Archive for June, 2014

Amsterdam’s New Craft Beer Scene. Episode I: De Vriendschap

For a while the beer scene in Amsterdam was remarkably uneventful. Het IJ en De Prael were quite visible but for interesting craft beer you had to go somewhere else. But things are looking up and the number of new brewers from the capital is rising steadily. In this new series we will discuss a few of these brewers, and will look at what challenges they face.

Friendship

Of the Amsterdam brewers in this series De Vriendschap has been around for a little while longer. De Vriendschap means ‘The Friendship’ and is the result of the long comradery between Aart van Bergen and Peter Harms who have known each other for more than half of their lives. In yet another convergence between beer and good music they first played in their own rock band and music still plays a big part in their lives.

Peter was the DIY guy and had made wine with grapes from their own garden before. In late 2011 they were drinking Belgian beers and above his head an imaginary lightbulb shone bright: “One day I want to make my own beer.” Aart replied affirmatively and a few weeks they were stirring in a pot in their first attempt to make beer.

Release

This stirring led to small batches out of which now three recipes got a wider release. The commercial start of the brewery was in early 2013. They have now released The Hop-Blond, Puike Pale Ale and latest brew De Zwoele Stad. The connection with music remained in the design of the labels: A CD-sticker on the bottle.

Friends with cafe’s wanted to start selling the beer. This led to a start as contract brewers, but there are plans for their own brewery in Amsterdam-North soon.

De Vriendschap uses social media like Facebook and Twitter to get out the word and they also used Untappd. Distribution of the beer is done by the pair themselves mostly.

Local interest

The general public’s interest in new flavors helps. The local bars also recognize this trend: fed up with the big brewers, they now want something new to drink. But, the contracts some establishments have can be a hindrance, some have contracts that only allow beer from one brewery with no room for other, smaller, brewers.

Their location in Amsterdam-North means that for now they are the only ones there. North is a part of the city that can be easily reached by ferry or tunnel and will be even more part of the city when the subway line will be finished. But for most people on the other side there is no reason to visit this part. This is changing however. The North now has a filmmuseum, music venue Paradiso has a location there called the Tolhuistuin and the NDSM wharf is attracting people too. This attracts new businesses who are eager to sell local things, and Vriendschap beer is just that.

Peter and Aart

Time is not on their side

The biggest stumbling block while setting up your own brewery for Aart and Peter is time. Aart is still a jazz musician (in the band Crescent Double Quartet) and Peter works as a brewer at De Bierfabriek. It costs a lot of time to produce, distribute and promote the beer. Administration, events all costs a lot of time, so it’s hard work to get a start.

Contract brewers now, own brewery later

Aart and Peter now brew their beer at the Sallandse brewery from recipes they design at home. The first batch was a daunting 1000 liters. There was fear that this would be too much. It took 12 days and it was all gone. Since then they brew multiple times a month.

They are hard at work to start their own brewing location in North. At the city farming project NoordOogst (North Harvest) (http://noordoogst.org/). Now it’s still refurbishing an old canteen of a soccer club and getting the right permits. Hopefully this summer they hope to start brewing already. It will be a very small installation so that the guys can experiment a lot with new ingredients and ideas.

 

De Vriendschap website

On Facebook

On Twitter

Alkmaar 2014: now warm and churchy!

In the coming weeks we will release a string of articles about the rising number of brewers in Amsterdam. Maybe there will be a separate Amsterdam beer festival soon but for now Amsterdam is still part of the province of Noord-Holland and that nice city in the middle of it, Alkmaar, was the host of the annual Noord-Hollands Beerfestival.

Last year the Noord-Hollands beerfestival was held on a cold snowy February day in the cafeteria of some public building, quite a way from the central railway station. The organizers this year made some wise decisions. Firstly it was moved to June and. Secondly, they must have been to the festivals in Groningen and Den Haag because they opted to hold in a church this time. And is there really a better place to do it?

Noord-Holland boasts a lot more brewers than just the Amsterdam and Haarlem breweries. There is enough to do above the IJ-canal that splits Haarlem and Amsterdam from the rest of the province. 24 brewers were present, a great number, but just half of the number of breweries in this part of the country.

Noord-Holland v Utrecht

It wasn’t an ‘open’ festival. Only brewers from this province could come. This set-up leads to comparisons with the festival in Utrecht last May, that has brewers from that province only.

And here is a big difference, and also something that needs work. I will be honest, of the 24 brewers present in Alkmaar, only 4 are in the top flight of Dutch brewing, or close to it, meaning they have multiple good beers and consistently release good and interesting beers. Jopen and Het Uiltje are well known by now and Pampus and Oedipus are young and upcoming. Though they didn’t bring it, Pampus’ collaboration with Eem (the Dark Hops) is on my shortlist for Dutch beer of the year. Oedipus extreme flavors and beers are a delight to any beer drinker and they will become a force in Amsterdam in the years to come.

Nordman, a new Amsterdam brewery

Nordman, a new Amsterdam brewery

Is this bad? No. Most of the brewers here were either just starting or were the result of weekend labors of love. Beer might not be the best, but the effort is worth an applause. Also, I have to add that because of where I live my access to beer from Noord-Holland is good, meaning I have tried most of what was offered already.

The huge church meant it wasn’t too crowded, but the brewers were busier than for example in Den Haag last month. The setup was great and the price didn’t suffer. 20 Euros for a glass, booklet and 7 coins. At a walking distance from the railway station it was also much easier to reach, especially on the glorious summer day that it was.

Where’s the beef

So here’s a free suggestion to you makers of food out there: go to beerfestivals. The only available food at the festival was great. Homemade cheese, sausage, mustard, relishes etc. People who love sampling beers would like this as well, but it doesn’t exactly fill the stomach. It has an oft heard complaint from my side but half of the beerfestivals lack in this area. A hotdog or burger stand would do well anywhere, and especially here.

Oedipus

Oedipus

The beers:

As I said, I tried mostly new breweries. The Bourgondische Brouwers made their debut with a smoked beer, not a safe choice but I enjoyed it. They still have some way to go but I like their thinking. The kind of thinking I am starting to be a little adverse to is making a blond or tripel your first release. In a beermarket that is changing more and more towards more American styles a (starting) blonde will never stand out. Molenduyns’ blonde was good, though sweet and what they do in Santpoort is great, but I won’t get on my bike to get some bottles. Same for the Helderse Jongers, their pilsner-type Paal 0 just didn’t cut it. They looked professional and the stand was one of the better ones there, but the beer isn’t.

My winner was the Oedipus Two Shafts Double IPA. Oedipus is one brewery to keep looking out for, and also one of those breweries that are turning into rockbands, you can’t wait for the next release. The absolute winner was an old favorite. My wife had to have the Double IPA of Het Uiltje again. Next to the Oedipus one it was just crisper, more flavorful, more bitter, just excellent.

Stay here           

Dear organizers of this festival. You made two excellent changes when you changed the date and the location. Keep doing this! I am sure the quality of the beer from North-Holland will soon reach the level of your festival.

De Bierderie, brewers who should make more. Their Sprout 2.0 is great.

De Bierderie, brewers who should make more. Their Sprout 2.0 is great.