Old-School Genever Cocktails

I said I would follow up my recent Genever post with a post on Genever cocktails. Here are five recipes for traditional Genever cocktails. These are all drinks you could have ordered in an upscale bar in the Nineteenth Century United States. In other words, these are the drinks that got gin cocktails started. The recipes come from Jerry Thomas’ Bartender’s Guide. Darcy O’Neil from the Art of Drink kindly put the entire book online, accessible here.

Improved Gin Cocktail


The Improved Gin Cocktail is probably the best place to start appreciating the flavor of Genever in cocktails. The basic Gin Cocktail is gin, sugar and bitters. Garnish that with a citrus twist and you have a Fancy Gin Cocktail. Splash some liqueur into that and you have yourself an Improved Gin Cocktail. The Improved Gin Cocktail is the best of the bunch taste-wise, though very intense and heavy genevers (I am thinking Korenwijn style products) might be better appreciated in the more minimalist Fancy Gin Cocktail. Forget about the basic Gin Cocktail unless you find yourself with Genever on hand but no citrus.




2 oz Genever (Bols Oude – use an Oude if at all possible)

1 tsp gomme syrup (try and use real gomme syrup – instructions on making it here)

1-2 tsp liqueur (triple sec, curacao, maraschino or absinthe are all traditional choices)

a couple of dashes of bitters (Fees Whiskey Barrel Aged, Peychaud’s and Angostura are all worthy choices)

Build over ice in a rocks glass, or serve it up if you like. Garnish by squeezing the oils from a citrus twist over the drink, then drop the twist in.

There is huge potential for experimentation with the liqueurs and bitters. While not traditional, Drambuie is an interesting choice that brings out the malt character of the gin. Drambuie probably works best in partnership with another liqueur though, perhaps triple sec. Absinthe also works nicely, as do the anise notes of Peychaud’s. The version pictured above contains Drambuie, Peychaud’s Bitters and a little Absinthe Bitters (a sort of concentrated Absinthe made by the people who make Henri Bardouin pastis).



The next drink is not strictly speaking a Genever drink. The Martinez was first mixed with Old Tom (a sort of hybrid gin sitting somewhere between Genever and London Dry). However, in the absence of Old Tom, Genever probably makes a more authentic substitute than London dry. The drink is said to be the ancestor of the modern Martini, and the design is something like a sweetened and reversed Martini – with sweet vermouth rather than dry, and more vermouth than spirit.



2 oz Italian vermouth

1 oz Genever (either Oude or Jonge should do)

1 tsp maraschino

1-2 dashes aromatic bitters (the cinnamon accented Fees Brothers Whiskey Barrel Aged is a good choice)

Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

The recipe looks a bit odd, but the result is a meditative drink, suitable for winter evenings. Nineteenth Century drinkers obviously were not afraid of vermouth.

Gin Daisy


These days a Tom Collins is made with London Dry Gin. However, in the 19th Century the drink was made with Old Tom or Genever. Making a Genever-based Tom Collins is a simple matter that hardly requires any advice – just change the base spirit and you’re done. However, the Nineteenth Century also saw Genever used in other highball type drinks. The Gin Daisy is an interesting example. There is something almost Tiki-esque about the old fashioned flavorings.



2 oz Genever

2 tsp orgeat (Monin)

2 tsp Maraschino (Maraska)

½ oz lemon juice (juice of ½ a lemon)

Shake over ice, strain into a glass (I used a small old fashioned glass), and top up with soda water. For some reason I went very easy on the soda in this one, not wanting to dilute drink too much.

This is vaguely reminiscent of a Singapore Sling. The maraschino obviously supplies the cherry, while the soft and malty Genever boosts the fruity feel, and the orgeat adds a hint of Tiki. Tasty and very different. I like orgeat in cocktails.

Gin Fix


Drinkers in the UK will no doubt know the Bramble. In fact the Bramble is simply an updated Gin Fix. The original Gin Fix was concocted with Genever as described below.


2 oz Genever (Bols Oude)

¼ oz lemon juice (juice of ¼ lemon)

1 tsp simple syrup (or gomme syrup if available)

1 tsp raspberry syrup

Fill a glass with shaved ice – I substituted crushed ice. Build the drink over ice and stir thoroughly. Top up with more ice and garnish with seasonal berries – raspberries being the obvious choice. Raspberries being out of season meant I had to slum it with strawberries.

The raspberry syrup and Genever combination is most pleasant. The malty notes of the Genever add complexity and depth to a simple drink. It is worth a look if you want a summery take on Genever. The use of crushed ice means you should end up with a pleasantly frosted glass, adding to the summery feel. Obviously there is lots of potential for playing with different syrups, or substituting a berry liqueur as is done in the modern Bramble. You could even muddle some fruit into the drink, which would pretty much give you a Genever Bramble.

Gin and Milk

I posted on this one earlier – link here.  However, back in those days I did not have Genever.  Gin and Milk is MUCH better with an Oude Genever than with London Dry.  The character changes completely.  Rather than an oddball combination it becomes an intuitive one, with the maltiness of the Genever giving something of a ‘malted milk’ effect. There is no doubt that Gin and Milk was first made with Genever, so make the effort and try it the way it was intended to be.

In my original post on this drink I suggested a dash of orgeat.  When using Genever (especially an Oude) I am not so sure this is a good idea.  There is plenty of flavor happening already and little need to round things out with extras.  Of course if you like the orgeat then go ahead.  The bitters are still a nice touch.

13 Responses to “Old-School Genever Cocktails”

  1. erik_flannestad Says:

    I believe the l’Extreme de Absente is a wormwood maceration rather than a distilled product.

    Is it “Extremely” bitter? If so, it is OK to use it as a wormwood/Absinthe bitters, but not as an Absinthe substitute.

    Their touting of the extreme thujone content of the product, makes me wary.

  2. seamus Says:

    Their other products are quite good. I like their pastis, and tried their regular absinthe the other day and liked it too.

    I initially thought the lExtreme de Absente looked “extremely” tacky. However, when I realized who made it I thought I would give it a try.

    It may well be a maceration rather than distilled. However, I am pretty sure there is more than just wormwood in there (not that I really know what wormwood tastes like). It tastes more or less like pastis, but with a big bitter note – presumably wormwood.

    What I have usually used it for is to mix into pastis to give it a more ‘absinthe’ edge – my slapdash solution to having no real absinthe in the house right now.

    As a cocktail bitters it is kind of odd, being short on the aromatic components (though they are there) and heavy on the bitter tastes.

  3. seamus Says:

    I tried adding water to it and it doesn’t louche.

    Diluting it with water also shows the taste to not be very complex. I guess it is mostly wormwood with a little other stuff as a base.

    Well, an OK novelty product I guess.

  4. Daniel Estremadoyro Says:

    Improved gin cocktail, one of my favorites, indeed. But don´t forget about the Holland House (genever, dry vermouth, lemon juice & maraschino) and off course the John Collins!
    BTW, “In fact the Bramble is simply an updated Gin Fix”… Totally agree.

  5. Genever - its a Dutch thing « Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails - Boston Says:

    [...] in alternating batches of the following cocktail, as Seamus Harris of Bunnyhugs did and reported on here this past [...]

  6. marley Says:

    Can’t for get the classic Absinthe drink too! Here’s one of my fave recipes:

    1 oz. Absolut
    1 oz. Le Tourment Vert
    1 oz. Chambord
    1 oz. Pineapple juice
    - Shake well and strain into chilled cocktail glass
    - Garnish with lemon twist

  7. russian Says:

    Im more of an absinthe fan here

  8. absinthe Says:

    where is the Le Tourment Vert?

  9. Absinthe Says:

    I am very happy that I found your blog. Keep up the good work.

  10. drinkboston.com » Blog Archive » Nips - 8/28/09 Says:

    [...] botanicals are added. If you want to time travel back to the days when Jerry Thomas was mixing up Improved Holland Gin Cocktails, this is your vehicle. Cocktail Virgin Slut and C. Fernsebner of the Bostonist both did fine [...]

  11. electronic cigarette Says:

    My neighbor last week made up this concoction. I have to be honest..I didnt like it one bit. Sorry!

  12. Sean O' Malley Says:

    Just tried the Martinez and happily managed to get rid of some of that Bols Genever that’s been hanging round the back of the booze cabinet for the last God knows how many years. (Not the oude stuff but the low end stuff). Now know where the rest will be going – a bit like a perfect Manhattan except a touch drier and therefore for my “dry tooth” (is there such a word?) a lot less “empalaogoso” (Spanish perfect here) than the real McCoy full on Manhattan.

  13. Bunnyhugs » Blog Archive » Gin and Milk Says:

    [...] 1 oz gin (ideally use an Oude style Genever – read more here and here) [...]

Leave a Reply