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Mastering the Art of Flavor: House of Bols Experience

Contact Author Jennifer Novoseletsky
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  • House of Bols smelling chamber
    House of Bols hall of flavor
  • History room
    History room
  • Bottles
    House of Bols bottles
  • Ingredients
    Ingredients included in flavoring genever
  • The negroni
    The negroni
  • Strawberry cheesecake genever cocktail
    Build your own cocktail: Strawberry cheesecake

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Anyone who has yet to visit Amsterdam is in for a wild ride. Everywhere your eyes lead, you see building after building with significant history behind each structure. This includes the city’s House of Bols, centrally located near the Van Gogh Museum, the I Amsterdam sign and the Rijksmuseum.

Brief History

Genever is known as the grandfather of gin. In 1575, the Bols family started the production of liqueurs at ‘Tlootsje, a small distillery. The first liqueurs were cumin, cardamom and orange. More than 440 years ago, Lucas Bols, the grandson of the founder, started to ship the liqueurs all over the world. Over 300 liquor recipes were created and to this day, some of these same recipes are still followed.

“Before Prohibition, genever was the world leading liquor,” explained Piet van Leijenhorst, master distiller. “We are trying to bring it back now.”

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House of Bols is reintroducing genever to the public with tours in Amsterdam. Some of the original handwritten recipes are displayed alongside the original bottles. Attendees can also see how the bottles changed throughout each century. They started off as tall cylinder bottles with handles and have transitioned from flasks to shorter cylinders.

Jeroen Huiskes, head of product development and quality, works with the product development team to brainstorm how to package the liquor with quality. Today, the bottle packaging has evolved into a variety of shapes, one particular shape which includes the resemblance of a bowling pin.

A Different Kind of Tasting Buzz

The distillery has a room full of doors for guests to enter and begin tasting; but with a twist! Once inside the room, the guest takes a shot of genever and the floor begins to vibrate. The vibration allows the liquid to swish in the guests’ mouths to get the full effect of its flavor.

Following is the hall of flavor, which is a rainbow-lit room with a variety of genever and pumps to smell each bottle. Guests can guess what they smell and find the answer behind a hidden window above each bottle.

“Ninety-five percent of what you taste comes from your sense of smell,” said van Leijenhorst. 

Flavor Inspiration

In the past, access to new herbs and spices traded through the Dutch East India Company led to new flavors. According to van Leijenhorst, his team today collaborates with professional bartenders worldwide to help develop flavors based on what is trending.

Ingredients are sourced from various countries to be turned into liquor. Two new flavors, for example, include date and pineapple chipotle. The date flavor is sourced from the Middle East, while pineapple chipotle arrives from Canada, he said.

“We import green tea from Japan, export it and send it back in liquor form,” explained van Leijenhorst. “There are 16 hours of green tea extraction. If we extract for 15 hours, the taste becomes different.”

How do the experts come up with 16 hours of distillation?

“We made that choice,” said Huiskes.

Ingredients and Processing

The ingredient room of the distillery gives guests the opportunity to experience ingredients such as clove and orange peel, which are used to give each batch a different flavor.

The following room showcases distillation, maceration and percolation processes. Even if each method were to use the same ingredients, the end result comes out tasting differently, explained Huiskes.

Genever’s Uniqueness

The main difference in gin and genever is two ingredients. Huiskes explained that gin does not include malt wine and a secret ingredient, which only five people in the world know about. These two ingredients make genever unique.

To craft the perfect flavor, there must be a proper balance between sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, acidity and umami, explained Huiskes.

The House of Bols also offers food pairing with genever, which is typically done for special events such as workshops or work parties. The best way to pair food items with the liquor is by connecting food with flavors that come from the same place.

“Think about where your products come from,” said Huiskes. “L’aperitivo is Italian and you would pair that with cheese and olives.”

Bols Training

On the second floor of the distillery is the academy, where bartenders train new employees on how to create all the cocktails on the menu, in addition to developing new ones. Trainees have the opportunity to experiment, while also learning bottle placement at the bar.

Training at the academy can take anywhere from half a day up to four days based on management level.

Malika Saidi, bartender, global Genever brand ambassador and trainer at the academy is an expert with genever cocktails. Her favorite drink to create is called the negroni, which is a red-colored cocktail that she crafts inside a light bulb to represent Amsterdam’s Red Light District.

Bring Back the Genever Spirit

Visiting the House of Bols provides guests with history, a one-of-a-kind experience and a treat at the end of the tour, where the guest has the option to build his/her own drink on a computer system. The computer then prints a receipt for the guest to bring to a trained bartender, who serves the exclusive cocktail. On top of it all, there is a small shop on the way out to purchase genever and other souvenirs to bring home.

So for those who travel often or plan to stop in Amsterdam, don’t pass up this opportunity, which will leave guests’ taste buds cheering, “sip, sip, hooray!”

Cheers!