Archive for March, 2015

Houtens Brouw Collectief Part 2: The Utrecht Beerbrewers Festival

Molen "De Ster" around which the Utrechts Beerfestival is held.

Molen “De Ster” around which the Utrechts Beerfestival is held.

In Part 1 a couple of weeks ago I wrote about Hommeles, the brewing branch of the Houtens Brouw Collectief. Part 2 today is about another successful venture: organizing the Utrechts Beerbrewers Festival, which this year will be held for the 5th time.

I myself have remarked about this wonderful festival, one of the nicest beer festivals on the calendar. I asked Kees Volkers why he thinks the festival is as successful as it is and he gave several reasons:

  • Location, location, location. Though located in the middle of an Utrecht neighborhood, the area itself is a windmill and surrounding public land. A little green haven inside the concrete and stone structures in that part of Utrecht.
    It is a ten minute walk from the train station and Utrecht is the hub of the national railway grid. This makes it is easier to get to, with often only a few or no changes, from any part of the country. Rotterdam and even Amsterdam are harder to get into this easy.
  • Setup and atmosphere. You don’t really need more than stands for the brewers, live music and good food. The area feels enclosed and the people owning the terrain are very involved with the festival. The wooden structures, windmill and farm animals make you feel like you’re something where there is a lot of space.
  • Utrecht has a vibrant beer culture and has a large number of brewers. To remain a specialty beer festival, and keep away a certain type of beerdrinker, no pilsners are served.
  • All three are well known faces in the local and national craft beer scene so getting the word out was easy, though I doubt that is even necessary, the festival itself is a gem.

But I have noticed that the more popular the festival gets, the more crowded it gets as well. Isn’t there a fear that the festival will become too big?

Kees:

“this is something we will discuss in the coming year. This year we will keep things as they were, with some new measures. The number of visitors isn’t immediately a problem, we will just had out a maximum number of glasses. We don’t necessarily feel the need to grow. A small scale festival at a great location is perfect, but we realize that the reputation of the festival and of brewers from Utrecht is rapidly growing and the attendance shows this. One problem is that the area surrounding the mill is public terrain which can’t be closed off.

The biggest problem right now is the growth of commercial brewers from Utrecht. At the first festival there were seven, this year the number will be 20 or 21. There will come a time when we won’t be able to house all of them. If the attendance stays the same this also means that the brewers will sell a lot less. So something needs to change, and we would like to get the brewers involved too to look for a solution. “

For Utrecht the number of brewers is of course great, people are still realizing that brewing is fun, hip and that you can even sell what you make. With the number now at 21 the end isn’t in sight yet.

Could this festival be the first one to crumble under the weight of the craft beer revolution? Could well be, but I trust that the HBC men will find a solution. This festival is one of the few you really should have been to at least once. In fact, my wife and I postponed the honeymoon for one day so we could visit two years ago, and left for the Alps straight after. That’s how great this festival is.

Beer Reviews I, End of Winter Edition

Here it is, for the very first time, a post with just beer reviews! If you want to contribute with some reviews of Dutch beers let me know. I am not looking for dry descriptions.

The first ten.

Vandestreek Hop Art. Confusing, a Hop Art without a number. This is apparently a different version of #2 and #5. As always the artwork is great. Lots of nice west coast flavors at only 5%. Good refreshing bitterness, mostly passionfruit and mango. Bitter beers are definitely the brother’s strong suit.

Drank this when my 6 week old son was sleeping, and my wife had a 39.3 degree fever. Refreshing and tasty at this moment to settle down a little after a day of changing diapers and making tea.

Bottle from De Schans in Uithoorn, €2,45

Ratebeer 85 overall / 76 style – Untappd 3.68


Brand IPA

Yes, the big boys are starting to get into IPA’s as well. Grolsch’ efforts were quite bad but Brand’s earthy aroma is promising. The beer itself is a letdown. It’s half-hearted attempt to appeal to craft beer drinkers by making an IPA, but then forget to give it the bitterness that makes people like it in the first place. I wonder if this will lead to a new group of IPA drinkers who were used to drinking Brand pilsner. Taste: I get some raw carrot and a little sweetness. It’s refreshing, but forgettable.

Bottle from the Mitra, Wilhelminakade in Groningen.

Ratebeer 50 / 27 – Untappd 3.42


De Vriendschap Zwoele Stad

I guess the best description would be a wheat ale / blonde wheat ale / kristallweizen. I’ve seen all three. Whatever the style purists want to make of it, I didn’t care for it too much. It’s a smooth beer and the percentage is low. It’s the bitterness in the aftertaste I just don’t care for too much. But I am sure there will be some who enjoy it more. Extra credit for the name: Sultry City

Bottle from De Schans, Uithoorn, €2.45

Ratebeer 29 / 45 – Untappd 3.16


‘t Blauwe Hert Bronstig

Name of the brewery means the blue deer. Name of the beer is ‘bronstig’. New brewers from Aalsmeer, brewing at the Noordhollandse Brouwerij. Was expecting a boring dubbel when I poured it, but it’s more interesting than that. Seems they used west coast hops, giving it a flowery good bitterness in the finish. Feels chalky too. Quite good. Best in show for this edition.

Bottle from De Schans, Uithoorn, €2,50

Ratebeer Untappd 3.35


Wildervanker Abbingh’s Porter

Wildervank is located in East Groningen, not exactly Holland’s garden of eden. Straight roads, canals and flat land. A brewery started that makes more than decent beers, contrary to where Wildervank is. A creamy porter, some sweetness, some sourness and a nice white layer that stays for quite some time. Haven’t had a bad beer from them yet.

Bottle from Mitra Vismart, Groningen

RatebeerUntappd 3.52


‘t IJ Bridgeport Barleywine, colab with Marz

‘t IJ’s new direction has led to some very nice beers, this is no exception. For a barleywine it doesn’t have a lot of the sticky sweetness they often have. It’s there in the beginning but is quickly overtaken by the hops. The hops give it an aftertaste that isn’t the most pleasant. Lot of things happening in the beer though, also an interesting one to follow when it warms. It also warms you for quite some time. Interesting.

€ 2,90 from Van Erp in Groningen

Ratebeer 88 / 49 – Untappd 3.81


Grutte Pier Tripel

As a former history student at a nearby university. I love beers with a historical name and information. Grutte Pier was a freedom fighter from Friesland, a part of the country proud of their heritage and language. It’s a good looking label of the man and you learn about him when you’re reading the label.

The beer is a tripels and is decent. It has some spice notes but never rubs you the wrong way like some tripels can. It’s also not a beer that gives you anything special. Friesland is going through a small beer boom of their own, this was made at Admiraals.

2.99 from the Mitra Vismarkt in Groningen

RatebeerUntappd 3.93


Bierderie Mirjam Red Ale

Drinking this while our son is finally at ease after some wailing. It makes this one a little more special. I like offbeat beers like this. It has the hops of a pale ale, but underneath lingers a red ale. Is it a superb beer? No, but if you like very interesting beers this is one to try, if not for the simple fact that De Bierderie is sympathetic brewery run by some great people.

Bottle from De Zwart, Wilnis

Ratebeer 54 / 79 – Untappd 3.49


Natte Gijt Stoute Gijt RIS

I don’t know if every batch I’ve had so far has been different but this is the 3rd or 4th time I’ve had this beer and this was my favorite. Or I was just feeling better while sitting in the chair. It doesn’t have the big bold flavors others RIS’ have, but the palate is great. Already very tasty when a little too cold. Love the label, what’s not to like about goats.

Bottle from De Zwart in Wilnis

Ratebeer 92 / 41 – Untappd 3.58


´t IJ India Session Ale

A beer that started life at the Oregon Craft Beer Festival last year. A style I haven’t seen much here. Another good example of the new road ‘t IJ has taken. Flowery, pineapple and lavender? Soapy somewhat, but not the kind that makes you hate it.

Bottle from Van Erp Groningen, €2,55

Ratebeer 92 / 94 – Untappd 3.54


Duits & Lauret are becoming a fortress brewery

Craft beer has been going against the trend of economic demise. Shops all over the country are closing, either because of the economy or the growing online market. Older, monumental, buildings have trouble finding new investors and purposes. Brewers have made use of this demise and are bucking the trend. New breweries are starting and in the process give new purposes to sometimes historic buildings. This isn’t a completely new trend, in the last century Brouwerij ‘t IJ moved into an old bathhouse and Oudaen in Utrecht occupies a medieval house. This century Jopen opened a restaurant/bar in a church and De Molen started in that most Dutch of structures: a windmill (for those who might have missed it, De Molen is Dutch for The Windmill). Even old factory buildings now house breweries like Maallust and Oersoep. These are just some examples of the many ways craft beer is changing the cities and towns and countryside we live in.

But a brewery in an historic fortress? That’s a new one and it will happen this year when Duits & Lauret move into Fort Everdingen, a fortress located on a river to the south of Utrecht on the border of provinces Utrecht and Gelderland. This will mean that after brewing in Belgium for years they will now do everything themselves and in the Netherlands.

dleverdingen10986494_618873438243070_8680001355375537309_nFort Everdingen

The fortress (finished in 1847) is located in the area where three major rivers flow in close proximity. Water has played an important part in the original function of the fortress as part of the Hollandic Waterline, a linked number of forts meant to defend Holland (the western part of the country with major cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht) from the enemy. But the enemy never came and the sluices to inundate surrounding farmland were never used.

Many of the buildings remained and the fortress has had other functions. The last was as a depot for the army’s bomb disposal unit before it was turned over to the Ministry of Economics who started looking for a new destination. 18 investors and/or businesses turned in a proposal outlining their ideas of what the fortress could be used for. Of these 18 Duits & Lauret had the plans that a committee liked the most and this means that in 2015 a brewery will be located in the 150-year old fortress. Their plan combined a great idea of accessibility with economic viability, the committee sees the brewery as something that will be in that location for the next decades.

Plans

The entire area is large, about 12 hectares (30 acres) and has 32 structures. The plan is that eventually all these buildings will get a purpose. The scale of the project is such that it is almost impossible to do it all at once. Marco Lauret tells me that all the buildings will be gradually incorporated into the entire plan, but that this can take a decade.

So what will the fort get? Apart from (naturally) a brewery and tasting room the fort will also hold a shop where apart from their own products (they also make cheese and mustard) they will sell local products. The tasting room will also offer some small dishes, which will be made in cooperation with De Veldkeuken. Because of the dark and sheltered characteristics it is also perfect to age the Duits & Lauret beer cheese.

One of the bats in the fortress (photo from Duits & Lauret)

One of the bats in the fortress (photo from Duits & Lauret)

Nature

The fortress will encompass more than just beer and food. Because of its location nature already plays a big role. The tower that stands on the ground houses a colony of bats and the bats won’t have to be relocated as they will remain right where they are. At the start of the year they counted them all. This won’t be the only dwelling for animals, new housing for bats and/or hedgehogs might be built as well and who knows what other animals will find a home here. So even for the non-beer drinking nature fan the fort will have a lot to offer.

History

The Hollandic Waterline is important and visible part of Dutch history, not to be ignored especially when the fortress becomes as accessible as this one. An Information Center will definitely be part of the setup. Because of its location it will naturally attract motorist and bikers, especially now that it is open. If you have never been in the area of the country where the rivers are located, it is a beautiful part of the country to visit and drive through.

Job creation

When it is all finished the brewery is planned to offer jobs to ten people, and more places for people further from the job market, a concept we have seen often at breweries. They hope that the fortress will be a place of work for a lot of people, and a place where people can be taken care of as well, to make them feel they have a purpose.

Time schedule

The first thing they hope to open this summer is the tasting room, followed by the first parking spots for camper vans and the brewery itself. This will be start of the beer-and-breakfast concept. The other buildings will get a purpose in the next decade, yes, you read that correctly, it will probably take about 10 years before it will get a finish.

We will of course visit Fort Everdingen as soon as we can, and will keep you updated about this unique new beer location in the middle of the country. We for one can’t wait.