It just so hapened that the House of Bols, Cocktail and Genever Experience was across the street.
So I wandered in and the lady behind the desk sold me on their interactive experience into the world of cocktails and the history of the world’s oldest distilled brand: Bols Amsterdam, (which naturally included a cocktail tasting.)
Again, I had a found an excuse to hit the bar. Clearly I shouldn’t be left alone in a European city.
There are 38 flavors of Bols liqueur and yep, they’re the candy colored bottles you’ve probably seen at bars and liquor stores. They have every flavor you can imagine from watermelon to yogurt and they come in a trademark bottle – which Bols claims is ergonomically designed to be perfect for the bartender who wants to be like Tom Cruise in Cocktail, throwing those bottles in the air.
In 1575, the Bols family arrived in Amsterdam to open ‘het Lootsje’ to distill liqueurs. The Bols Distillery grew quickly and the original ‘Lootsje’, a wooden shed, was replaced by stone buildings.
In 1652 Lucas Bols was born. Living in the Golden Age of the Netherlands, he managed to turn Bols into an international brand and greatly expanded the range of liqueurs. The herbs and spices of the Dutch East India Company played an important role in this development.
Don’t fret mom, I got to see some art after all. In 1650, Lucas Bols and Dutch painter, Rembrandt were next door neighbors in Amsterdam. Rembrandt was a loyal customer at the Bols distillery and in 1658 he paid his outstanding liquor bill to Lucas Bols with this painting, produced by one of his students. It portays a biblical scene of Joseph accusing his youngest brother of stealing a silver goblet from the Pharaoh.
Lucas began distilling Genevers – The Netherlands’ national spirit category – in 1664 and the Bols family refined the recipe with great success in the 1820’s. The first cocktails in the U.S. (where the cocktail was born!) were often made with Genever, because of its powerful, delicious flavor and balanced mixing qualities.
In the 18th Century a competitor stole the Bol’s secret Genever recipe. In a sweet turn-about, Lucas Bols bought the rival company 100 years later and recovered the original recipe book. These recipes are still the foundation of their production and are still a well-guarded secret.
Today, Bols offer two Genevers: Bols Genever and Bols Genever Barrel Aged, both still made according to the original Lucas Bols recipe.
I was really excited when I read that Genever is considered to be gin’s grandfather, made from grain mash rather than neutral spirits, because one of my favorite liquors is gin. Both Genever and gin are infused with juniper berries and other botanicals. The main difference is in the base spirit and this is what makes Genever taste nothing like gin (bummer for me but great for you if you don’t like gin and prefer bourbon/whiskey.)
Gin is a highly aromatized liquor based on neutral grain vodka, which is a thin, high-proof spirit. Original Genever recipes, like the Bol’s recipe, on the other hand, are based on malt wine, which is a mixture of rich grains like rye, corn, wheat, and barley, all distilled to a low proof. The malt wine comes out of the still tasting like unaged whiskey. And it’s that profile—malty, heavy, viscous, earthy—that gives character to genever.
The Bol’s malty flavor comes from using over 50% malt wine, which is made from fermented rye, corn and wheat, triple-distilled in copper pot stills.This malt wine is then infused with selected distillate of botanicals and brought to 42% alcohol.
I sampled both Genevers and they definitely reminded me of bourbon.
Genever can only be made in The Netherlands and a few nearby areas, since it is a protected spirit category, meaning it has the equivalent of a French Appellation D’origine Controlee, putting it on par with champagne, cognac and Scottish single malt whisky.
If you’re a golfer, take note that Bols has had a hole-in-one club since 1929. To join you must hit a hole-in-one and fill out a form on their website. There are over 16,000 members today including Richard Nixon.
The Bols tour ends in the Mirror Bar, where you can select which Bols Genever and liqueur cocktail you’d like to try and the Bols bartenders will mix it for you. The recipe prints out so you can take home a souvenir.
I went with a Dutch ‘n Stormy.
After making this hard decision, I elbowed some spring breakers out of the way and hit the brightly-colored bar. My Dutch ‘n Stormy! Delicious! If you’re a follower of Cat Mixes (as you should be!) you know I’m a sucker for anything Ginger.
Of course the only way out was through a gift shop with bottles of Bols and every cocktail implement you can imagine.
I had a great time at Bols and I’m going to see if I can track down some Genever in Virginia. If I can find it I promise that the beautiful Cat of Cat Mixes will be putting together a Genever cocktail for you soon! Cheers!