The Improved Holland Cocktail

Franciscus Sylvius' birthday

Your cocktail calendar entry for: March
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It’s March 15 and we celebrate the birthday of Franciscus Sylvius a Dutch physician and scientist who was born March 15, 1614.  Why, you ask?  Dr. Sylvius is often credited with inventing gin, to to commemorate the invention of gin we’ll make the Improved Holland cocktail.

It turns out such credit to Dr. Sylvius is unwarranted – he didn’t really invent gin – but he was alive when Genever first rose to prominence in the early 17th century and that’s close enough for our purposes since we’re talking about medicine anyway.

What is Genever? 

Genever is a formulation first developed as medicine by infusing and then distilling malt spirit or malt wine with Juniper, or Genever when you’re speaking Dutch.  Now it is true that juniper was described as an infusion for spirits as early as the 13th century, but those guys were doing it with grape wine distillate, or brandy, and we can say with some confidence that the taste buds of the ages abandoned that formulation.

But wait, there’s more.  This formulation was also very popular with British soldiers hard at work during the Thirty Years War, who dubbed it Dutch Courage.  They eventually took it back to England, renamed it Gin and found a great use for poor quality barley they had around that apparently wasn’t up to snuff for brewing beer.  In what must be one of the most munificent civil actions ever undertaken, the government allowed unlicensed distillers to pop up and by the early 18th century thousands of gin shops sprang up throughout England, a period known as the Gin Craze.

Still with us?  Good.  Now, going back to the Good Doctor Sylvius, we must recognize that the Genever that slowly morphed into what we now know as Gin was the product of primitive pot stills.  No reflux columns, no continuous distillations: just a boiling cauldron and a condenser.  That means Genever is pretty distant from Gin as we know it today – funky, malty and boisterous, it’s not exactly the first thing you would reach for when you’re eyeing some dry vermouth and an olive.  So to celebrate Dr. Sylvius’ birthday it’s time to pull out the bottle of Genever you doubtless have stuffed away somewhere.

So as Drink of the Day let’s mix up the Improved Holland cocktail.  Simple as always, and nothing but ordinary household supplies.

Improved Holland cocktail

Improved Holland Cocktail

Here’s something to do with the bottle of Jenever you may have shoved to the back of your liquor cabinet, or Old Tom gin if that’s what you have laying about.  It’s the “improved” version of the original Holland cocktail which was really just an Old Fashioned made with gin instead of whiskey.
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  • Cocktail glass



  • Add ingredients to mixing glass, stir, strain into cocktail glass.
  • Express oils from lemon twist over drink, drop in peel.
  • Drink.
  • Carry on. Courageously, it’s Dutch Courage.
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