Archive for April, 2015

Bierfestival Groningen 2015

I went to three editions of this festival and though the location inside the Martini church is awesome it was lacking in some areas. Reasons that made me skip the festival last year. The entry fee was steep and the brewers not the kind you wanted to make the long and expensive journey for. Most of them were at other festivals nearby anyway and if it wasn’t for the simple fact that I went to school about a hundred meters from the church and that my family still lives there, I wouldn’t pay over 20 Euros for the train fare to Groningen and another 14 Euros for the entry fee. And 14 Euros is only worth 2 glasses of beer and a bottle of water.

Smaller brewers are improving

But the festival has evolved, along the lines that the Dutch craft beer scene evolved in the last few years. The organizers want to highlight brewers producing around 1200 hectoliters. This is laudable but in the past meant that only brewers with average brews were at the festival. But the festival has shown that the overall quality of Dutch beer is improving and the smaller breweries more and more have beers that are more than decent.

New brewery from Groningen/Haren: Pivo

New brewery from Groningen/Haren: Pivo

There’s nothing above Groningen

For ages Groningen lagged behind in the rise of craft beer in the Netherlands. Just a few years ago only De Kromme Jat could really call itself a brewery from Groningen. But in the last 18 months this has rapidly changed and now for the first time you could if you wanted to only drink beer from brewers from Groningen. Kromme Jat was serving their beer yet again but they got company from the likes of Groninger Craft Brewery, Pivo, Wildervanker and Bax. The first one debuted with a Spelt Pale Ale and a Sweet Stout, both fine. Pivo is so new that their bottles aren’t even available in the shops yet. I tasted one of their three beers and it was ok, but not world shattering. Their back-story however does merit more investigation, something which I will hopefully be able to do in the coming weeks.

Bax Bier had a big stand in the main part of the church

Bax Bier had a big stand in the main part of the church

Jeroen Bax and Sepp Janssen however are miles ahead of the regional competition. This was shown for one in the huge stand in the main section of the church. Bax Bier are Major League (or Premier League, Serie A, Eredivisie, NHL whatever your regional case may be) brewers and it’s no coincidence that their beer made of left-over malts and hops still beats most of the beers at the festival. There is big news coming apparently, and I for one cannot wait.

Not just brewers

I’ve mentioned before on these here pages that the craft beer community is not just made by the brewers and their customers. The shops and café pay an equally important part and they too were represented with stands. Shops like the Mitra and Van Erp were present, while De Toeter and our favorite De Koffer represent local beer cafés. De Koffer served Rogue’s Chocolate Stout for example, what more can I add. But there were cheese stores, restaurants and distributors present as well. It’s good to show the public who else is involved with getting craft beer at the level we want it to be. Even De Drie Gezusters, a café I used to steer well clear from during my high school years, was at the festival and serving and promoting the excellent Tasty Lady beer. The night before they had a tasting in the café itself, an example of how the festival is encompassing more days, venues and events. It’s turning into a beer week. The Noorderslag/Eurovision music festival was once a two day event and is now hold all over the city on multiple days. If the people of Groningen get behind this festival the city might become a haven for beer lovers for a week in April.

Bigger than just beer

I always enjoyed the fact that you can choose between three timeslots over two days. It prevents overcrowding and you can plan ahead. Presale is something other festivals might start to think about because of the rising success of festivals like this. Overcrowding isn’t helping anybody.

There was more than just drinking beer. Workshops and talks were held about a myriad of subjects, for example coffee and beer by Bax or women and/in beer. These talks show exactly what the craft beer movement is about: more than just drinking good beer. It is also exactly the thing we aim for here: craft beer as a cross disciplinary cultural phenomenon.

The night before the festival in one of the rooms in the church, the restaurant across the street (the excellent Feithhuis) held a beer dinner with help from renowned beerologist Melissa Cole, who traveled all the way from England to explain the guests a little about beer and food pairings. Accompanying great dishes were beers from only Groninger breweries, another example that something right is going on there.

Brewing competition

And if that wasn’t enough, local brewers were able to have their beer judged by experts like Melissa Cole and Derek Walsh! The remarks and pointers that these two give could very well raise the level of local brewing a little more again.

Who knows that the festival will bring in 2016. There are already new breweries and beercafés planned this year, so it might get an even more regional flavor next year. I will be there.

The Martinikerk's organ. This year the proceeds of the Olle Grieze Beer (by Ramses and Groninger brewers) went to restoring the organ

The Martinikerk’s organ. This year the proceeds of the Olle Grieze Beer (by Ramses and Groninger brewers) went to restoring the organ

Craft Beer In The Supermarkt or The Change We All Saw Coming

Specialty / Craft beer in the supermarket. A topic that lately has led to a discussion between those are for and against it here in the Netherlands. Does it lead to the end of the liquor store? Will it lead to the end of small breweries or will it only give the revolution a new boost? An short overview of the most overheard (overread?) statements.

It’s the economy stupid!

That craft beer was going to make onto the shelves of the supermarket was only a matter of time. Anyone with just the slightest of knowledge of craft beer and some general economic principles could have seen this coming years ago. Whenever something sells, supermarkets step in to offer it, and often for a lower price.

supermarktWhat’s actually in the supermarket?

It is definitely not the case that the shelves in most specialty beer stores were just copied into the supermarket. Bottles I have seen so far were either from abroad (Brooklyn, BrewDog, Goose Island, Bass) are the Dutch breweries you’d expect to be in the supermarkets by now, the likes of Jopen, De Prael, Brouwerij ‘t IJ and Texels. Breweries that have been paving the way the last 15 years or more, are getting a bigger presence on the supermarket shelves. Something that again follows economic principles: If you do something right and people buy your product, you will be rewarded. The other 280 or so Dutch breweries? Still in the specialty shops. Only when they reach the same quality, and maybe even more important consistency, can they start thinking about being in the Albert Heyn from Zierikzee to Delfzijl.

New role for the Specialty Beer Store

Three years ago I wrote about the role of the Specialty Beer Store in the Dutch Craft Beer Revolution. They are what the local music club and record store are for the music scene. A place where smaller, starting breweries can find a way to reach new customers. The first presence on the market. Some of these customers will give them feedback, from which they can continue.

The people working in the store can already tell you more about that bottle of Jopen than anyone in the supermarket, not including reading what’s on the back of the bottle. In the store they can tell you more about the style, the brewer and increasingly what food pairings would be great with the beer. They can also suggest similar beers in case you want to try something new.

More room

What some stores are afraid of, and have already seen happening, is that it will get harder to get a hold of the same beers that the supermarkets now sell. This might lead to the loss of some buyers, but it also frees up space to highlight the smaller, more unknown breweries who now have more chance to at least enter the market or the more special, or one-off, editions of the bigger breweries.

Does the appearance of craft beer in the supermarket make it harder? Yes, but they were already on the frontlines as the ones who lead the change before anyone else. The new role of liquor store owners means that it is more worthwhile to keep coming back. The smarter ones are already changing the selection often and listen to what the consumer wants. The margin at the top might get a little thinner, but again, this is something they could have seen coming.

The consumer

The biggest winner of this new move is the consumer. They have easier access to craft beer now. Not everyone in the country has a good specialty beer store nearby and now being able to get your Jopen in the local supermarket is only a good thing for them. Some of the regular beer drinkers might get introduced to the wonderful world of Dutch Craft Beer, leaving them searching for more of what the country has to offer.

For the craft beer consumer the opening of space in the specialty stores is good as well. Where previously the Texels and Jopen stood new and unfamiliar bottles will come. And isn’t the average reader of these here pages a craft beer fan in general? And not a fan of a particular brewery?

Winners and losers

Any change in an industry leads to winners and losers. Some breweries might overproduce or build more capacity that might remain unused if the rise of craft beer should ever falter. But we have seen in other countries that the breaking point hasn’t been reached yet, and in a country where maybe only 20 to 25 breweries make grade A, consistent craft beer, there is still a lot more room for growth and it again falls to those on the forefront, the stores and the bars, to keep up their already excellent work. Sure, for some this change in the market may mean the end, but the fact remains: YOU KNEW THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN!!

We will have to see in let’s say a year to see what the actual change has been. There’s more to be said about it, and more has been said too, I only posted the most often heard words.

And if you are traveling to Holland one of these days to get a taste of the beer scene, you could walk into the Albert Heyn. If you really want to see what’s going on at the forefront of this wonderful scene, go to any of the places on my beermap.


Thanks for answers, inspiration and insights: Harm Nap (Drank van Nap), Richard Spierdijk (Spierbier), Marjolein (De Koffer), Peter Jongejans (Bierwinkel Leiden), Sepp Janssen (Bax), Slijterij den Gouden Aar, Drinkery ’t Bierhuis, Edwin de Zwart (De Zwart Dranken), Fred Schiphorst, Fiona de Lange and anyone else I might have forgotten.