Archive for January, 2014

Harry Pinkster: 10,225 and counting…

Beer is a collectors’ dream. One bottle can give you a lot. The actual bottle can be special, and most breweries have stylish bottle caps and labels. Breweries have many forms of advertising like glasses, coasters, doilies or newspaper ads. Best of all there are the signs to hang on the walls.

Today’s article is about a man who has been collecting labels of beer bottles for over 30 years. Way up in the north in my hometown Groningen, Harry Pinkster now has over 10.000 labels and this collection can be found online on his excellent website. If you are at least a bit interested in Dutch beer changes are you have been on his site already. Besides scans of all the labels he also provides a very current map of the country with all the breweries.

The site

His website has been online since the last millennium. The first mention in a local newspaper is in 1998. I have not yet found any real evidence, but my guess is his website must be one of the oldest continuing personal websites in the country. The newspaper article shows that at the paper the internet was still a very new invention. Where they want to mention the website URL they give his email address. 2 years later the evidence shows that his site is already a repository of beer knowledge for many beerlovers. To put it in perspective, extension .nl was first used in 1996. A search for Dutch websites in 1997 lists less than a 1000, and only 67 in Groningen.

The collection: Nuclear and Chemical Warfare.

The number of labels stands at 10,225 at the moment we had the e-mail conversation that led to this post. That in itself is an impressive figure and it is even more impressive if you realize the rule he set himself: only a label from a bottle he has himself emptied counts.

As a label collector myself I have run into my fair share of problems. Most labels soak off easily after putting them in water for a little while. But sometimes brewers use different stickers or different glue. Glue so good that it won’t come off in water or that tear when you pry them off.

For Harry the latter isn’t that big of a deal. The collection is more about showing what he tasted that keeping the label in pristine condition. Because I wasn’t the first to ask this he has made a page specifically about this. In short his methods are:

  1. Soaking in water, sometimes with a little soap. If it doesn’t come off, use tools. Hot water is faster than cold water.
  2. Put the bottle in a microwave. Yes, nuke the bastards! This is for the special stickers with different glue. After some trial and error the perfect time for Harry is around 50 seconds. Beware of a very hot bottle.
  3. Pour boiling water in the bottle, also for stickers with silver or gold printing. It heats up from the inside and the label will loosen.
  4. The fourth and final option. Turpentine or similar chemicals; the stuff you use for heavy duty cleaning. But beware, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!! Use the shed instead to avoid any spousal abuse.

If this all fails the final option is simple, he photographs the label on the bottle. The labels are just to show what he has tried.

You can read his tips, with pictures, on his website.

The gems

kluynEvery collector has that one price possession and the gem in Harry’s collection is a label of Kluyn from Noorderzon, a now defunct brewery from Groningen. The label itself is a beauty with a medieval birdseye view of the city. When the brewery stopped Harry was able to purchase two bottles. Expensive but because Noorderzon was Gronings he got them anyway. The brewer then disappeared from beer land for a while but has returned. And what a return, he is now the head brewer of De Dochter van de Korenaar, an excellent Belgian brewery in a tiny piece of land surrounded by the Netherlands. So technically not Dutch but with a big Dutch influence.

Numbers 5000 and 10.000

For label number 5000 and 10.000 a special beer was made to celebrate these collecting milestones. Number 5000 by Grunn, number 10.000 by one of our favorites: Berghoeve. Harry explains why they got the honor:

tjuster“Berghoeve wasn’t entirely a coincidence. One of the Berghoeve beers was the basis for my idea of the Tjuster. When I first met Jurgen and his wife Geralda I told them that his beer came very close to my ultimate beer when you look at taste, body and color. Jurgens eyes lit up immediately and I think he was already working a recipe at that moment. This meeting at the Pint Noord Beerfestival in November 2012 went so well that we started an e-mail conversation and things were worked out. This beer became a unique beer called Tjuster, Frisian for Dark.”

Storing the collection.

When I asked the questions the count stood at 10,225 labels. These are in 75 albums. A lot of albums but not a lot of space, one IKEA Billy is enough. He has three of the world’s most famous cupboard dedicated to beer, one of them just with glasses from breweries from Groningen. Save two he has all the glasses that he is aware of exist.

The rise of Dutch craft beer…

Harry has been a close bystander of the Dutch craft beer revolution of the last decade. He has also seen the dark days of Dutch beer when there really wasn’t anything happening. For me the excellent person then to ask about his view on this revolution. In his view it’s the bigger breweries that started the craze by releasing a range of ‘specialty’ beers in the 1990’s. Heineken started their Eindejaarsseries (End of the Year series) in 1994 and Grolsch released a number of special beers with a special glass like De Vierde Wijze or Twee Zwaluwen. The opened the window just a little bit so people could see there were other things and things started from there. Even though they have now stopped making these beers again and focusing on their pilsners, it was a start. This led to the popping up of many new microbreweries all over the country.

Another revolution Harry mentions is the ‘brewery-lease’. Before that a brewery was a brewery and nothing more. He credits Jopen with being a trendsetter in this regard. Now there are many start-ups who first lease time and space in an already existing brewery, who maybe one day might develop into an actual brewery. Of this there are many examples in Holland.

…and how we can’t keep up

An explosive rise of beer in the country is great, but for collectors it also means more work. Because Harry is very active in the Dutch beer world he also is spending more time with his hobby, it easily takes up a few hours a week. But that is certainly not a negative thing. It’s all a lot more lively thanks to the many interactions on social media and the festivals and collectors fairs. His network keeps expanding thanks to involvement with BAV (the collectors club) and PINT. He shares a lot of information with Jan Ausems (Cambrinus.nl, another good repository of beer knowledge), the KBC (Klein Brouwers Collectief, Small Brewers Collective) through Jan-Willem Fukkink and the magazine Bier! with Fedor Vogel. They keep each other in the loop if they find new information to keep their database about beer as up-to-date as possible.

And drinking all this delicious new Dutch beer:

“It’s a challenge to drink at least one beer from all Dutch breweries. This is impossible. When I finally finish 5 that were on my wish list, 5 new breweries started. But it’s a great thing that so many people give me beer, the Tjuster was a thank you to them.”

Groningen

I have lamented before about the state of craft beer in the northern provinces. On his website he posted as much as he could find about Groningen’s beer history. Tday the North hasn’t much to offer. The three northern provinces combined have a bigger population than Utrecht, yet Utrecht is the country’s Oregon, where the north is the country’s Utah. Not a place to visit for the beer…

Fellow Groninger Harry:

“the main reason to me is the lack of a backland (hinterland). We miss the feeling for the good things in life that they have in the southern parts of the country. Added to that is the small population. Groningen does have a beer tradition, and like many cities had many breweries. It might just be that the Groninger is more a pilsner drinker. At festivals you do see a rise in popularity in craft beer, so we might still catch up!”

Groningen might not have that many brewers, but it has Harry Pinkster’s collection. And thanks to the internet we can all enjoy his collection too and see parts of Dutch beer history. Keep collecting Harry, 15,000 isn’t too far away!

A Day in the Life of a Pint Member

It’s November, when you come home from work it’s dark. The wind has the early signs of that winter chill. You go online and try to find out when the Winterbeerfestival in Gouda is in January. The Pint website has the information, the calendar in your phone now has a new entry for the 19th of January.

When New Years is over and you have started work after the break you occasionally check the website, maybe the list of brewers and beers is available. Once it is you read it through, and you gasp. So much new stuff I haven’t had yet.

On Saturday you check when the buses and trains go. To be sure on Sunday morning you look it up on your phone. As long as you get to Gouda things are ok, since the school where the festival is, is right behind the station. You walk towards it, and notice they didn’t hang signs for the festival on the lampposts like they used to.

You arrive at the school, pay the 20 euros for entrance, a glass, a booklet and 8 tokens and start looking for a place to sit. You’re early, so there is.

gouda1Even though you have checked the list of available beers thoroughly you open the booklet and make a decision. There are two Oersoep beers you are dying to try. You don’t often get the big bottles at home so this is a perfect chance. There’s just too much to choose from. A few years ago frequently going to the specialty shops, bars and festival was enough to keep up-to-date with what was brewed in the country. You’ve reached the point now where you can’t keep up. You both celebrate and lament this. You are proud to have been at the start of the boom of Dutch beer, but its success means it’s getting harder and harder to actually try everything.

You look around and see the familiar sights:

At this festival the pourers are volunteers. The brewers, if they are here, walk around freely. More like fans of craft beer than actual brewers. They meet other brewers, talk about the trade and try each other’s beer. You like that, they are not rivals, they are guildsmen aiming for the same things.

Around the large round tables people sit. They all have a different beer in their hands. They smell, taste and look up. They look for something to say about the beer, then write it down. The glass then goes to someone else around the table. These are the beerhunters. Even though you consider yourself to be one, you feel you should at least have half a glass before writing an honest report of what you tasted. Some beers change with temperature, they get worse, sometimes more good flavors rise. You admire their zeal, but it’s not for you.

You love rating, but your iPhone is already 3 years old and the battery doesn’t last as long as it once did. Heavy use of it to add your rating on RateBeer drains the battery, so you scribble down the 5 numbers and a short review in a notebook you brought. Untappd is easier, so you use that for quick check-ins.

You feel more connected to the couples who are here. Gradually it’s becoming more diverse and not just a middle-aged men hobby.

More and more you see men wear T-shirts of breweries. They look like the sort of guys who when they were young had their Clash, Cure or Smiths T-shirt on. Now these shirts are worn through, the bandlogo barely legible after decades of wearing and washing. They have new shirts now, shirts two sizes bigger. The further away the brewery the more special they shirt, just as that shirt you have from that one band no one really knows about. Your classmates all had Springsteen shirts, you had a Devo shirt. You have a few beer T-shirts at home as well, but it’s winter now and too cold for T-shirts.

Groups of friends, two or more, wander around. They look like this is the first time they’re at a festival like this. In larger groups there is one person who has been here before, he knows the ropes, he will tell you what else there is.

You went through the eight coins. You decide you had enough. The Oersoep beers were amazing, the De Molen didn’t disappoint and you had some beers from breweries that were still blank for you. These are winterbeers and the average 9% you had today is getting to you. You’re a beerlover you tell yourself, you hate drunk people who only drink because of the alcohol. You get your coat and leave again. If there’s time at the railway station you will get something to eat, if not there’s enough at home.

Tomorrow people will ask what you did over the weekend. Alice from accounting will say she doesn’t like beer. You try and tell her that Heineken really is something else than what you had. Her boyfriend drinks a La Chouffe once in a while, so she tells you he is really into Belgian beer as well. You almost start talking about all the great breweries in this country and that Belgium really isn’t the most important beercountry anyway, but you doubt if that will register. You leave it at that, and return to your desk with the coffee. There’s a festival again in March, Leeuwarden this time, it’s on your calendar now.

Kompaan

The Hague. The seat of the government of this country and one of the 4 major cities in this country. The number of breweries however is limited but this will change soon with the opening of the Kompaan brewery. Kompaan has been releasing a selection of above average brews already. Time for a little chat with the young guys behind Kompaan.

kompaan+krat_defGood Kompany

Yes, the words Kompaan and Company have the same root somewhere in lingual history. The word is a reflection of what they are: buddies,and they have been for 18 years now. The friends are Jeroen and Jasper, the owners of Kompaan with Frans as their honorable Kompaan. Their educational/dayjob background is some ways removed from beer, with backgrounds in physical science, engineering and business.

Den Haag, not the brewing capital

Den Haag might be the center of the Dutch political world, it isn’t yet the center of the Dutch brewing world. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage for Kompaan. Unlike other cities craft beer hasn’t made a big dent into the market yet. This is a market that Kompaan hopes to break open and change. But small breweries need each other to compete against the larger brewers. So let’s hope for more brewers in that region!

An actual place where beer is brewed in The Hague!

At the moment they are already making beer Moerwijk, a part of The Hague. They will move to the Saturnusstraat where they will have a 20.000 liter capacity and a place where they can produce as best as they can. This is a longterm plan and they will remain brewing at friendly brewers in Belgium, Holland and Germany.

Already present in another way

Not having their own brewery yet doesn’t mean they haven’t been a presence in their city yet. In 2013 they hosted two of their own festivals: a beach festival in July and in October a festival in the old factory they will move into where sailing equipment for ships was manufactures. 2014 will just be a year of one festival and they prefer the beach.

kompaan_kompaan-nr20The Beers

Kompaan has five beers for sale at the moment, all with a number for some reason.

They are the

–          20. A 4 malt, 3 hop unfiltered beer with just 5.2% alcohol.

–          45, a porter/stout inspired beer, 7.1%

–          070. A very pale pilsner, 2 malts, 2 hops at 5%.

–          58. 3 malt, 3 hop amber beer with dry hopping and a nice 8.2% percentage.

–          39.  The heaviest Kompaan beer with 9%. Port was added during brewing.

Collaborations

Apart from the 5 beers I just mentioned they have recently released a collaboration brew with Robbert Uyleman (‘t Uiltje). This cooperation was exactly what it should be: bringing together the best of both. The balance of Kompaan and the hoppiness of ‘t Uiltje combined great to give us the ‘Gevleugelde Vriend’, the winged friend. It also led to some success on the side with their beers being available at the Jopen Church where Robbert works.

Barrel Aged

And there is another thing they have in common with ‘t Uiltje. Robbert just released a series of barrel ages beers which I unfortunately have not had the fortune yet of trying. In 2014 Kompaan will also release beers aged in among others Filliers, Jack Daniels and Wild Turkey barrels. With that and 4 seasonals coming to the shops this year 2014 will show yet another step in the development of Kompaan. Can’t wait until the actual brewery is open in a few years!

Kompaan on the internet

Kompaan on Facebook

Kompaan on Twitter

In a windy wonderland

An semi-outdoor beerstival in December might lead to some interesting events in a country where the last month of the year isn’t exactly known for it’s warm and sunny weather. The Christmas- and Winterbeerfestival in Hoogeveen was held for the 4th time on Sunday December 22nd and in the past has had to suffer freezing temperatures. No icy temperatures this time, but the weathergods were again not absent and provides us with a heavy dose of wind and rain. The tents in which the festival was held withstood quite a battery of wind gusts and not all the tent flaps stayed in one place for the entire day. Yet any tent malfunction was greeted with the good humor that exemplified this festival.

Despite the weather it was busy underneath the tents, yet not too crowded  to have to fight for a spot near the conveniently places heaters. Located on the townsquare it was easy to reach and since the shops were open on Sunday that meant that people who otherwise would not have gone to a festival like this might drop in to try some beer. That is always good. Most people don’t know about craft beer simply because they do not come across it.

hoog2Brewers and local bars had stands so there was a good mix. Known brewers like La Chouffe had their ‘n Ice Bock but more local brewers like Mommeriete, Maallust and Sallands were also present.

There were the usual brewers you often see. Ramses came all the way from the other side of the country and Our new favorite beerbar De Drie Dorstige Herten was the promoter of beer from Utrecht with beers from Duits & Lauret, Maximus and De Leckere. De Leckere’s new stout is disappointing, but the specially made Mispel beer from Maximus is a beer I hope they keep on making.

Being a winterbeer/Christmas beer festival means that the beers that are brought will be darker and with a little more alcohol. Yippey! Did I have a bad beer this time? No, again showing that the quality of the Dutch brewing world keeps on getting better. My least favorite was the bock from German brewery Eibauer.

hoog1Northern beer

The beerworld in the north still needs more boosters to catch up with the rest of country. OK, the bars in Groningen are great, but that city is an island in a sea of nothing. Most praise should go to Pint Noord who organize festivals in Groningen, Leeuwarden and this one in Hoogeveen. The big festival in the Martinikerk is another great, yet pricy, event. The north might be far, but with more festivals like this we might get more brewers to the north of Zwolle too.

The not so great things

Where were the toilets? The square had a place for the men to go and stand but there weren’t any cabins for example for the woman, though the bars surrounding the festival might have been open for ‘business’.

Not all the beers that were promised were at the festival. We wanted to start with a barrel aged Flying Dog but Bier&Co didn’t bring it. Fortunately the substitute was great. After this we tried to get a Liefmans Glühkriek that was gone way too soon. This is a beer that the starting beerdrinker might be interested in, but not too many people had a chance to try it. On an open festival I would think this would be one of the more popular ones.

Food and other drink?

Yes, there was and tasty too. Also a good thing that it is located in the centre of a town where you can easily go somewhere else for a while. Another plus is the offering of sodas for those who drive or didn’t feel like drinking too much.

Again?

Yes, for most of country Hoogeveen is quite a trip away, both in actual kilometers but also in the mind. The weather is something that can play a factor in December but that doesn’t seem to stop the beerhunter from coming. If this was a festival with less special beers it would have been something else but winterbeers often give the beerlover a little bit more than your standard triple, pilsner or weizen. I might take the trip north again next time.

Beers sampled:

Fuller’s Old Winter Ale – great flavor for a low percentage

De Leckere Naughty Stout – didn’t see what was naughty about it. Very run-of-the-mill.

Sallands Rudolphus

Eibauer Dunckler Bock – least favorite at the festival

Pauw Wintertrots –lot of menthol/mint flavors, interesting

Winterse Arn – new brewery that keeps giving us good beer

Mommeriete Dubbelbock- Mommeriete is one of those under the radar breweries who make excellent beer.

Maximus Mispel –best one

Ramses Notenkraker