Archive for May, 2014

Dutch Beer Week Festival in The Hague

The ten day period in the middle of May is turning into a great week for lovers of Dutch beer. Bars serve more Dutch beer and host tastings or food pairings. Breweries all over the country open their doors to the public, all in an attempt to spread the word of good craft beer among the ignorant masses. And these masses are willing to try that beer they don’t know yet in greater numbers.

The kickoff of the Dutch beer week is a three day festival in the Grote Kerk in The Hague. It is a true showcase of Dutch beer, with stands of the Great 8 of Dutch brewing like Brand and Grolsch to tiny contract brewers like Two Chefs, Bax or Ceaux.

IMG_1923It seemed at times that the division between the Great 8 and the rest is still a large gaping canyon. Even though they are also trying to make more ‘specialty’ beers what they spill a year is probably more than what the rest brews. Grolsch was promoting its new Kornuit and Brand some of its heavier beers which are I have to admit not at all bad. What does surprise me is to see people pay a fairly large amount of money to get into a festival and then drink the same Kornuit they could have gotten for less than a Euro at their local supermarket. Oh well, if next to the Hertog Jan and Brand beers they tried a Kompaan I guess that’s a plus. But as on any trade fair it showed that they had more money to spend on huge stands where the smaller ones were limited to one table and a tap.

More a trade fair

For the brewers the three days didn’t end up being great days for sales. They viewed the festival more as a trade fair. It was a way to get a little more known to the public and strike up conversations with fellow brewers and others in the profession who could be beneficial. People owning stores or starting them are looking around for nice beers to sell, and it seems to be a good time to start a beer related business.

Some of the brewers were in Utrecht a week earlier at a festival that is threatening to succumb to its own success. Great for sales but no time to talk to people interested in your beer. This was different in Den Haag on Friday. It wasn’t crowded and busy so there was plenty of time to have a fairly long conversation with the brewers if you wanted to. And the good brewers want nothing more than to talk to you (and thanks for that Bax, Gooische, Duits & Lauret, Vandestreek and Ceaux). Again, it seems that the best beer is sold by the most enthusiastic people with a great passion for their craft.

Ceaux

Ceaux

Utrecht represent!

Utrecht was again well represented with Duits & Lauret, Ceaux, Vandestreek and Rock City Beers; showing once again that this province still leads in the best craft beer of the country, though Amsterdam is breathing down their necks with a growing number of good breweries. ‘t IJ and De Prael are established names and with brewers like Two Chefs coming up the area Amsterdam-Utrecht is becoming a more interesting by the week.

Beer and more

It wasn’t all the drinking of beer. A side trend these days are beer- and food pairings and there were a lot of opportunities to do so. Were you interested in Dutch Beer and Indonesian food, well there was a demo for that, as there was for pairings with chocolate or with cheese. Once again beer shows itself to be a very versatile product or as Jeroen Bax said: isn’t it amazing that something with the same four basic ingredients can turn out in so many different ways. It will take some time before this catch on but the seeds are sown.

Location

The Grote Kerk is a spacy church, good for handling big crowds. As you well know, European churches were built also with acoustics in mind in the days of unamplified preaching. For the festival it meant that the otherwise fun folk band playing in the middle bounced their banjo sounds off the walks and between the conversations I was trying to have.

IMG_1925The festival got some things right. The huge space is one, enough sitting arrangements another. Enough tables for to sit at and drink or eat, something often lacking at other festivals. The food was another thing that seemed to be well organized. I saw people walk around with big plates of food, and not just a ham sandwich.

The cost of entrance: 12,50 for which you got 4 coins. Not too bad of a deal considering the location. A novelty for me at least was the chance to have a one token or two token glass. One token was halfful, great for tasters like me. Entrance with PayPal or Credit Card in advance only or pin at the door. The Dutch Beer week also has an App for both Android and iPhone, this is definitely the way to go and the app worked perfectly. Besides a list of the available brewers and breweries it give information about the entire 10 day period.

The Beer

The main reason for coming was still the new beers. It was all good with my personal winner Het Uiltje once again. Both the coffee stout and barleywine were simply amazing. Vandestreek’s Spring Bock was a nicely cascaded beer. It took me a little while to warm up to them but this beer and one of their Hop Art beers (a limited edition series of special beers) were the right medicine to tow me over the line, helped by the brothers Vandestreek whose enthusiasm makes it so much easier to like them. It is the same enthusiasm with which Ceaux (the most complicated way to write the brewers’ first name Ko) sold his beer to people with empty glasses. My first introduction to his beer was a bottle of which half ended up outside of bottle of glass. The newer version of the Bastard is an improvement over a previous version and I am looking forward to seeing more from Ko/Ceaux.

Jeroen Bax at work

Jeroen Bax at work

New

Some of the brewers you see every time you are at a festival (Ramses, Reuzenbieren, Duits & Lauret to name just three) but there were some debuts for me too. New names means a healthy evolving brewing culture so it was great to see Bax Bier (link), The Fiddler (from just across the street), Two Chefs and Gooische. I have been a fan of the Gooische brewery since I wrote about them years ago since I had their Schwarz. A newer version of that beer is even better and there’s new stuff coming I am looking forward to and I hope to see them again at festivals.

A ten day week

With the still growing Dutch brewing industry and the greater public that is now picking up on it (quite some attention in the media) this beer week has the potential to keep growing and next to Borefts all the activities all over the country having to do with Dutch beer could attract newer groups of tourists from in- and also outside of the country.

 

Links

Earlier Articles about:

Gooische Bierbrouwerij

Bax Bier

Duits & Lauret

 

Photoalbum on Flickr

 

 

Bax Beer, a new beer from Groningen

As a northerner I have often used these pages to lament the lack of good brewing from that even flatter part of the country I grew up in. Sure, Us Heit has been around for a long time and with Maallust and Golden Raand two newer ones came, but they never reached the level of brewing in the west. This is about to change. In April Bax Beer was released in Groningen and their two brews have garnered some attention. It is not just the novelty of being the first American-style beer in the north, but they are also really good.

Quality comes from experience

Bax beer is the combined effort of Sepp Jansen and Jeroen Bax. They met while at university in Groningen where they were both members of cycling club ‘Tandje Hoger’. The cycling led to many nights of product research. Not of spokes and gears but beer.

A few years later Jeroen started StiBon (a popular beer course) after already brewing for a little while at home. When he finished StiBon his enthusiasm only grew and he started brewing more and more. With the input of Sepp the brews have only gotten better. Sepp studied biology and as a scientist he knows how to deal with the brewing process. He is now working on a PhD in cancer research. Creating beer and fighting cancer is something we can only stand behind.

On a vacation in Austria in June of 2013 with another brewing friend (and StiBon graduate) Jentse Top they drank their own beers. As it often does the many beers led to unbridled fantasizing and planning. Where most drunken promises of ‘you and I should start a business, you and I, burp, a business, you’re my best mate’ this actually led to one. When the lads returned from vacation the plans for their own brewery took shape.

It is very much a two-man enterprise yet they are called Bax Bier. Jeroen already had the name and let’s be honest, Bax Bier sounds much better than Jansen. He also had some name recognition already as you will read below.

For now both their beers are brewed in Amsterdam at the 7 Deugden. They bring their recipe to Garmt (the brewer) and since it’s his installation he does the actual brewing, but with Sepp and Jeroen closeby. It is cooperation they are satisfied with, and as an added bonus they enjoy seeing how that brewery works in giving people with quite a distance from the regular job market a place to work. Something I have written about in an earlier article on this blog.

Beer and food

Jeroen’s name recognition started when he participated in a cooking show called ‘The Taste’. On Robert Kranenborg’s team he cooked with beer every week and reached as far as the semi final. Food and beer pairing and the use of beer in the preparation of food is something that is happening more now but not enough according to the guys. It is for this reason that their website offers recipes you can use cook with their beers. They see beer as a better companion to food because it is much more varied than wine is.

American

Bax bier is the first northern brewery that takes it’s influences not directly from Germany and Belgium. All the others have dubbels and tripels but you won’t find bottles of Bax beer with those descriptions on it. Bax’ influences are more American. The breweries they look to for influence are Dutch brewers like Jopen, Emelisse and De Molen, all mostly American-style breweries. Outside of the country Mikkeller and Brew Dog are examples. So far they have made a smoked porter and a Citra Pale Ale called Kon Minder. As a Groninger this name makes me laugh as it is a very Gronings expression. It means something like ‘it could be worse’ which in Groningen is big compliment.

Young brewery, young style

Their beer already sets them apart but their logo and overall artwork does too. Jeroen knew very well what he wanted to convey. As luck would have it his sister’s boyfriend Gio is a graphic designer and he made Jeroen’s idea into art. They wanted something different than the usual drawings abbeys, hops or grain and they succeeded with a darker yet playful style on their bottles and website.

Bax Bier Display at the Mitra on the Vismarkt

Bax Bier Display at the Mitra on the Vismarkt

Visibility

When you visit the beer café’s and beer stores in Groningen you will see the Bax beer logo and bottles. This has been the result of hours of visiting the locals bars and liquor stores. There is another ‘local’ brewery called Grunn. They are contract brewers and their link with Groningen isn’t very great and it is hard to call it beer from Groningen. This led some of the owners of the local places somewhat skittish in selling Bax bier.

For now Bax are contract brewers too but their vision is different from Grunn. They managed to change the ideas people had until they saw that Bax is indeed bringing something to the city that no one has done so far.

The Future

Though working with Garmt at the 7 Deugden has proven to be fruitful (or beerful) they are working on writing a business plan for a real brewery in Groningen. They already have some potential locations and brewing installations.

The money will be raised with a crowd-funding campaign and if everything goes according to plan they hope to have a brewery in 2015. We have already seen the massive support Oedipus has gotten through their crowd-funding campaign. Bax Bier will be a unique brewery in the seventh largest city in the country. With all the support and attention they have already gotten this shouldn’t be problem.

Beer Walks I: ‘O, dear that’s a gigantic tosti!’

Being outdoors on a lovely spring day enjoying the sun and awakening nature is a perfect outlook for a day off. Like all our walks through the Dutch countryside we have a goal that is related to beer and this time it is Brouwerij De Molen and the nearby Speciaal Bier Winkel in Bodegraven. Once a year Bodegraven is the Walhalla for beer enthusiasts from all over the world. We have visited the Borefts beer festival several times now but today we will visit Bodegraven without the masses around the mill although there is always a possibility of a full terrace when we will arrive.

DSC08640The starting point for our walk is Gouda. Within a five minute walk from the Gouda Goverwelle train station we enter the Goudse Hout: a very attractive nature preserve. A perfect example of Dutch (flat) landscape. Beautiful yellow rapeseed, water with all sorts of birds, especially geese, and around it paths only accessible by bikers and walkers. We visit the so called Heemtuin which is located within this preserve: herbs, willows carefully topped, little bridges and a pond surrounded by upcoming reeds all maintained by volunteers. Created for educational purposes, for us it’s pure enjoyment.

Reeuwijkse Plassen

Reeuwijkse Plassen

Leaving the Goudse Hout we continue our walk on the very small roads. Unfortunately regularly a car passes by forcing us to the small area of grass next to it. Soon we see the water of the Reeuwijkse plassen. In the beginning a lot of houses block our view at the water but after that recreation areas give us the opportunity to enjoy the view. The sun is warmer than we realized and the prospect of a cold beer and food becomes more attractive by each step. Passing through the Reeuwijkse plassen by a small path we enter the Reeuwijkse hout. Even though there is a warning for (harmless) snakes we see none. Here you can find a little beach and diving area. The last part of our walk is less attractive. A busy highway is splitting town from nature. Entering Bodegraven this way is necessary to achieve our goal and our pace is increasing.

At last we see the mill. My legs are tired and longing for relaxation. It’s not busy. We see tourists buying bottles from the shop, making photographs of the De Molen sign and enjoying a nice glass of beer on the terrace. The menu has enough choice to enjoy a good meal. The asparagus soup with beer and the salmon and trout sandwich are

Huge Super Molen Tosti

Huge Super Molen Tosti

delicious. The ‘O, dear I’ll never finish this super molen tosti’ we never heard of before. It was good to ask the waitress by forehand about the size of this gigantic tosti. Not put off by the answer we ordered it. At least four layers of cheese, together with ham and pineapple are between the two slices of bread. Maybe not recommendable for someone with a cholesterol problem. At least your hunger will be satisfied for half a day. For a drink we try the Pale Ale Citra and Brood en Spelen. Intriguing is the ‘Bommen en Granaten beer bonbon’ but there is no room in our stomachs left. Only de Molen beer mustard we take home with us for to use for dipping the delicious Vocking leverworst in.

If we leave the grounds of De Molen it is just a few steps further to the Speciaalbierwinkel of Jan Kraan. For a small town like Bodegraven there is a lot of choice in beer. The shop is not competing with De Molen but they complement each other. Here you can find more than 500 beers from Dutch breweries. Owner Jan Kraan tells us that his dream of having all Dutch beers available in his shop is unfortunately difficult because he sells not enough and expiration dates will result in throwing bottles away. We choose beers which we have not tried before and of course we want a beer from the owner himself, who brews his own Kraanwater. Carefully we lift our bags packed with the bottles. An important advice when beer is your hobby: a good backpack is essential and buy your bottles after the walk and not before. The sun is going down and it’s time to go home. We had a perfect day with lots of nature, beer and food and of course the photographs to prove it.

gouda-bodegraven

Dutch Beer for Tourists I: Amsterdam’s Golden Quartet

amsterdam_braun_and_hogenberg_15741People who read this blog but have only spent little or no time in this country often ask me the what which beer related places they should visit. Since Amsterdam is often the first and only destination it will feature in the first installment of a new series: Dutch beer for tourists!

Amsterdam, the city I was fortunate enough to live in for over a decade. While Utrecht might be a more interesting place to visit when it comes to beer, Amsterdam is making a comeback lately and in one years’ time there will be even more to visit, but for now I am sticking with what some, including myself, call the ‘Golden Quartet’.

Proeflokaal het Arendsnest (Herengracht 90)

If you are only in Amsterdam for an hour but still want to go to an iconic place for Dutch beer, then the Arendsnest is the place. About a 10-15 minute walk from the local railway station you pass one of the most beautiful canals in the city, aptly named the Brewerscanal (Brouwersgracht). Though you could easily linger on the small bridges for hours, tear yourself away until you reach the Herengracht where you will find the Arendsnest. For well over a decade Peter van den Arend has run a bar on the canal and it is still unique. It only serves Dutch beer, and from all over the country. Fourteen taps and countless bottles offers something for everyone. The staff knows everything about what they offer so they can give you the right advice. On a nice warm day you can sit on the terrace on the side of the canal.

BeerTemple (Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 250)

If excellent beer is your religion then this is it’s temple. Also owned by the same Peter who owns the Arendsnest, it offers beer from mostly the U.S. and Scandinavia, with some other countries thrown in, including Holland. The BeerTemple has been open for a few years now, can sometimes be empty but what is on offer there is unequaled in the Netherlands, maybe in Europe.

Think the great bigger American craft brewers, but also Mikkeler and Struise. Usually there are around 4 Dutch beers on tap too. What is on offer here is the best of the best craft beer has to offer at the moment.

Bierkoning ( Paleisstraat 125)

Just around the corner is a shop that doesn’t look like much from the outside. But walk through the door and small corridor and you enter beer heaven. This is easily the best beer store in Amsterdam. You won’t find cases of Heineken here but the best that craft brew worldwide has to offer, though most of it is from the U.S., Germany, England, Belgium, Denmark and whatever else is good. Their Dutch section is growing and growing and now probably the biggest section. As I wrote in an earlier piece, they are a big help in spreading the word about the new Dutch wave of craft beer. Here again the staff knows everything you need to know. Other stores might be more comfortable to walk around in, but no other store in Amsterdam offer a selection as this one does. Since it is almost next to the Royal Palace, there is no excuse for you to miss De Bierkoning.

In De Wildeman (Kolksteeg 3)

If you really need to go back to the station with your backpack heavy with the bottles you just bought at de Bierkoning, the ghost of Michael Jackson (the beer writer who once recorded a bit for his series here) will haunt you forever if you don’t go to In De Wildeman first. This is a specialty beer with beer from all over Europe, but you can easily sit here all day and only have Dutch brews either from one of the many taps or bottles. Like the other bars, the staff knows what they are selling. Though surrounded by noisy, busy streets it can often be a haven of calm, especially during the day. The premises once was occupied by a distillery, and the signs of that are still there. While you’re in there, grab a book, drink a beer and don’t forget to look above the door at all the beers on tap.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjBY4bYuKck]Go to the 6:00 mark for In De Wildeman, it’s old but legendary

Extra:

If you are staying in Amsterdam longer there are other places worth visiting.

Brouwerij ‘t IJ (Funenkade 7)

A little outside of downtown, but easy to reach by tram, is one of the oldest craft breweries in the country: Brouwerij ‘t IJ. Located in an old bathhouse underneath a windmill it’s a pretty place to visit. Recently they built a new part a little down the road but the tasting room remains. You can sit inside but the best place is outside on a warm spring or summer night. ‘t IJ has also in the last few years ventured into some newer styles and you can now get porters, IPA’s apart from the standard beers they have had for ages.

De Prael (Oudezijds Voorburgwal 30)

If you haven’t been to Amsterdam much you will likely end up in the red light district. Don’t forget to wander into the Prael, a newer brewery with a shop and tasting room.