Jenever and Dutch seafaring

Jenever, a nautical beverage

Oud Zeilboot en zonsondergang

Genever is an ancient Dutch product, distilled from malt wine, with the juniper berry as a prominent ingredient. Research shows that between the 16th and 19th centuries jenever was served frequently – and in large quantities – on Dutch ships. But why is it jenever that is so strongly associated with Dutch seafaring?

the VOC

A voyage on a ship bound for the East Indies was managed by the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie and lasted about nine months. A gigantic amount of food and drinking water had to be carried for the hundreds of crew on board. They often ran low on provisions and the crew was then put on rations. The menu on board contained too much fat and salt and not enough vitamins.

The VOC usually purchased fixed quantities of food and drink. In principle, a fixed menu applied on every ship, making it easy for the Company to determine how much was needed. A standard menu also meant that people could stock up more cheaply. Despite the assortment of products usually being selected for their long shelf life, it was common for food to spoil. Barrels of meat were often full of maggots and had to be put in tea towels and rinsed with water to strain the worms out. However, it was the lack of vitamins that was most dangerous on the long voyages: scurvy was particularly common.

For health

Wine and spirits were therefore handed out mainly for health reasons, as they were thought to help prevent scurvy. A sailor could bring his own supply on board, sometimes more than thirty bottles of genever. Officers were never put on rations, and were free to decide how much they drank. It was probably quite a lot.

So water, beer, wine and spirits (genever) were all available on board. The quality of the water and beer deteriorated rapidly as the voyage progressed while the wine and genever remained good. Per day, a crew member could drink about a litre of beer and a little wine or genever. Dehydration was a regular occurrence, especially if there were problems stocking up on supplies along the way or when the voyage took longer, due to weather conditions or navigational errors. A total of around 200,000 litres of water and alcoholic drinks would probably do for a crew of three hundred men.

During the latter part of the 15th century, genever acquired a social, as well as a a medicinal function. ‘Fun from the bottle’ was commonplace: by the middle of the 16th century, there were hundreds of jenever-producing distilleries in the Low Countries. Port cities such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Schiedam supplied the Dutch shipping industry with the required genever.

Simon Rijnbende

Our founder, Simon Rijnbende was the son of Jan Rijnbende – captain of the ship “De Oranje Zaal”. In 1786, Simon accompanied his father on several adventurous sea voyages He even fought pirates in the Indian Archipelago.
In 1793, after his career as a sailor – and probably encouraged by the emergeneverg trade in the malt wine industry – Simon decided to go into business by himself as a distiller.

Our Vintage Genever is a tribute to Simon Rijnbende. Wood, smoke and seaweed notes take you back to fires on the beach and a fresh sea breeze on the deck of the ship on which Simon set off into the wide world. To find out more about our Vintage Genever click here.

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