David and Lesley Solmonson, authors of The 12 Bottle Bar, say genever is an old spirit that is making a comeback.

[Ed. note: More from the Solmonsons on the 12-bottle bar, ice and how to be a responsible host.]

David and Leslie Solmonson David and Lesley Solmonson Photo: Andy Kruse

Lesley Solmonson: Genever is making a comeback. David likes to call it a proto-spirit because it is quite old; historically it was used as a medicine in Holland.

David Solmonson: Then back during the plague, il dottore in the mask, they'd fill them full of juniper. Just breathing the juniper was supposed to keep the plague away.

LS: They also would have these little walking sticks that had a pill box they'd open and smell. People would in fact also burn juniper and use it in their home during the plague. There's this long history of it being medicinal.

In fact, cocktails started the same way, as a medicine, as health-giving tonic. They evolved into something recreational. When it did that really -- I would say at least in Holland -- was with Bols. Bols in the 1500s was getting into the liqueur business; of course you had all of the grains. They moved into making genever as a recreational spirit with juniper as the top note and other botanicals.

There's also genever from Belgium. Diep9 is the first one that's going to get imported to this country; it is here now in small markets, and it's exquisite.

DS: When people see genever on a bottle, they have no idea -- I have to tell a lot of people what it is. Think of it as you take that sweet malt quality of a white whiskey, and then you re-distill it with botanicals so you get those gin high notes.

Splendid Genever Cup The Solmonsons' recipe: Splendid Genever Cup  Photo: Andy Kruse

It can make it a little tricky to mix with, but it also makes it infinitely flexible. We use it in place of gin, obviously in place of whiskey, we use it in a version of a margarita. It's a lot like mezcal from our point of view in terms of that funkiness.

LS: You'd never think that genever would shine in a tiki drink, because most people think of tiki drinks as primarily being rum. But rum has its own sort of aromatic, bold structure. Not only does genever marry beautifully with rum as an interesting combination, but it also serves as a fabulous base for tiki because it gives you this surprising aromatic element that you might not expect. When you combine it with the right fruits and citrus, you get a completely new drink. It opens just a whole new category of tiki drinks, which is great because tiki is making an enormous comeback.

Jennifer Russell
Jennifer Russell is a founding producer at The Splendid Table. Before coming to radio, she made historical and arts and cultural programming for public television. She claims to have come out of the womb a food lover -- when other girls played house, she played restaurateur. Follow her comings and goings on Twitter: @jenejentweets.