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Sampling the Local Jenever Liquor

The indigenous liquor of the Netherlands is jenever, a potent spirit that was invented in the mid-1600s, when an alchemist in Leiden discovered a way to distill juniper berries. It was first sold as medicine, but by the late 17th century people liked it so much that they soon started drinking it for fun. Soon the English got in on the jenever game. They bumped up the alcohol content, smoothed over the rough-edged flavor, and called it gin.

There are two basic kinds of jenever—oude (old) and jonge (young). The names aren't a matter of aging but of distilling techniques. Young jenever uses a newer (post-WWII) distilling technique that produces a lighter, less outspoken spirit. Old jenever has a much more pronounced flavor. If you want to drink jenever like a true Lowlander, find yourself a proeflokaal, an old-fashioned "tasting house." We recommend the legendary Wynand Fockink, which has been hydrating Amsterdammers since 1679. Once you have made your choice from the milder jonge saps or the more sophisticated oude spirits, let the fun begin. The bartender fills a sherrylike glass until it is so precariously full that you must lean over the bar, hands behind your back, and take your first sip without touching the glass. Only then are you free to lift the glass by its dainty stem. When jenever is served with a beer it is called a kopstoot, literally meaning "headbang." This should be taken as a warning to the uninitiated.

Updated: 2013-11-20

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