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Bols

For over 400 years bartenders and cocktail lovers around the world have trusted the name Lucas Bols.

The Bols story

The story begins in 1575 when the Bols family began producing liqueurs in a small distillery on the outskirts of Amsterdam, but as the city has expanded, this area is now very much in the urban centre. The first flavours used were cumin, cardamom, and orange.

At the time liqueurs were used mainly for health purposes - juniper distillate was thought to be good for settling the stomach - or for special occasions like weddings. There was even one called ‘bridal tears’ made with flakes of gold leaf. These were not everyday drinks.

The Dutch Golden Age

In 1652, the grandson of the founder, Lucas Bols, took over and began turning the company from a local operation to an international affair. At the time, Holland was going through what’s known as the Dutch Golden Age. The Dutch had fought off domination by the Spanish to become the world’s top mercantile nation with a formidable shipping fleet. When you think of the beauty of old Amsterdam or paintings by masters like Vermeer and Rembrandt, this is the period.

Much of this wealth came from spices and other valuable goods from the east shipped by the VOC, the Dutch East India Company. In 1700, Lucas Bols became a major shareholder in the VOC, the Dutch East India Company. giving him access to the finest spices from the orient. He would give bottles to seafarers so wherever the Dutch went, which was everywhere, Bols liqueurs went too.

Dutch gin

As well as liqueurs, the Bols name is strongly associated with geneva, Dutch gin. This would have originally been a rudimentary drink but the Bols company elevated it into a fine spirit made from rye, wheat, and malted barley. Nowadays the company makes an array of traditional geneva including aged and single cask expressions.

Unlike London gin, geneva is made from a base spirit with a bold character. This richer style proved immensely popular in the US. If you look at old cocktail books, there are recipes that call for something called Hollands Gin. Jerry Thomas, cocktail pioneer, only used four base spirits, rum, brandy, whisky and geneva in his 1862 book, Jerry Thomas' Bartenders Guide.

The family sells up

Meanwhile back in Amsterdam, the last male Bols heir died in 1816. The family sold the company, to the magnificently-named Gabriel Theodorus van ‘t Wout, but with the proviso that the name Lucas Bols (who died in 1719) should be on the bottles in perpetuity thus keeping the name alive. In 1868, the Moltzer family acquired Lucas Bols and it remained with them until it was floated on the Dutch stock exchange in 1954 before a merger with Remy Cointreau in 2000.

In 2006, a management buyout which returned the company to Dutch hands. And in 2014, Lucas Bols began distilling again in Rozengracht, near the site of the original Bols distillery. Bols had come home.

Semper idem

The key to Bols success has been consistency. The firm’s motto is semper idem - always the same. The technology such as distillation, maceration, and percolation hasn’t changed much in 400 years. Many of the recipes are based on the originals created by Lucas Bols.

As well as Bols-branded products, the company owns a portfolio of other drinks including Galliano. To keep up with the times, Bols works closely with bartenders. The company has the Bols Academy where it trains bartenders and it runs cocktail competitions. The very bottles are designed for use by professionals with non-slip rings for ease of handling.

So whether you’re a pro bartender or just love making drinks at home, look no further than Lucas Bols.

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