Bols Genever. Those words are probably foreign to many. Genever kind of sounds like something you step in or the name of a European lady of the night. And genever is European, but neither something you step in nor the name of a lady of the night—at least not in this case. For our purposes, however, genever refers to the juniper-flavored national liquor of the Netherlands, of which Bols, the oldest distillery in the world, is a major manufacturer of.

When I first visited Amsterdam, I was largely unfamiliar with genever, and therefore, Bols. And that’s probably the case for many Americans, likely only knowing the brand for its liqueurs that can be found behind many bars around the world. However, Bols is the world’s largest producer of genever, which is essentially the grandpa of gin. Genever, or “jenever,” is typically labeled as Dutch gin, and essentially traditional gin evolved from. The two are different, however. Though clear in color, genever has more whiskey qualities since it has a malt wine base, as compared to gin, which is more of a neutral spirit but with added natural flavors, of which juniper must be one.

House of BolsBut enough about the science of it. Now to the House of Bols, which I can confidently say is one of my best spirit/cocktails experiences (it’s not a distillery, per se, though Bols just opened a new distillery in Amsterdam) to date, which is no easy feat, since my travels have taken me from the Kentucky Bourbon Trail to the Scotch distilleries of the Scottish Highlands to the distilleries of Japan.

What differentiates the House of Bols is that it’s truly an experience, which is in the title, “House of Bols Cocktail and Genever Experience.” That starts when you walk in, with an interactive self-guided tour through its history, which is often the most boring and uninteresting part of a distillery to me. My disinterest in the history of distilleries often stems from the fact that so few of them have a robust history, at least in America, where prohibition thwarted many distilleries. Not the case at Bols.

Bols has been existent for more than 400 years, dating back to 1575, which makes it 200 years older than any distillery in America. However, it wasn’t until a few decades later that it started making its mark. The Bols grandson, Lucas, was a major shareholder in the East India Trading Company, giving him first dibs on herbs and spices to make hundreds of different liqueurs. This became the foundation for many of the Bols liqueurs you’ve probably seen in bars near and afar (hence the official name, Lucas Bols)

House of Bols Amsterdam, NetherlandsAt this same time, Bols was producing their genever, made from long-fermented rye, corn, and wheat, and triple distilled in copper pot stills and blended with juniper and other botanicals. While the spirits and cocktail trend is largely considered new, it was Bols who was really crafting it centuries before many others. And it’s had a great influence on cocktail culture, especially in America, even if many Americans aren’t familiar with it. Jerry Thomas, considered “the father of American mixology,” published the first cocktail recipe book in 1862, with a majority of the recipes calling for genever, or “Dutch gin.” Bols had just begun shipping genever to America 40 years prior.

Fascinating, right? This history has been immaculately preserved and is on display at the House of Bols, taking visitors on a tour through several centuries of the history of spirits and cocktails, which largely began in Amsterdam. What I love most about the House of Bols is that is explores the five senses through tastes, aromas, images, sound, and touch. In the Hall of Taste, for example, you smell the aromas of the different liqueurs and then have to guess what it is. Later in the tour, you can test out your flair bartending skills in the Bols Flairbooth. The icing on the cake is the final part of the tour in the Mirror Bar (See the video below that my friend Kiersten shot from our day(s) at the House of Bols).

House of Bols in Amsterdam

Upon exiting the museum and before entering the Mirror Bar, guests walk up to the cocktail selector, which selects a cocktail for you based on your palette and flavor preferences and prints out a drink ticket. You take your drink ticket up to the bar and the bartender make you a drink. You can order a second drink for just $7. And trust me, you’ll want a second drink. Before you leave Bols, and more specifically Amsterdam, I recommend picking up a bottle of Bols barrel-aged genever, which drinks like a whiskey, but is also a nice alternative in traditional whiskey cocktails, like a New York Sour, Manhattan, or Mint Julep.

Bols Mirror Bar Amsterdam

Look mom, no hands!

The price of admission at the House of Bols is about $16, which includes one cocktail. If you order tickets online, you’ll get a 10% discount. Meanwhile, below are a few cocktails to get you started.

Manhattan

  • 2 parts Bols Barrel Aged Genever.
  • 1 part sweet vermouth.
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters.

Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a pre-chilled martini glass.

Dutch Blood & Sand

  • 1 part Bols Barrel Aged Genever.
  • 1 part Cherry Heering.
  • 1 part sweet vermouth.
  • 1 cup orange juice.
  • Top with sparkling wine.

This adapted recipe from Bols Dutch Blood & Sand punch involves combining all the ingredients (except sparkling wine) into a shaker and fill with ice. Shake and strain into a martini glass and top with sparkling wine.

French Connection

  • 1 part Bols Barrel Aged Genever.
  • 1 part raspberry liqueur.
  • 1 part pineapple juice.

Combine all ingredients into a shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into a pre-chilled glass.