Those of you who have been following me for a while might know that I rarely drink alcohol. I simply don’t like the taste of it (well, of most alcoholic drinks) and somehow seeing drunk people never makes me want to get drunk myself. But I was visiting Hasselt in the Belgian province of Limburg, and Hasselt means jenever.
The history of jenever dates back to the 14th century when distillation was invented by the Arabs and spread throughout Europe. It was always a popular drink, but not always easy to get your hands on as the Belgian government more than once forbade it.
Why? Because the people drank it too much! According to the website of the Jenevermuseum, at a certain moment in time Belgians drank 9,5 liters of 50% jenever per year.
Higher taxes, but also the competition of industrial alcohol and later the troubles of World War I made a lot of jenever breweries close their doors. Lately, there’s been a renewed interest in the drink though, following the renewed interest in local products and the success of the Flemish television series “De Smaak van De Keyser”, which is about a jenever brewing family.
The National Jenevermuseum
There’s much more to the history of jenever though and you can learn all about it at the Jenevermuseum in Hasselt.
The Jenevermuseum is fittingly housed in what used to be a jenever brewery, and part of a convent before that. The building itself has been renewed and a bit expanded, but all while maintaining the original spirit of the brewery.
When visiting, you’re first taken through some rooms with original brewing machinery. Signs tell you what the machines were for and there’s also an interactive map of the room which allows you to press any machine you’d like to know about and then gives you the explanation. if you read through the whole thing, you’ll know all about the jenever brewing process.
There’s more though. The jenevermuseum doesn’t only focus on how jenever is made, but also on the cultural history of the drink. It exhibits centuries-old texts about jenever, explains how the products to make jenever have changed when the times were hard, shows how jenever effects the body and, related to that, how the attitude of the government towards the drink has changed quite a few times.
The last room of your visit holds a wide range of jenevers together with bowls of the product that gave taste to that particular jenever, like cinnamon or ginger.
There’s also a quiz you can take to find out what sort of jenever would fit your character. My result? Something creamy and sweet like spekulaas, chocolate or vanilla.
That sounds about right to me!
Everyone who visits the museum gets a token that can be exchanged in the jenever bar afterwards for a free shot glass of jenever. I was a bit disappointed because you can’t choose just any jenever. My options were a single malt and a lemon jenever. Being the sweet tooth that I am, I obviously went for the lemon jenever… and liked it!
Because I’d learned during my visit how you should take your first sip of jenever from a shot glass, I immediately put that new knowledge into practice. Well, sort of. You should put your hands on your back, bend over and take your first sip like that. My long hair was hanging a bit in the way though, so I used my hands to hold my hair back, see? (Sorry for the blurry image)
(You can also watch this video directly on YouTube)
Witte Nonnenstraat 19
The Jenevermuseum organizes tasting sessions, guided tours through the museum and guided walks through the city. There’s also a museum shop where you can get a nice souvenir.
Where to stay in Hasselt
Check Booking.com for an extensive list of options for all budgets and needs.
If you’re looking for an apartment rather than a hotel, I would recommend checking airbnb. Sign up through my link and get a discount on your first stay!
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My visit to the Jenevermuseum was made possible by Tourism Hasselt. Partnerships like these allow me to travel more so that I can always produce new content for this blog. They will never affect my opinion on the respective experience in any way.