Canterbury

Canterbury is just two hours by train from London. A welcome respite from the busy streets of the English capital. Though famous, Canterbury is a fairly small city. The fame is because of the huge cathedral, the seat of the Church of England that dominates the skyline from wherever you look. It is an old city, important to the Saxons, Romans, Normans and the English. Canterbury is located in Kent, a name any beer lover in the world should recognize because of the abundance of hops. It has also, just as Holland, gone through an amazing rise of small breweries in just a few years.

And what did we do in Canterbury? We went to a tiny brewery (in actual square feet) called the Canterbury Brewers and its brewpub the Foundry. Canterbury has a converted railroad shed that is now a food market called the Good’s Shed, that has an excellent bottle shop called, yes, The Bottle Shop. Lastly I want to talk a little about the dominance of the Shepherd Neame brewery that owns many pubs across Kent.

Canterbury Brewers / Foundry

I said tiny and if you see the two story building you think my sense of space was as murky as a New England IPA. But that’s the restaurant and bar. I met up with owner/brewer Jon who led me into the brewery. We walked through the entire space which was about four steps. The rest if full of brewing equipment. The production is still quite high. Most of stays in the building where it flows to their own taps. You can get other beers here, even Heineken, but the mainstay is their own stuff. And from normal taps, casks and even nitro. As per usual in a brewpub you can get a flight of some of their beers in a specific range (hops, malts, specialty). The styles are a hybrid of very old English styles like bitters but also more modern American ones like tropical IPA’s.

And the food… as expected almost this is fine. Maybe the usual fair you’d expect like burgers and fish ‘n chips but a good meal. It was one of the biggest meals I had in England and wasn’t even able to finish all of it. The most interesting thing they offer are platters, of which we tried the Foundryman’s Platter: Homecooked thick sliced ham, Mature Cheddar & Pâté served with pickles, Apple, Pickled Onion, chutneys, piccalilli & bread

Jon organizes the fresh hops/green hops festival with all Kent brewers, including the largest of them all: Shepherd Neame. Something that is worth visiting one day I guess. The Foundry is a must visit for any beer and food lover. We had a great time.  

Good’s Shed/Bottle Shop

Whenever there’s a cool new food thing starting somewhere let’s hope beer is involved like it is in the Good’s Shed. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, just an old train depot. It has been converted into a market for all kinds of food. Things like a butcher, fish stall, fermented stuff, Spanish pastry and imports, vegetables and fruit and a beer store called the Bottle Shop.

A great shop for the lover of good European and American beer like Poppels, Dugges, De Molen, Omnipollo etc. It looks small but has more bottles than you’d expect and it keeps rotating. It also has two taps which when I was there had a Chorlton  and local Time & Tide. You can buy beers there to drink in the Good’s Shed, which is great. Or just take it home. This is the type of store every beer geek wants to live next to or even better work in. They have more stores and if they are any bigger than this one, and I am guessing they are because you can’t really go smaller, is even better. Next to it is also a stall that has more local beers and ciders if you’re interested in sampling that. I had some good beers while in Canterbury, but it was nothing compared to the two I tasted here.

 

Shepherd Neame’s

If you think the Dutch situation where bars are sort of owned by big breweries is complicated, wait to you see the English system. Most of the pubs in Canterbury are owned by Shepherd Neame, a brewery from nearby Faversham. Don’t expect anything ridiculously great, but just your standard English ales and stouts, often from a cask. Because they own the pub there often isn’t any room for other smaller breweries.

One good thing is that the number of beers isn’t limited to just 2 or 3. I stayed in a SM hotel for four days and there was more than enough new stuff to try. Never bad, never extremely good.

The Shepherd Neame sign is therefore very hard to miss. Like Jopen in Haarlem and Bax in Groningen it really is the premier brewery in Kent.

Addendum

We spent a day in Folkestone, next to Dover. We had lunch in a good pub called the Pullman and I walked by a good store I forgot the name of :). Guess I have to go back soon.

One Weekend in Hackney

We turned an invitation to a wedding in Folkestone into a ten-day trip to London and Kent. Even though it was a family trip we had plenty of time to visit some interesting beer places. Writing an entire blogpost about the state of beer in London would be insane. The city is about half the size in both population and area as my own little country. It would take weeks to get some sense of the London beer scene. Therefore I will stick to just one part of the city, Hackney, where we stayed with friends before traveling on to Canterbury.

Hackney

If you like book markets, vegetarian food, thrift stores and other hipster things this is the place for you. It even has a wooden spoon store. Really, no joke, a store sells spoons made of wood. No wonder that breweries have started here as well, probably helped by the for London standards at least somewhat affordable living- and working space. It’s a neighborhood everyone wants to live, a neighborhood very close to the City but with enough there to never leave it if you don’t need to.

But beer, that’s why we are here isn’t it? Here are three places we visited.

Seven Seasons

Here’s a tip for stores or bars still thinking about becoming a verified Untappd venue. Do it! If the Seven Seasons store wasn’t one I might not have visited. A simple search on the app told me this store was 400 meters away from my friend’s house so I couldn’t resist. It’s the typical modern beer store with beers from all over Europe and America with heavy rotation on the shelves. And what I enjoyed the most was the good selection of local beers from Hackney and other nearby neighborhoods. And to my surprise I also saw bottles from Dutch breweries Kees, ‘t IJ, De Molen and even Two Chefs. Two Chefs even had a sort of tasting in the store a few months ago while they were in London.

Another plus is the people working there, they know everything about it as well and can tell you exactly how a beer tastes. If I lived in Hackney this would be the shop I would go to every week.

London Fields Tap Room / Brünch

London Fields is a Hackney based brewery that has a Tap Room, that also seems to double as a German style restaurant. Interesting combination because the beers are not very German. Cask ales mostly in the IPA’s style. The beers itself are ok, but not mindboggling great. But paired with the food options this Tap Room is still a great place to visit.

Because if you want a good German brunch this is the place. The people who work here are international and I heard German so it even has authenticity. It’s a very alternative place with vegan options and yoga posters on the wall. Buckwheat pancakes or Bauernfrühstück, no problem.

A nice place to visit for the beerhunter, and a good place for the lover of German cuisine. And if you like both it’s a double win.

Redchurch

I initially went here because it was taproom and close to where we were staying. I thought I had not heard of them before. It took me a while to realize that Redchurch was in fact present at the Borefts Festival two years ago and that it is in fact a renowned London brewery. I remember now that their Export Stout was exceptional and one of my favorites at Borefts.

The brewery and tap room are housed in an arch of the overground railroad, a little outside of normal traffic lanes so you need to look up where it is.

When you walk into the brewery you really walk into the brewery. On the right are barrels, hopefully filled with wonderful beer. You can even walk in and have a look at the installation and bottling line on your way to the bathroom. The taproom is up the stairs. It is small, with seats for only around a dozen people, but with more standing room. They only serve their own beers but on a Sunday afternoon it is fine, not too busy when we were there. Wonderful stuff on tap from their usual pale ales to more experimental sours, like many of the modern breweries today. One was made with lemon and rosemary and was very good. Their Big Eastern IPA rocked, unfortunately the Export Stout was not on tap. .

Hackney itself is a great part of London to walk around it where the streets are still walkable and you don’t trip over tourists. Who knows how long this will last before the housing prices are too high here as well, but for a beer lover you can easily spend a weekend here visiting different things.

 

Leiden and the coming together of worlds

Leiden, home of one of the most prestigious universities in the world. The starting point of the families who took the Mayflower to New England to start their city upon a hill. But for a long time, like many of the other cities in Zuid-Holland, not a city of beer. Well, not for new beer or dare I say craft beer. Heineken’s big brewery is just outside the city.

Only the excellent, mostly Belgian, beer café Lemmy’s and the beautiful Bierwinkel made it worth a visit. The Leidsche Bierbrouwerij for a long time was the only brewery, but not widely available in the rest of the country.

But then I walked into the Stadsbrouwhuis. A brewpub with a whopping 25 taps and no bottles. The mix of these 25 taps is very interesting, and is the main focus of today’s piece. How to offer something to both the drinker of normal, easy-to-get beers but also to the beergeek.

A big portion of the public still wants to go somewhere where they can drink what they know. This blog may sometimes try and prove otherwise, but humankind is still made up of creatures of habit.

Almost every bar, café and restaurant in the country has a brewery behind it. You can see this mostly by the sign hanging outside. In fact the accompanying brewery is signed onto the lease of the building, and not the café inside. Many times when a new café starts it has to take beer from the brewery assigned to the building. This construction merits a special article one day.

The Stadsbrouwhuis’s major brewery is Heineken. Heineken is in fact a very local brewery since they moved out of Amsterdam decades ago and are now brewing in nearby Zouterwoude.

With Heineken come more beers like Brand and its range of beers. You might not like the big boys, but Brand at least has decent beers. But here is the genius of the Stadsbrouwhuis: With 25 taps there is room enough to offer whatever they want and that they do. Don’t expect the normal stuff from smaller breweries but only the really special things, beers you won’t find in a bottle easily or at all. And beers you will find here you won’t find anywhere else in the the city. This makes it a must visit for any beerhunter. One look at the menu at this very moment and I see special beers from Ramses, Oedipus, Fyne and Walhalla.

A brewery

The words gives it away, it is also a brewery. A guild of likeminded brewers brew here every Saturday and each bring in their own recipe. The beers are brewed with the brewery name De Vrije Vogel. I had a stout that was exceptional. Even their own beers make it worthwhile to visit once in a while, mostly because it is not bottled.

And oh, it’s a good restaurant too that opens early.

The Leven in de Brouwerij Festival

 

Pronck, one of the newer Leiden breweies was also present

From the Stadsbrouwhuis came the idea to organize a big beer festival and this happened on March 22 and 23 in the Stadsgehoorzaal, a beautiful theater from the 19th century. It adds to the experience when you can walk around in an actual building with different rooms and not an outdoor square or school.

 

It was an eclectic mix of brewers from big brands like Brand to small ones like NeoBosski. And not only Dutch, also Belgian brewers were there and even Lagunitas brought two beers. Though that is not that surprising since they are part Heineken these days. This is a festival for all. The average drinker of pilsners and triples could fine enough, and so could the beer hunter like me.

Breweries from for example Leiden, Utrecht, Eindhoven, Oss and Den Haag were present so you could get a fairly good idea of the state of brewing in the Netherlands in just these two days.

The main room, 30 minutes after opening, it got a lot busier

The Dutch brewers present showed how far some have come. Uiltje, Van Moll and Kompaan are slowly reaching the level that Jopen already is at. Others like Muifel, Klein Duimpje and the Leidse Brouwers have been at it for quite some time now. New ones like NeoBosski, Sisters Brewery or Alkmaar’s Zegelis have just recently started and are still small. Breweries from all phases of 21st century Dutch brewing history were in Leiden.

It is time Leiden catches up with the rest, and with the Stadsbrouwhuis and this festival it just might. The Stadsbrouwerij and the Leiden Leven in de Brouwerij festival have shown that a hybrid between hardcore beergeeks and casual middle-of-the-road beer drinkers is indeed possible.  Who knows, both sides might actually learn from each other.

De Kromme Haring

It was quiet in Utrecht City for a while. Sure, the number of commercial breweries kept rising as it did everywhere, but it’s big brother to the north, Amsterdam, overtook Utrecht with some fine new brewing initiatives. But 2016 is the year of the comeback. I have already discussed Duits & Lauret and Oproer in earlier posts who now have their own installations in or near Utrecht. New brewers like NeoBosski are also doing fine right now. The end of summer saw the opening of another brewpub: De Kromme Haring.

logo-v2De Kromme Haring is not a completely new name in Utrecht. Steve and Gijs met over a bottle of Brett IPA called Twisted Kipper and things started rolling after that. Two years ago they made their debut on the Utrecht Beerbrewersfestival. Not unnoticed because their Smokey the Barracuda immediately won the prize for best beer in Utrecht. I also recall having a great sour called Lactic Fantastic.

The names of these three beers should already tell you the types of beer De Kromme Haring makes. Don’t come here for simple dubbels or blondes, more adventurous stuff happens here with a great focus and yeast and fermentation. Beers that cross borders of style, and that is no surprise because De Kromme Haring is an American-Dutch cooperation. Steve and Gijs, you figure out who is from which country.

Kafe België

In Amsterdam ‘t Arendsnest and sister bars Beer Temple and Craft and Draft have spawned some of the best breweries in the city. Oedipus and Pampus for example had their start there. Utrecht has a similar bar in Kafe Belgie and sister store Bert’s Bierhuis. “Graduates” from both now work at illustrious Utrecht beer haunts Maximus, Oproer and De Bierverteller to name a few. Gijs also started here. The better breweries always seem to have a history at another beer places it seems. Goes to show the brewing business is mostly not for complete newcomers.

Steve was born in Massachusetts (yes, he is the American in case you hadn’t figured that out yet) and was working at Utrecht University as a biologist. This background in biology has helped him understand the brewing process better than most, making the second branch on which De Kromme Haring is built another firm one. He took the big step of quitting the university to work at De Kromme Haring full time.

A real place!

During the first years they were gypsy brewers with a dream of their own place. After a very successful crowdfunding campaign they found room at the Vechtclub XL and moved in. De Vechtclub XL is a building that besides De Kromme Haring also houses a restaurant, coffee place, flower store and a bakery. A place that might not look much from the outside, it’s a little built in between other buildings, but once you wander onto the courtyard you will find a lot of cool stuff.

krom1The bar and brewery

The brewing installation has made its way from China and is being set up so that they can brew themselves. Beer flows from 12 taps with taphandles crafted by Steve’s father who does woodworking as a hobby. He also made the bar and tables. For now the first four taps are all Kromme Haring beers. The others from like minded breweries from all over. When I was there I saw some stuff from Cloudwater and Lost Industry. Gijs tries to keep it diverse so that there is something for everyone at all time, also for novices to the beer drinking scene. Last week they had their first Tap Takeover when English brewery Wiper and True came over to tap their wonderful beers in Utrecht.

Utrecht’s Comeback?

With the Kromme Haring Utrecht has another great beer destination and can now boast 3 brewpubs (Oproer and Maximus the other two) in the city and surrounding suburbs. The bars (like DeRat and Drie Dorstige Herten) are still the same and amazing. I have already discussed the growing number of shops for good beer. And with VandeStreek opening a new brewery Utrecht is back and better than ever.

krom2Oh, what’s a Kromme Haring?

The translation of Kromme Haring is Crooked Herring, but there is no deeper meaning to it. Steve needed a name when he went to festivals like Kimchi when he was still homebrewing and just put some words together, influenced mainly by an alley in Utrecht called the Drie Haringensteeg and the Kromme Rijn river. Two of the first experiences Steve had when he arrived in Utrecht. It is now in their logo. Kromme Haring anyone? Then go over to the brewpub.

Kromme Haring Website

 

SpierBier: From Kitchen to Bike Shed to …?

Just before I was ready to post this story, the website Business Insider published an article with the best brewery in every province. There were some surprises (the excellent Tommie Sjef for North-Holland for example. Great beers but not widely known) and some not so surprising outcomes like Bax, Oersoep and De Molen. The ‘winner’ for Utrecht turned out to be a surprise as well: SpierBier from Mijdrecht. Significant because it was according to Untappd ratings, not some editor naming his favorites. For Richard Spierdijk and Gilbert Janmaat a sign that they are making beer liked by many. But it also brings challenges for the future.

Visit

In August I finally went to the brewery to witness a brewing session first. The word brewery is making it more impressive than it seems, because it is nothing more than some equipment in a bike shed in the garden. This was my second visit to his house. The first was when they inaugurated a new tap to use at festivals. The brewing then was still done in his kitchen. And it is this setup that once again showed me the grassroots of the beer revolution. This is where everyone starts.

Richard and Gilbert could have decided to brew somewhere else, but they like to keep as much as possible in their own hands. It is this dedication, perfection and do-it-yourself attitude that makes SpierBier’s story similar to, but not exactly like, that of other brewers.

Another American influence

It was on a business trip to the US when Richard saw someone brew tasty beer at home and he thought: I want to do that. For his birthday he asked friends and family for all the ingredients he needed to brew. It was the spark that lit a fire that is still growing. Experimentation led to experience and this experience and deep interest in brewing led to a job at De Schans in neigboring Uithoorn. Work here lasted only a few months. It didn’t pan out exactly like he hoped but he says now he learned a lot there. Both how to do things and how not to, especially on the business side of being a brewer. As part of the deal he wasn’t allowed to brew on his own for a while, but after that period was over he immediately started SpierBier with friend Gilbert Janmaat.

Both have different working backgrounds. Richard is a computer programmer, Gilbert is a contractor who can make anything. The combination of these two skills had led to some interesting inventions. Even in the little shed/brewery there are computer parts regulating temperature for example. Programmed by Richard and put in equipment designed and built by Gilbert. Richard showed me a wooden apparatus Gilbert made to easily label bottles. I won’t describe or show it, he should see if he can patent it, it’s a joy to behold. The use of technology also makes sure the beer they make is relatively constant. Something not every brewer can claim.

It is a good match, and is saves money. Small things that someone else would have to do in most cases they can build or fix themselves.

img_8500Living Room / brewery

When Richard and Gilbert first started it they brewed in the kitchen. Everything, including the storing of bottles, was done in the living room. Even now parts of it are used for this purpose. A large stack of boxes stands behind the couch, and the fermentation takes places next to the television.

The brewing has now moved outside of the house, freeing up some space in the living room and kitchen. From the shed hoses run upstairs to the bathroom or to the drain in the garden that couldn’t be better placed.

Some things just work out that way. A little luck with the situation of a shed and access points go a long way in helping him brew at home instead of somewhere else, although that has never really been an option. If the house was set up a little different or was somewhat smaller, the history of SpierBier would have followed another path.

img_8498 From shed to ?

Every Friday night, and sometimes during the weekend, they brew. SpierBier’s beers are classic like a blonde, tripel and a wit. The most far out beer so far, and my personal favorite, is an excellent barrel aged Baltic Porter called ShakeSpier. Yes, the beers too have Spier in the name.

So far the only money they used is what they made with the sale of their beer. No outside investment, no savings or anything. Every euro spent was made through someone buying a bottle of SpierBier. It’s a save business model, but one that takes time and it makes the next step harder. He is not taking risks that can put them, and their families, in jeopardy. Every potential next step has been thought through and the math has been done to see if it possible. Their goal is a simple one too. Because they already have pretty good paying jobs, they want to be able to make as much from brewing now as they do from the jobs they currently have. Calculations show this is possible.

img_8497Own place

In order to fulfill that dream the next step is their own brewery. They have been looking around for a good location but so far no luck yet. Richard is hard at work scouting for a new location for the brewery. Doesn’t have to be a huge one, but a good one. And he wants to stop brewing at home. His family has supported him all they can, but now it has to end. Richard even goes as far as saying that if there isn’t a new location before winter ends, the history of SpierBier will come to an unfortunate early end. It is also the only way to keep the costs low, as brewing somewhere else brings risk and is something they don’t want to do. It costs more and you don’t have full hands on the product. Something they are adamant about.

It’s getting serious

Earlier this year they sent their tripel ‘SpierKracht’ to the world beer awards competition in Philadelphia. They didn’t win anything but the jury report was positive. They did think, or is it dream, about what to do if they did end up winning. With the Business Insider distinction they are facing that problem now and they are now aggressively looking for a new place so they can brew more to keep up with the demand. I was in the local bottle shop last Friday and most of the bottles were already gone. People here like SpierBier, so if anyone from Mijdrecht is reading this, help them out, they will enrich the community. And if all goes well the rest of the country might be to. Things are evolving fast so keep checking the blog!

Website

Buying Beer in Utrecht

The last two years I have written mostly about the beer scene in Amsterdam. Six years ago when this blog started there was almost nothing apart from one good brewery, one great store and a few great bars. But the capital didn’t offer more than other cities or regions. In fact it was somewhat later on the scene. Utrecht and the surrounding province with the same name was more interesting.

But Amsterdam has been through a craft beer. The number of breweries has risen dramatically and some of them are now Major League breweries like Oedipus, Pampus, Two Chefs and Walhalla.

But Utrecht is fighting back. It still has the best beer café’s within just a square mile (will write about this is an upcoming post). There are great breweries in the city, let alone the rest of the province. With Maximus and Oproer the city has two great brewpubs, with a third one opening last month. But I will write about De Kromme Haring soon. The Utrecht Beerbrewersfestival had over 30 breweries this year, brewers from this relatively small province alone.

A major shakeup has taken place in the Utrecht beershop world. The city was never rich in a lot of beer stores, apart from the amazing Bert’s Bierhuis. This store is still around in some capacity, but the last four months have been very exciting. I visited 5 stores, 3 of them new. They are all different in concept, location, atmosphere and specialty. Here, in Dutch Beer Pages tradition, I have picked out my four favorite ones.

This list is in the order of when I visited them. I got off at the Zuilen railwaystation and started at

Slijterij Zuilen (Amsterdamsestraatweg 595)

A good place to go after or before a visit to Oproer, which is next to the railwaystation.

The only real liquor store of the five. You have to pass the wine and hard liquor before you get the beer section. Slijterij Zuilen is on a busy street that has more than just this store . Zuilen alone is worth a stroll with interesting city history. Information boards for tourists are everywhere.

But back to the store. It has a surprising amount of beer in the back of the shop. And from good beer countries like the USA, Estonia, Spain and of course Holland, which takes up around 30%. One of those stores where even seasoned beer hunters will find new things every time. A few shelves are dedicated to beer from Utrecht. If you haven’t had many beers from the rest of Europe this is a great place to go to. Also, from the beers I checked out and was able to compare to the other stores they seem to be a little cheaper.

Website

Mad About Malt (Troosterhof 15-17)

I first heard about this store when NeoBosski released their new beer here the weekend after I posted about them. Turns out this isn’t the only Mad About Malt store! There is also a MaM in Rotterdam, which the fairly large line of beers from there. I got a good bottle from Noordt here. The store started as a wholesale Spanish wine importer and seller, but has lately moved into the beer business with two stores but also the import of Spanish breweries like La Pirata. They even helped them out at the Borefts festival.

It is located in a small mall with a supermarket and another liquor store next door, but one that specializes in wine. It all looks under construction and that is correct, as it will undergo a major overhaul soon. The quality of the beer is great. If you like Mikkeler, Thornbridge or La Pirate this is the store for you. They also have a cooler. It is a little out of the way if you’re a simple tourist to the city, but it might be worth the detour. The website mentions that stores will open in The Hague and Amsterdam soon.

Bert’s Bierhuis (Biltstraat 46)

The Bert in the name of the shop once had the famous shop I talked about in the first paragraph. This store was simply one of the finest in the country. The street itself, the Twijnstraat, is now a typical narrow Dutch street with beautiful stores, mostly with organic food. For a while there were two stores, but only this one remains. A large and roomy store with a superb selection from all over the world. I especially like the section with beers from exotic countries not particularly known for beer. If you remember the old store, you will feel at home again here too. Oh, and especially the German beer and cider section is quite good. More than enough Dutch breweries here too, with a great selection of local beer. The store will get a new name in the coming months, and we will keep you posted about that once the new name is certain. But it is good to see Bert and his shop are still here.

Website

De Bierverteller (Twijnstraat 47)

Saving the best for last. I had heard of this store already and knew about owner Thomas a little bit. The visit did not disappoint. When I first read that it opened in the Twijnstraat my first reaction was: “why is he opening a store in the same street as Berts Bierwinkel?”. Turns out they knew that store was closing. It was only logical to start a beerstore where people expected one. The Twijnstraat has some great stores for cheese, fish and other great food.

De Bierverteller is the natural successor of Bert’s Bierhuis, not only because it is housed a few spots over from where that store used to be. It is a beautiful old timey store with bottles all the way up to the ceiling. Ordered by taste (refreshing, dark etc) but with a special section for Utrecht beers.

bierverteller

Some of the local beers at De Bierverteller

Another plus is that the people working here know everything about beer (they had previous jobs at other beer places) and can recommend anything you want. De Bierverteller goes further than just selling bottles, they also offer workshops about beer, food pairings etc. Thomas is a beer sommelier so you know there is a lot of knowledge.

Unique too is a growler station with usually three beers. Selection is large and there will always be something new. They even have some Cascade bottles and other special brews.

The store is simply fantastic. I always imagine candy stores looking like this 100 years ago. And I felt like a kid in candy store, but for grownups.

The other three stores are fine and I will definitely visit them again when I am in the neighborhood, but De Bierverteller is a store worth making a trip for just for this. It is on par with stores like De Bierkoning, Melgers Haarlem and Burg Bieren in Ermelo. He might have made Utrecht more interesting, but in the process also gave the country a new gem.

Website

Brewda 2016

The summer is coming to an end and so does this part of the beer festival season. When Borefts finishes at the end of this month brewers and beer lovers alike will turn their focus to the traditional bock beer season.

But before making the annual pilgrimage to Bodegraven there are other festivals worth a visit. Last weekend’s Brewda in Breda, now in its third year, is one of those.

A new type of festival

Festivals in Holland tended to be small affairs. Most of them organized by PINT, the national association for the promotion of traditional beer. With not as much happening compared to now, what they did was great and important in keeping the craft beer flame alive.

A different beer festival came with the first editions of De Molen’s Borefts festival. For me at least the first time I could come into contact in my own country with similar breweries like De Molen, but from Europe. Breweries that were hard to find. Just like De Molen often went to festivals in other countries.

But it wasn’t only beer drinkers who came into contact with new brewers. Dutch brewers too got to see what else was made in the world, leading to inspiration and great colabs.

This cross-cultural interaction got another boost when a number of Dutch breweries made the trip to the new promised land of beer, Oregon. This as part of the Portland – Utrecht sister cities program, something that has been repeated every year since.

The International Festival

It was only a matter of time before other festivals went international, and it is no wonder that it is the great number of breweries with international, mostly Portland, ties that are organizing them.

20160903_151537Festivals abound now at Van Moll, Kaapse, Oersoep or Oedipus. Last weekend was Breda’s own Frontaal’s turn with their Brewda, held for the third time. For the first time it was organized over two days, with different breweries on each day. We went for the Saturday, it had some of the finest Dutch breweries around these days. It didn’t seem a coincidence that the setup was International brewery next to a Dutch one next to an International one etc.

This was an invitation festival, meaning that the brewers were invited to come. With many festivals you actually sign up and pay for a stand. This means some brewers with a little money to spend and bad beer to serve can stand there as well. Good for exposure, not always great for overall quality. Quality wasn’t a problem here. Apart from the beer which I will get too, other things were taken care off too. Plenty of food stalls outside, they problem of not enough food seems to be over. Free water taps and plenty of room to sit inside as well. Seating was also a problem at many festivals, but organizers are taking care of that as well. Of course this was a festival with online presale, something that was special just two years ago but is now. Now to the beer!

Mojito So20160903_154131ur anyone?

The breweries from abroad came from the U.K., Spain and the U.S.A. It is always great to see Weird Beard bring their awesome beers. Their double coffee milk stout was wonderful.  A new one for me was Oregon’s own Caldera, a brewery I had heard much about but had never had the privilege to taste before. Let’s just say I hope this wasn’t the last time.

A brewery that brought the strangest beers was Sheffield’s Lost Industry. Sour beers with daquiri, pina colada but their best one was a mojito. Just the right sourness for a sour beer and it works great in tandem with a mojito. Definitely worth checking out more so Dutch beer stores, get crackin’.

The Dutch breweries

20160903_161734

Walhalla’s Aart van Bergen at work

When breweries are invited you know that they will be good. On Saturday big ones like Frontaal, Oedipus, ‘t Uiltje and Oproer poured their beers. Walhalla was also invited. And deservedly so. Since brewer Aart has been making his beers for about a year now the reviews have been great. Having had all of his beers now I am rapidly becoming a fan. For example,  I waited with trying his golden ale, the Loki, because it is not a style I usually try right away. I should have done earlier, this hopped up beer was great. He also brought a colab with Kromme Haring so you know what company he keeps. I cannot wait to try more.

And the others? Well, Oproer brought along an old geuze from Rooie Dop days. A two year old sour that cleared the sinuses. Too bad nothing of that is made anymore. ‘t Uiltje brought mostly beers that are easier to find, just like Oedipus did. But these two have become giants seemingly overnight. A festival without them that aims for quality is simply not complete without them. Frontaal is brewery that is relatively new to me because it isn’t always easy to find for me where I get my bottles usually. I recently read they are scaling up as well. What I did have so far was good. Experimental stuff and regular beers Frontaal does it all, and often in collaboration with other good breweries like for example Oproer. I really hope they make it to more stores so I can try more.

The International Festival, what a feast

I am not advocating the end of the Dutch brewery only festivals, anything but. Their merit has increased with the current rise of brewing. They need a place to showcase their beers and gain the experience needed to take further steps. It is only a great thing that next to these we have international festivals like these. It can only making the state of brewing in this country better.

 

NeoBosski: bringing you sooty otters and swearing blondes

Hello Beer loving Friends, how nice to see you again. Vacation is over, the Olympics have finishes so back to writing about beer.

The summer was a time of reflection. The last year and a half have mostly been about festivals, some philosophical ideas and new stories about breweries I had written about before.

It was great writing for about where Duits & Lauret, Rooie Dop and ‘t Uiltje are years after the first blog post about them. Their rise was a great look into how craft brewing in this country started to grow. But I didn’t pay too much attention to the wave after. Was I too excited by the breweries I already knew? Was the quality of the new ones not as good as the first wave?

One reason was that I was getting tired of yet another brewery releasing yet another blonde, tripel or IPA. But over the summer I came across some new breweries that released some beers that didn’t fit that mold and it got me interested again in the part of writing about beer in the first place. I found that my favorite pieces were always about new brewers that just started but made great beer. Passionate people with a story to tell. And it is a truth that the better the brewer, the better the answers that you get back by e-mail. Which in turn leads to great articles. So, the coming weeks, I will once again bring you stories about the people who are relatively new to the scene but bring something special. Back to basics for the blog, and today I start with a new brewery from Utrecht called Neobosski.

_DSC0899First Contact

At the beer festival in Utrecht in May  I ran into Marco Lauret of Duits &Lauret who had just visited the Neobosski stand for a beer and a T-shirt. He liked it, which is as much as a thumbs up as you can get.  I have to admit their beer was one of the better ‘new’ beers at the festival. This and their overall look, more hipster than corporate, more organic than designed, also was more to my liking. A few weeks later their beer was on tap at Oproer!, which was another sign of approval from serious beer aficionados. Time for a closer look.

Who are Neobosski?

Neobosski is a two man team of Eric De Bos (The Boss part) and Neo (The Neo Part, Jeroen van Beek). Their paths to brewing start at different places.

As they explain it:

“Eric studied biology and has a degree in ecology, but eventually became a webdeveloper. He works as a senior developer and scrummaster at BNN/VARA (a national TV broadcaster on the public station, MB) where besides building awesome websites, drinks a lot of beer with his colleagues. Outside work he’s an enthusiastic nature guy, and being a biologist certainly gives him a bit of an edge in the brewing process.

Neo started his own event planning bureau a few years ago, working with a group of friends to help upcoming artist get gigs. With the decline of government support for the culture industry in the Netherlands it got harder and harder to make a living out of it, and with our brews getting better and better, he decided to quit and focus more and more on Neobosski. Next to that – being a enthousiastic cyclist – for now he works at a cycling shop (De Vakantiefietser)  in Amsterdam but plans to make Neobosski his full-time job in the near future.”

The Debut

For a few years they experimented with brewing, as you can read on their own website.

The two were influenced by separate brewing philosophies. And it is not only the beer itself that influences them, image and marketing are also a part of it. Neo is more influenced by the more American influenced breweries like ‘t Uiltje and Oedipus and Scandinavians like Mikkeller and Brewski. Erik has more of a thing for Belgians like Dupont, Rochefort and Bosteels, but is also very enthusiastic about Dutch breweries Emelisse and Duits & Lauret.

This eventually led to their first commercial brew: the Sooty Otter, a Black IPA. Ratebeer scores it a 96/90, the average on Untappd is a nice 3.79. Not too shabby right? Of course I had to ask about the name:

“We used Maris Otter Pale Ale Malt, maybe the best Pale Ale there is, but also because Neo’s wife’s last name is den Otter. And sooty means blackened, smirched or covered in soot, like a chimney sweeper, which is a bit how the beer looks like in your glass. Basically an otter covered in soot from dark roasted malts. “

The Utrecht Beerbrewersfestival was the first time they served the Sooty Otter to a larger public. The reactions from the public were great, yet the feedback from other brewers was even better. A public vote of confidence is one thing, having your peers like what you do is even better.

I then asked how they felt about being available at Oproer!, not the worst place to have your beer on tap. Turns out that the connection between the Neobosski guys and then still Rooie Dop stretches back to their days in downtown Utrecht. Neo practiced with his band in the same building where Rooie Dop brewed. They would drop in with them and try some of their test brews. In fact, this interaction might have been the planting of the seed that would eventually grow into Neobosski.

And now years later Neobosski is on tap at the next phase of Rooie Dop: Oproer! It is a confirmation that what they do is right. But besides Oproer two other premier beer bars have started selling it: DeRat and the Drie Dorstige Heren. This means three of the premier beer locations in the city liked it.

The Sooty Otter and the Next

So what is next for Neobosski?

“Our next beer will be something totally different. At the end of August we will be releasing a Belgian blonde-chilibeer. We’ve named i

Neobosski - outdoors-8

Foto by ByManja

Swearing Blonde. She is hot and slightly silty. The spice is going to make you blow your top, but besides that, it’s quite tasty with a bit of sweetness. Not everyone will be able to tame her, but if you are ready to give your taste buds a good rush you might fall in love with her!”

The Swearing Blonde will be released on Saturday September 3rd at Mad About Malt in Utrecht. I for one will be looking out for it. It is great to see a new and different brewery again.

Visit their website and Facebook page for more news

Oedipus International Beer Festival: More than beer indeed

That the people over at Oedipus were organizing a beer festival was hard to miss. They promoted it well online and used Untappd for further promotion and discounts on tickets.

Not that Oedipus needs it. The last few years has seen them from hobbyists turn into a major Dutch brewery. They are present at festivals everywhere in the country and abroad. Their bottles  can be bought in the major supermarkets now. And most importantly they have done so by maintaining their own identity and philosophy, something that can be found in their unique beers.

Their quality has resulted in an invitation to the annual Oregon Brewers Festival. Something I wrote about a few years ago. This lead to a movie, a lot of great Holland-Oregon collaboration beers and now some of these breweries made their way to this festival. Upright, The Commons and Cascade for example offered their beers. The quality of Dutch brewing is great and still improving, but the festival got a massive boost through these American breweries and likeminded European ones like Lervig, Brew by Numbers and Omnipollo.

These breweries in turn provided a beer list that made any self respecting beer lover salivate. From session IPA’s in the 3% range to Russian Stouts of 11% and over, there was something for everyone. The wide variety also meant that you could have beers in your favorite style for most of the day.

Twice a day you could go on a tour and have 5 glasses of beer within a separate theme. Barrel-Aged beers were one of the 4, sours the other. And if you liked sours boy did you have a great time. The festival brought together old world sours from Boon and new world sours from for example Cascade. Sour ales have been the darlings of the beer geeks, and this festival showed why.

oedipus1More than beer

But as advertised the festival was indeed about more than beer. The OIBF is a festival that is worth going to even if you don’t drink a drop of alcohol. For one the food was exceptional. Many festivals still have one or two stands with mediocre food but here it was a small food truck festival. Kim Chi, Burgers, Oysters, Noodles and Hot Dogs to name some of the options. The sausages were made by Brandt & Levie and if you never had their sausages before run to any good food store to get some. They do for sausage and meats what Oedipus does for beer, no-borders sausage making. The smells of good food hung over the festival and with the dwindling number of cigarette smokers this is a huge improvement.

Children could come, and though there wasn’t an entire playpen they could drink lemonade just like their parents drank beer. The public was mixed between old and young, beer aficionados and beer novices. Walking beer labels walked around for extra atmosphere and the music wasn’t bad either, though at times a little too loud.

First timers

You might guessed by now that I loved being at this festival. In fact the day after I had an overwhelming urge to return for day two. When I write this on Tuesday I still wish I was back. There is room for improvement, sure, but they got significantly more things right than wrong.

The comparisons with Borefts cannot be ignored, and they have beat them on a few points: One, it is held on Saturday and Sunday, although my guess is Borefts is a Friday, Saturday festival because of the religious nature of Bodegraven. Two it is easy to reach. Bodegraven is easy to reach from the 4 major cities, but a little harder from farther away. Amsterdam Centraal is easy to reach for most.

What remains are memories of a great festival, a festival that makes the first weekend of July worth looking forward to. With the Brettfest and Borefts Holland has a third unique and international festival, one that has plenty of room to grow and improve. I will be planning my vacation next year around the Oedipus International Beer Festival.

Historical Interlude: Amsterdam’s Sleutelbrug

amsterdam_canal_bridge_1482937_oWhen I studied at the University of Amsterdam I have crossed this bridge more times than I can remember on my way to History classes. It is one of the many bridges in Amsterdam. Fairly nondescript that got its fame more from the many junkies selling you a bike for next to nothing. A bike they probably stole from you a week before.

The bridge is called De Sleutelbrug (The Keybridge) and is on the main path from the Rokin to the University of Amsterdam. This area is full of local history. Not only is it now the university, but a large part of the complex was once a hospital. The university complex is still called the Onze Lieve Vrouw Gasthuis, Our Dear Lady Guesthouse.

It wasn’t until I was doing research for a walking tour of Amsterdam beer history that I found out that the bridge is named after a brewery that stood nearby named De Sleutel.

The history of brewery De Sleutel matches that of the rise of Amsterdam as a global economic power. Amsterdam got its first wealth by holding a monopoly on beer from Northern German cities like Hamburg where beer was made that was significantly better than what was produced locally. This trade led to more trade with the Baltic Sea. Grains and wood was imported into the city and distributed throughout Northern Europe. With the wealth from this it was possible to build ships that could sail to Asia to open up the spice trade. You need capital for this, and that was made by the trade with Northern Europe.

De Sleutel Brewery was started by Gerrit Bicker in the latter part of the 16th century. With the money he and his predecessors made, they could expand into other enterprises, especially trading companies. This made them incredibly wealthy. So wealthy in fact that they could build an entire island north of the Haarlemmerstraat, called the Bickerseiland. At its peak this island housed more than ten wharfs for the construction of ships. With economic power came political power and for a long time they were one of the most important families in the city, and by extension the country.

The brewery stood somewhere in what now is the Binnengasthuis area. Now it is an administrative part of the university, as well as having some classrooms and the food hall. Before that it was part of the hospital, and before that even it had a city carpentry shop and the brewery.

Not a single stone, wooden beam or even a plaque remembers us that there once was a brewery here. A brewery of a famous family no less. The only thing that remains is that small bridge with such a generic name that no one even things of a brewery. Which is more than for most historic breweries.

I will add more short articles Amsterdam beer history, and hopefully soon I will be able to give a tour through the city, showing the few remaining signs of beer history. I will keep you all posted.