I think gin and whiskey evolution are not related in the U.S.
Gin in The Netherlands and elsewhere in Flanders has been treated with juniper for a very long time. In the 1870's M.L. Byrn discussed in detail (in The Complete Practical Distiller) gin production in Holland and Flanders. He stated that juniper usually was used to flavor new spirit. If juniper wasn't used another flavoring often was. He said some genever, still retaining that name, used no flavoring, but he made it clear that juniper flavor (and it was added in different ways) was widespread in the business. It is clear too from his remarks that this was a means to rectify, to mask off-flavor.
Apparently, juniper-flavored spirit was discovered, or developed methodically, at Leyden University as a supposed medicament in the 1500's. No doubt originally spirit was made in The Netherlands without flavoring but people found early on juniper was a rectification agent and it suited their taste.
When the column still and other techniques allowed for rectification without use of juniper - the word genever (and its contraction, gin) is derived from various European words for juniper - it seems makers started to dispense more with the plant. This resulted by the early 1900's in "jonge genever" - young genever - young in the sense of being the newer, more industrial kind made from cheap molasses, potatos or maize corn. It was neutral in character and did not require juniper to mask off-taste. Of course, by then many people acquired the taste for the juniper flavoring so some jonge genever retained the plant as a flavoring. "Old" genever or "oude genever" was in contrast the original type, not old in the sense of being aged before sale. This original style meant it was made from mixed grains including traditionally a component of rye. The rye element seemed important since Byrn gives as a typical genever mash of quality 2/3rds rye and 1/3rd malted barley but mixed grains (e.g. wheat, rye, malt and/or, later, maize) likely was always an alternative. Again traditionally, oude genever was low proof spirit, retaining some flavor from the grains but this was problematic because wood aging was not a usual component of genever production, hence the wide use of juniper and other flavorings to rectify. Yes, today some oude genever (a small part of the genever market ) is aged - maybe old got transmuted in peoples' minds into the sense of long-matured. But as far as I know, genever gin, old or young, wasn't and still is not typically a barrel-aged product like whisky and brandy. It gets its character from juniper or other, rather non-whisky-related, flavorings. In contrast, whisky has typically been a long-aged, unflavored spirit since the mid-1800's at least.
Also as far as I know, the one genever type in Holland that never was flavoured with juniper is "korenwijn". This is a cereals-derived "moutwijn". Moutwijn (malt wine) is the technical name for the aforesaid traditional, cereals-derived distillate which all genever was originally. Yet korenwijn does not have a taste resembling any whisky I know (even very young rye whiskey); rather it has rather a characteristic light, spicy flavor which shows I think that spices or flavorings of some kind are used even if juniper specifically is eschewed. Bols makes a well-known "Corenwijn" of this type. These products clearly are assisted by modern rectification methods (e.g. , triple or more distillations). Before these refinements spirit produced from cereals would have been a strong-tasting beverage and would I think have been submitted to rectification treatment of some kind other than (typically) long barrel aging. The signature flavoring in Dutch distilling was and is use of juniper. I do not think korenwijn, even supposing it was originally unflavored, was the original genever or at least I have seen no evidence of that. In any case korenwijn seems an atypical example of genever. Byrn refers to non-juniper-flavoured genever as the exception, not the rule of Dutch distilling. Today, advanced distilling and other techniques have made much jonge genever taste like vodka but of the flavored types still extant they, from my experience, have a juniper or another spicy characteristic that seems unrelated to whisky of any kind.
Dutch gin was known widely in Britain and North America in Colonial and post-Colonial times, it was a by-product of the world maritime trade in which Holland played a key role and of certain specific international political developments. It makes sense some distillers in the new world wanted to imitate Hollands or Dutch gin since it had an international reputation. E.g., Jan Melchers - a Dutchman originally - made one such imitation in Quebec Province starting in the mid-1800's. The product survived until after the Second World War, in stone bottles to boot . Genever in the feisty juniper Dutch style is still made in Quebec, under license from de Kuyper, for example.
Whisky, the very term, was in origin a Celtic cereal product, sometimes flavoured but increasingly not so as the 1800's moved on. When it was flavored a variety of herbs and other flavorings (and sweetenings) was used, certainly not limited to juniper if that was used at all. Byrn gives a recipe for a flavored Irish whiskey in which a wide variety of spices are used but no juniper. The long aging in wood of unflavored whisky caught on in Scotland, Ulster and America in the early-to-mid 1800's; long aging has never been a hallmark of Dutch genever which traditionally was a flavored drink.
I have tasted (and can bring to the next Sampler) aged, unflavoured Belgian genever made from a mixed grain mash including rye. The brand is Filliers. This is in effect a type of korenwijn, an all-cereal distillate supposedly in a traditional style but Filliers chooses not to use any flavoring whatever. I am not clear whether Filliers used juniper at one time or never did so. Its genever is aged in wood, although not new charred wood I am quite sure, in two versions, a 5 year and 8 year old. It is a good drink but no way does it taste like any kind of American rye whiskey I know. There is a passing resemblance to some Canadian whisky or Scots grain whisky, but that hardly assists an argument that unflavored genever influenced American straight whiskey development. I believe in any case such unflavored, barrel-aged genever type was a rarity in the early 1800's if it existed at the time at all.
I am no academic or historian and this is simply my opinion from some 30 years of reading about and sampling international spirits. I believe American rye whiskey was influenced to a degree by rye distillation in the German lands whence certain immigrants in parts of 1700's Pennsylvania came. Mennonites from Switzerland probably did bring to the new land the ancestor of rye whiskey. 1970's and 1980's Michter's was likely its last vestige (in somewhat altered form). But we must recall: rye whiskey was aged in America from the mid-1800's on. By definition, informal and later formal, that is what straight whiskey is, low proof spirit aged in wood barrels (newly charred, preferably) with no additional flavor added. So the Swiss-German rye spirit import, if it was that, quickly morphed into a version of Celtic/American whisky.
Therefore, I cannot see how the main features of traditional genever production, namely, juniper flavouring and sale as unaged spirit, connect to the whiskey tradition of Western Pennsylvania and by extension Kentucky. There, the Scots-Irish developed whiskey probably with help with German fellow-immigrants but the latter were I think not making genever and in any case their influence was limited because long aging in wood, never mind new wood, was not a genever production technique. (I should add here that the use of the term, "geneva" for genever gin is a corruption that has nothing to do with the city of that name in Switzerland). Was the East Coast and well into the interior not settled mainly by English incomers? Many of them would have known the good Dutch gin, "Hollands" or "Schiedam", brought to England in the 1600's (through old King Billy of Orange and all that), and the distiller cited by Mike was I think trying to reach that market. To them whisky as known to the Ulstermen going to Appalaicha was probably an unknown quantity.
I perceive or can infer no connection to American whiskey from genever gin but this is a conclusion by a non-expert and I welcome further ideas and discussion.
Last edited by gillmang
on Thu Jan 27, 2005 7:56 am, edited 2 times in total.