As one of the oldest distilleries still in existence today, a mix of heritage and progressive attitude has combined into a potent mix in this bottling. Re-released in 2008, Bols Genever is an essential addition to any gin shelf, especially if you are seeking to make authentic historic cocktails. It provides a unique opportunity to taste the maltier style of gin’s original form – Genever – using a Lucas Bols’ original recipe dating back to 1820.
To write anything about Bols Genever however, is to attempt to tackle the history behind the origins of gin as a whole, as well as the legacy of not only the oldest distillery brands in the world, but one of the oldest Dutch companies still active today. We’ve included an abridged history below for those looking for more insight into the brand as well as the gin, but for those wanting to know more about Genever – have a look in the features section for more insight.
At 42% ABV, Bols Genever is triple distilled using over 50% maltwine (made from triple-distilled rye, corn and wheat) and neutral grain spirits. The use of a maltwine base is what sets genever spirits apart from London Dry styles generally, as the more aromatic base spirit provides more malty and sugary notes. Without sidetracking too much into the history of Genever (also known as Jenever), the original Bols Genever recipe of 1664 would bare more resemblance to Cornwine, most likely containing an over 70% maltwine base and maybe even matured for a few years in oak casks.
The balanced approach of maltwine, grain spirit and carefully chosen botanicals used in the creation of today’s Bols Genever, however, is in keeping with the revolutionary Lucas Bols recipe from the 1820’s. The result is a spirit that combines the maltwine base sweetness with the smooth qualities that neutral grain spirit distillation brings.
The original release of Bols Genever became a hit in the US in the late 1800’s (with the growing cocktail movement that was rising there) and was the base to many classic concoctions of that era. The 21st century version proved to do the exact same, mirroring history and has become the most prominent Genever internationally in the 8 or so years since it’s relaunch.
On the nose Bols Genever has strong grain and malt tones, complemented by sweet subdued juniper, honeysuckle and citrus notes. Rich and smooth on the palate, the liquid is a vibrant, younger type of genever, complex and full of depth. The 50-50(ish)-production process makes it lighter in body and more versatile than an Oude Genevers and it is easy to see how it could be used in classic cocktails like a Martinez.
The bottle is reminiscent of the traditional cylindrical clay jug shapes of previous genever incarnations too, with a short history on the rear label. In itself the bottle is the perfect summary for what Lucas Bols has tried to do here – re-release an old classic but modernise it so that it is accessible and versatile enough to meet modern tastes and industry demands.
So, as promised for you brand geeks out there, here is an abridged (still ridiculously complicated) history of Lucas Bols as a company:
In the beginning…
Although there is a lack of solid, unequivocal historical evidence, it is generally accepted that in 1575 the Bols family arrived in Amsterdam and set up the distillery a few years later. By 1612 the city’s walls had expanded to encompass the distillery, and the stream it was situated on was dug out into a canal called the Rozengracht because of rose nurseries in the area. Around the same time, a new stone building was constructed to house the distillery. The first official mention is in 1634 in Amsterdam town papers, where Pieter Jacobszoon Bols is documented as operator of t Lootsje on the Rozengracht (Bols’ Distillery).
Lucas Bols was born in 1652. His era corresponded with the Dutch golden age, when the Netherlands were a colonial superpower, and led the world in international commerce. The Dutch East India Company, of which Lucas was a major shareholder, brought exotic herbs, spices and fruits back to Amsterdam, and these were used to create new liqueurs and genevers. On a separate note, the Dutch East India Company are probably the most influential factor in why gin tastes the way it does, as the spices they brought back and the routes they travelled defined the flavour of gin.
During the 18th century, the Bols family became a very prosperous family, and consequently – found itself becoming more and more detached from the day to day operation of the distillery. This lack of family leadership, along with the Continental Blockade of Napoleon, severely weakened the company, and when last male heir, Herman Bols, died in 1813, the company was offered for sale.
The middle part…
Napoleon’s defeat in 1815 sparked buying interest in the company, and Rotterdam financier Gabriël Theodorus van ‘t Wout acquired the firm with the condition that the company permanently retain the Bols name. New ownership revitalized the company. A price list from 1820 shows over 300 varieties of liqueurs, bitters, elixirs and gins; it is possible that some of these were never produced, and were merely disinformation aimed at competitors. Cheeky little buggers.
Van ‘t Wout succeeded in bringing the distillery back to profitability, but by 1822 a falling out with partner Coenraad Adriaan Temminck caused him to abandon his efforts with the company. In 1842 Van ‘t Wout wrote a manuscript entitled Distillateurs- en Liqueurbereiders Handboek door een oude patroon van ‘t Lootsje (English: Distillers and Liqueur makers Handbook by an old patron of “The Little Shed”), which is now in the Bols archives. It outlines some of the issues the company were having at the time as well as some of the recipes for their products.
In 1868, after a few years in the wilderness, the firm was sold to the Moltzer family who greatly expanded the company. In 1889, the rozengracht canal was filled in order to provide a new major thoroughfare for Amsterdam. The old site was abandoned and a modern steam powered distillery was built in nearby Nieuw Vennep. Other distilleries were built in Scheveningen and in Emmerich, just over the Dutch border in Germany. In 1892, the company was reorganised into an LLC.
Former Dutch colonial possessions proved natural markets for the group’s products, and a rapid international expansion followed. By the turn of the century, Bols was aggressively marketing its lines, and nearly all European Royal houses had appointed them Royal Warrants. In 1873 Bols won a Fortschritts-Medaille at the Weltausstellung 1873 Wien and one year later became purveyor to the imperial court in Vienna. Other courts followed such as several kings and queens of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Monaco, and later in more modern times the courts of Ethiopia and Nepal.
After World War I, distilleries were started in all over the world. Bols also grew through cunning takeovers and mergers, including the firms of Hoppe and Wynand Fockink, its largest competitor since 1679. In 1954, the last of the Moltzer family left the board of directors, and Bols Distilleries became a publicly traded company.
Bols continued to expand its reach over the next few decades until it participated in almost every geographic market in the world. Management was quick to realise, however, that societal trends away from alcohol consumption, particularly spirits, threatened the company. Genever was still a large component of Bol’s revenues, and this was a particularly difficult market to grow outside of its native Netherlands, as global drinkers tended to prefer the British “dry” style of gin. A strategy of diversification through acquisition was adopted.
In 1989, Bols formed a joint venture with Gedistilleerd en Wijngroep Nederland (GWN), the wine and distilled beverages unit of Heineken, forming Bols Benelux B.V. Unfortunately, by 1993, competition and consolidation in the industry had become cutthroat and Heineken decided to retrench to its beer business, and sold off its stake in the joint venture for 58.6 million guilders.
Dutch foods giant Royal Wessanen and Bols saw a natural fit for horizontal integration, and a merger was completed into a new company: Bols Wessanen. From the beginning, integrating the two lines of business was difficult, and so led to profit pressures. By 1999, it was obvious that the partnership wasn’t working. The Bols side of the business was being neglected, and management wanted to unlock its potential for growth and profitability. Private Equity firm CVC Capital Partners agreed, and a management buyout was engineered forming Bols Royal Distilleries. Immediately thereafter, Bols acquired a number of brands from British drinks conglomerate Diageo.
The not so distant past…
Almost immediately after the creation of Bols Royal Distilleries and the acquirement of the new brands, it became clear that Bols did not have the scale to effectively compete in the rapidly consolidating drinks industry. CVC Capital had an existing relationship with Remy Cointreau, so it seemed natural to combine the two companies. In August 2000 an agreement was reached, and Remy paid CVC €510 million for Bols,which retained a 9% equity stake in the enlarged group.
The merger has been perceived to having greatly helped both companies, allowing Remy to diversify into products requiring no expensive ageing stock whilst having access to an Eastern European distribution network and Bols’ management skills. This also gave Bols access to Remy’s joint venture worldwide distribution alliance, Maxxium. Smart cookies the lot of ’em!
In the following years, Maxxium committed considerable resources to modernising the Bols image, including new packaging and refocusing on a youth driven market. Bols was awarded a much deserved “Best Brand Re-Launch” by the trade publication Drinks International Magazine.
The buyouts, sales, consolidation and restructuring of the Bols brands continue to this day, and with core brands that are selling well and are highly respected, the Bols legacy lives on. We’ll keep adding to this post as and when more news emerges and if history is anything to go by, no doubt there’ll be a chunk to add relatively soon.
For more information about Bols Genever, visit their website: www.bolsgenever.nl
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