever and soda is also a good test—if you like this, you'll like the other ways you can work with the spirit.
Instructions: In a tall glass with ice, combine an ounce and a half of genever and four ounces of club soda. Garnish with a lemon wheel (or for something a little sexier, as in this photo, a few lemon half-wheels).
Intermediate: Genever Old Fashioned
Cocktail geeks call drinks like an Old Fashioned "spirit-forward," which essentially means "boozy." But in order to work as a spirit-forward cocktail, the spirit itself needs a certain weight and heft to it; a vodka Old Fashioned wouldn't only taste somewhat strange, but doesn't have any body as you drink it. Genever, on the other hand, has the weight and character to really pull off a format like the Old Fashioned.
Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, combine two ounces of genever, a quarter-ounce of good maple syrup, and two big dashes of Angostura bitters. (Sometimes we'll tell you that bitters are optional, but in a cocktail with as few ingredients as an Old Fashioned they're essential.) Stir all that up with ice, and then strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon and an orange peel, twisting both over the surface of the glass to release their citrus oils.
Advanced: The Dutch Apple
So, we're pretty proud of this one, if we do say so ourselves. The particular maltiness of genever goes really well with apple cider, and heated up, this is a totally easy-drinking but unusual winter warmer that's both intriguing and familiar. Bonus: it's really, really simple to make.
Instructions: In a small pot, combine two ounces of genever, two ounces of cider, half an ounce of honey syrup (equal parts honey and water) and a dash of Angostura bitters. Heat over the stove just until it simmers (you don't want to cook anything, just warm it through). Pour into a heat-safe glass and garnish with a cinnamon stick. Snuggle your nose down into the glass, take a few deep breaths and savor.