The French have their cognac, the Scottish their whisky, the Germans their schnapps, and the Russians their vodka. And we Belgians? We have jenever. For more than 500 years now. Hasselt has a special bond with this European-wide recognised regional product . Discover more about jenever in the Hasselt Jenever Museum or sample it elsewhere in the city.
Throughout the centuries, jenever has taken many forms. In better times grain was the main ingredient, but in less prosperous years molasses was used. In some regions it has a spicy flavour, whilst in others the flavour is somewhat detached and neutral.
Jenever has both proponents and opponents: those who regard it as a source of pleasure and those who see it as a cause for concern. Accordingly, the government has a love-hate relationship with jenever: on the one hand jenever is a good source of revenue, but on the other a danger for public health.
Jenever is part of the region's living immaterial heritage, made by distillers now and in the past, who use top quality ingredients and expertise to give such a unique taste to their end product. All agricultural products that contain sugar or starch are suitable raw materials:
- Sugar is converted into alcohol through fermentation.
- Starch can be converted into sugars, which can then be fermented.
The alcohol, which spontaneously arises after fermentation, is concentrated through distillation. The end result is a 'stiff' drink. And similarly, cognac is made from sugars from grapes, calvados with the sugar from apples, and kirsch using cherries. For whisky and grain jenever, starch from grain is used. The distillation occurs in three steps:
- Malting process
- Production of a grain eau de vie or malt wine
- Finishing off to a grain jenever
Appelation d’origine contrôlée
Since 15 January 2008, Jenever has been protected by the European Union in terms of its geographical origin, as was previously the case with whisky and cognac. Jenever therefore receives its own ‘appelation d’origine contrôlée’, as it is called in wine jargon.
In concrete terms, this means that drink bearing the name jenever, genièvre or genever may only be distilled in Belgium, the Netherlands, France (Nord and Pas-de-Calais regions) and Germany (Nordrhein-Westfalen and Niedersachsen).