This past weekend was the Jenever Feest in Hasselt. I had been looking forward to this event for a while since it's my boyfriend's favorite festival of the year and he'd mentioned it several times. Hasselt is known for its jenever; it's even home to the National Jenever Museum. And during the Jenever Feest the city turns into one big party with jenever being served and drunk in every street.
Jenever, as I learned during my first week here, is a kind of gin native to the Netherlands and Belgium. (Jeneverbes is Dutch for juniper berry, which is what's used to flavor gin.) I could tell you more about what it is, exactly, and how it's made, except that I wasn't that interested in those sections of the Jenever Museum and was more focused on getting to the jenever tasting at the end.
My boyfriend prefers the old-style jenever (oude jenever or graanjenever), which is clear and very strong. It's always sipped, and savored, from a small glass--no ice and no mixers. I like a good gin-and-tonic as much as the next girl, but I can't imagine drinking gin straight.
Luckily for me, there are all kinds of sweet, flavored jenevers too. These fall into two main categories: the cream jenevers and the fruit jenevers. I like both, but I'm partial to the chocolate (which falls into the cream category) and the berry flavor.
I decided to look in our liquor cabinet and see what kinds of jenever we have in the house for the purposes of illustration. Sure enough, there's a bottle of the classic old-style jenever by Smeets, which is a distillery based in Hasselt, plus some flavored jenevers. Cactus is apparently one of the more popular flavors, and we've got some hazelnut and passionfruit too.
I took the opportunity to sample several different kinds of jenever at the festival: fig, blood orange, berry, lemon, vanilla and speculaas. I also saw lychee jenever for the first time and had to try it, despite the fact that it was bright pink. My boyfriend stuck to the old-style jenever, with the end result that he got drunk twice as fast as the rest of us, since it has twice the alcohol content as the flavored ones.