Many people who live or lived in The Hague don’t even know this place exists. What a shame! We had such a great time visiting the Van Kleef Museum and Distillery.
This place is quite a historic landmark. It is the sole surviving distillery of the 14 that used to exist in The Hague. Located at de Lange Beestenstraat 109, near the center of town, next to the oldest building in The Hague, the place is easy to get to. Fleur Kruyt, the manager of the museum and distillery, welcomes you with great enthusiasm. She is very passionate about her work and makes us feel right at home.
The Van Kleef Distillery has a fascinating history that dates back to 1842 when Theodorus van Kleef founded it. In those days, distilleries and breweries fulfilled an important role in the survival of the residents of the city. Until 1874, people had no access to fresh drinking water. They used to “tap” their water out of the canals, which also served as the open sewer of the city. In order to “disinfect” the dirty water, everyone, even children, would drink thin beer or beer with added water. For conservation and health reasons, water was also mixed with distilled wine. Many alcoholic beverages like eau de vie, aquavit, and whiskey, derive from the word: life water. Everyone would go to their distiller or brewer to get what they needed. In The Hague, Van Kleef had quite an important role to play and is nowadays the last place to remind us of those days.
Distilleries were also the place to get medicines, for many people. Back then, medicines were often a combination of alcohol and medicinal herbs and plants. Jenever started as a medicine to ease the pain in the case of stomach or intestinal aches. Its name comes from its main ingredient, the juniper berry or jenever bes in Dutch. As the Duch were trading all over the world, their national drink found its way to South Africa, Australia, the United States of America, and England. There, jenever, known as genever, was a big hit and became the gin we know nowadays. The two drinks are now long lost cousins, but they did start out as brothers.
From 1842 until 1986, all the Van Kleef distilled drinks were produced in the Van Kleef distillery. In 1986, the distillery had to close its doors for security reason. Under the barn, the cellar could house 35,000 liters of alcohol. Too dangerous, thought the city, so the distillery adjacent to the shop was demolished at the beginning of the 1990s. The shop reopened in 1995 after extensive renovation and is still standing at the same location it was in the old days. In place of the distillery is a garden with a memory of where the rock of the distillery used to be. When entering the shop, I felt like I had stepped back in time. The liquor organ made of Slovenian oak is still standing just like it was in 1842, with its 24 barrels opposite the bar or drankkorgel – its 16 small barrels above the bar and eight main barrels each containing about 1,000 liters of liquor. The organ plays a different kind of music, but the melodies each barrel produces indicates the volume of liquor inside. Now glass bottles are used, with beautifully hand-written labels. On the bar, the cash register dating from 1915 is still standing and fully operational. Its particularity is that it has four different cash desks, each opened with a unique key. Four different people could use it.
The museum has some cool artifacts on display, such as the very first telephone book of The Hague dating from 1883. At that time, only 126 connections existed, and if you were one of the lucky ones, you could only make local calls. Van Kleef and Zoon are number one in the phone book. Having a telephone connection was most of all a status symbol and shows that the distillery had quite an important place in the city. Among all the memorabilia are distillation equipment, shelves and shelves of old bottles, and labels. So many memories that fill this special place with authenticity and charm.
We drank quite a number of those little tasting glasses full of delicious liquors. I can tell you, this is really good stuff! The current owners use no artificial ingredients which makes the distillery quite artisanal. They have found many old recipes to use but are always testing their own to offer different flavors that suit the modern market better. Their selection of jenevers, vodkas, gin, and bitters is enormous. One of my favorites is the Ginger liquor, so smooth and warming. The Mandarine liquor is so fruity, the scent so strong, you will suddenly feel surrounded by mandarine trees. Oh, and the Bride’s Tears with 24-karat golden leaf floating in the bottle is out of this world. Flavors of cardamom, lemon, fennel, and cinnamon create a smooth blend, unlike anything you’ve tasted before.
Stepping outside in the garden gives you a sense of how important the distillery used to be. Among the vegetation, traces of its bright past are still visible and offer a cosy place to sit and enjoy a sip of your favorite liquor.
This wonderful old distillery and museum are definitely well worth a visit, and a place where you can catch some true haagsche atmosphere. Fleur is so good at transmitting her love for their creations that you will not go away without buying at least one bottle, or two. And I can tell you, the choice will not be easy!
Pack Your Bags
The Hague (Den Haag) in the Netherlands enjoys a warm and temperate climate. There is a lot of rain, even during the drier months. The driest months to visit are April and May, with August enjoying the warmest temperatures and January the coldest. As one of the European Union member countries, the Netherlands currency is the Euro (EUR). The Netherlands is on European Standard Time (EST), one hour ahead of Greenwich Meantime (GMT).
The Hague is easily accessible from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS), a short train journey takes 40 minutes to the Centraal Station. The Hague is also within easy reach of all other major cities in the Netherlands. You can plan your journey online prior to arriving. The Hague has a very efficient bus and tram service, should you need it. You can hop on a bus or tram to take you to the many points of interest. Timetables and a handy journey planner are available online at www.9292.nl. This useful website also provides disruption information and other relevant travel news.
Don’t forget to book a private tour in advance, which includes snacks and testing. It is the best way to fully understand the importance of the place in the history and the culture of The Hague.
Holland.com is an all-encompassing website and will help you plan your trip to The Hague as well as any other cities that you wish to visit whilst in the Netherlands.
A special thank you to Fleur Kruyt for her passion, positive energy and her warm welcome.