The history of genever is printed in carbon on that of the workers of our region. It is indeed the industrial revolution that allowed the expansion of this brandy from the Netherlands, which now has the Protected Geographical Indication.

Three distilleries, one destiny

Currently in our region, there are only three distilleries left. One in the North in Wambrechies near Lille (Claeyssens), and two in the Pas-de-Calais : the first in the Saint-Germain brewery in Aix-Noulette near Lens produces Boutefeu, the other in Houlle not far from Saint-Omer (Persyn) has an impressive range. Considered the ancestor of gin, genever belongs to the family of grain spirits. Since the last quarter of the 17th century, when the first distillery was founded in Dunkirk, the recipe has been a mixture of 70% rye, 20% malted barley and 10% oats. The three cereals are brewed before fermenting in vats. They are then distilled twice (three times in Houlle) and matured in oak barrels for several months.

Take care of the grain

Genever would not be called that without the addition of genever berries. The infusion always takes place during the last distillation in minute proportions. Just think, to flavour 5,000 liters of alcohol, you don’t need more than 900 g of this tiny black ball no bigger than a blueberry ! The harvest of the berries takes place in October. The Hauts-de-France region has a few juniper orchards in the Boulonnais area and in the Amiens region. If the berries of our junipers are mainly imported from Germany, the Conservatoire d’Espaces Naturels has recently allowed the harvest of local berries for the realization of the Long Drink Genever of Houlle.

Workers’ brandy

Between the two world wars, distilleries live their golden age. Genever became the favorite drink of the workers and the miners. The latter consumed it pure or cut with coffee. It is the famous “bistouille” because it is stirred twice : once for the sugar, once for the genever. At that time, two thirds of the French production of genever came from the stills of the Claeyssens distillery. Today, genever is associated with certain regional products such as waffles, sausages, jam and chocolate.