Museums where you can exercise your sense of smell are few and far between. As anyone who has tried to convince a gallery to add a fragrance exposition knows, it can be a difficult undertaking. “Not enough funding” is a common excuse. One is left treating the aisles of Sephora as the august halls of perfume education. Or so it seems at first, because besides museums featuring fragrance, there are numerous venues that feature scent. For instance, any museum dedicated to wine or spirits would have a smelling bar and an explanation of aromatics. That you can later taste the stars of the exhibit only adds to the appeal.
During my research on the lavender farm in Limburg, I discovered that Hasselt, the province’s capital, has a jenever museum. Jenever, also known as genièvre, genever or peket, is an ancestor of gin, a local spirit made out of grain and flavored with juniper and other botanicals, and it has been made in the region since the 13th century. Wine and brandy distilled from grapes have traditionally been expensive, while the surfeit of corn brought from the New World made aqua vitae distillers eager to experiment. The result was a drink described as “banishing cares and making the heart courageous.”
That this 75 proof liquor has such an effect is easy enough to believe. Jenever might have started out as medicine, but instead of using sugar to mask the rough taste of the alcohol base, pharmacists chose a much more interesting approach by flavoring it with spices, herbs and flowers. Eventually, locally grown juniper started to dominate the composition, while jenever moved from the pharmacy shelf to the cafe.