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Issue 121 - Jenever, Juniper

Whisky Magazine Issue 121
July 2014


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Jenever, Juniper

The very roots of whisky are discovered in Holland

It was, it must be said, somewhat like a scene out of the Da Vinci Code. The group of scholars (and great drinkers) huddling around an ancient manuscript which even the British Library had trouble finding in
its archive. Who could tell when eyes had last set their eyes upon the old Dutch text - written in 1495 and still sparklingly bright after 519 years. We were clustered around this book which was originally commissioned by a rich merchant from somewhere between Arnhem and Appeldoorn because of a recipe contained in the household section.

To paraphrase, it gives instructions on how to take wine infused with nutmeg, ginger, galangal, grains of paradise, clove, cinnamon and cardamom and distil it once. Then how to redistil the mixture with a bag containing nutmeg, sage, clove and juniper suspended in the neck of the still.

It's the final botanical which makes this an important text, as this is the earliest record of juniper being used in a potable beverage, the first record of a proto-gin. For spirit hounds, it is texts like this which inch us further towards answering that vexed question – when was the first beverage spirit made?

Medical texts from the mid-13th century mention juniper (boiled in wine) as an efficacious medicine for “the pain”, but the location of this recipe in the book points to its use as a pleasurable potation.

The date of its creation is only one year after Friar John Cor took delivery of eight bolls of malt to make his aqua vitae which, w...

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