Drinking in the ‘Dam Part 1: Jenever
Psst… Hier rust de Jenever
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Amsterdam. It’s not a very large city and it’s certainly not a globally renowned food and bev superstar. To be honest, I was sort of looking forward to a quiet week, drinking beer on the canal before my Tony C-inspired, hydrosol-soaked jaunt across London.
I had only one preconception when planning my trip, one ace in the hole, one secret weapon to help me navigation the uber-touristy Die Wallen and avoid the overwhelming tide of light beer: jenever. It’s old, it’s as Dutch as Dutch can be, and it’s rarely the reason young men travel to Amsterdam and visit the red light district.
But sure enough, hidden on a narrow side street in an almost comically crowded section of the city is the holy grail of vintage spirits: Wynand Fockink. It’s a distillery that’s been operating since the 17th century. Let’s stop for a second and appreciate that. The 17th century is older than the United States. It’s when the circulatory system was discovered and witches were still being put to death. And since then Wynand Fockink’s distillery has been making jenever and they’ve been doing it really, really well. Truth be told they also produce an impressive number of herbal and fruit infused liqueurs as well as a few fruit wines and something closely resembling something between an amari and an Alpine liqueur, but jenever is the main event.
A few different kinds of jenever are produced at Wynand, oude which is the more traditional and malty version, the more neutral-tasting jonge which refers to a more modern form of distilling, korenwijn and superior which play around with different methods of ageing and barrel finishing, and variations distilled from different grains like rye and the very Dutch spelt. All of them are good. Especially the oak aged korenwijn which pairs very well with the haring you’ll find dotting the canals (make sure to order it “mit alles”). And don’t mention mixology or cocktails or anything of the sort to the staff at Wynand, jenever is meant to be drank alone and they’ll throw you out if you press the subject. That said it makes a great Martinez.
If you are looking for something a little different, make sure to try [all] the infused liqueurs. If you’re lucky, they’ll hand you a pamphlet listing each variety, some or most of the ingredients and a little back story behind the name and traditions surrounding each infusion. A lot are a blend of vanilla, orange, and almond (they really like those flavors, tasted like a creamsicle to me) and have interesting names like “Little Hansel in the Basement” (Hansje in de Kelder) which is meant to celebrate when you find out you’ve got a bun in the oven. I went nuts for the Prinsenburger, an herbal infusion heavy on the wormwood that reminded me of a drinkable Malört (I know what you’re thinking, where’s the fun in that?). They refused to pour me a full glass (because it tastes so foul) and thought I was crazy for enjoying it (because it tastes so foul… have I mentioned what it tastes like?). Sipped slowly, it had all the wonderful honeyed, floral flavors of Malört accompanied by the characteristic wormwood bitterness but with none of the earwax and gasoline notes that you encounter in Malört sometimes (who are we kidding, all the time).
Wynand Fockink is certainly not to be missed. They have been doing things for centuries and haven’t changed a bit. Just make sure not to visit in large groups. They hate that. And don’t ask a lot of questions, either. In fact, don’t say much, just order, slurp your jenever (god help you if you skip that step), thank them kindly and leave.
And skip Bols. The tour is rubbish. It’s like something out of a bad Andy Warhol film. March right past it and go to the Van Gogh museum and get some real culture instead.