If you believe that adding orange peels and coriander in a wit, cherries in a geuze, or sugar in a bock is already pushing the limits of the definition of what beer is, than Borefts is not for you. If you get fits of anger when strange fruits, herbs and vegetables show up in the list of ingredients of some newfangled beer from Estonia, than Borefts is not for you. If you believe beer was so much better 15 years ago when it was all much more simple, you should probably put on your cardigan, take off your reading glasses, replace them with your regular glasses and take your ideas back to 1999. Because once again Borefts showed Europe what is going on in the front lines of brewing, and it is nothing like beer brewed before the turn of the millennium. And I for one, and thousands with me those two days, welcome it with open arms and mouth. Borefts has become the Paris fashion week, or Austin’s South by Southwest festival, or the Sundance Film Festival. A place where mostly independent artists showcase their work for an audience that is ahead of the curve and interested in everything new and exciting.
The theme this year was as postmodern as always. Brew a saison (classic) but add something local (modern). The chances are that if you go through all the green herbs in your spice rack there was a beer brewed with it by one of the brewers at Borefts. This is really what the brewers of today do. Where Ferran Adria or René Redzepi look at the edible world around them, so do the new (post)modern brewers. Beer is the basis, the rest is all open to personal taste and interest. Not everything will make it to the larger public of course, but it was interesting to see how brewers look at beer these days. Was it all great then? No, with this many beers there are bound to be some misses. And even though I personally welcome experimentation my favorite beers were still an Export Stout from Redchurch, a Jim Beam Barrel Aged Hel & Verdoemenis from De Molen and an excellent sour ale from Belgian Alvinne. But Omnipollo’s desert themed beers (yes, there was a raspberry smoothy beer) or the many sour ales with strange fruits and herbs made clear some new words need to be added to the standard beer review vocabulary. Words like ‘funny’, ‘interesting’ or ‘strange’
But I have only been able to taste a fraction of what was on offer, there is just too much supply, even for a fairly experienced beerhunter like myself.
That more nations are joining the ranks of top craft brewing was evident again. More British breweries this year and a bunch of Scandinavian as well, also more before it seems. In fact, some breweries weren’t even making beer when the first Borefts festival was held 7 years ago, and that isn’t even that long ago.
Another region that is very much up and coming is the Baltic State area and they finally made the big show with the appearance of Latvian Labietis at Borefts with some excellent and most of all interesting beers with local ingredients. I had an interesting wit with caraway seeds, inspired by Latvian bread. With brewers from the UK, Belgium, Latvia, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Holland and Germany and the United States this year and brewers from Italy and France in previous years the state of craft beer in Europe is strong and diverse and the end not yet in sight.
Every year Dutch brewers are asked to be part of the festival as well and for a Dutch brewers there is no higher stage, it is the same as headlining Glastonbury or Bonnaroo. This year Oedipus from Amsterdam and Brouwerij Kees were invited. Oedipus rise in and around Amsterdam has been meteoric with a new brewery, tasting room and shelve space in supermarkets. Kees has been to Borefts many times before while still brewing for Emelisse, but now that he has gone solo nothing really changed for Brouwerij Kees is again easily one of the best breweries in the Netherlands. Since Kees has just started who knows what else we can expect.
Every year it seems Borefts has reached the limit of the number of people the premises can hold, but every time the setup changes for the better. This time the former children’s indoor playground was in use for half of the brewers, a great view to see them stand in front of the rows of barrels with beautiful De Molen beer aging just for us to taste in a year. Signs asked people not to smoke outside underneath the tents, though unfortunately we were too late. Inside there was enough room upstairs, another great find.
Borefts too finally offers online ticketing, and even though they are still able to let people in at the door this is the way forward. It is a lot easier to get your ticket and the line in front of the registers was virtually non-existent. The food is getting more diverse every year and the free distribution of water remains yet another reason why Borefts is the number 1 festival in the country, and maybe in Europe.
The nearby train station is still where most people arrive from the surrounding cities, though I started to see buses from Germany parked as well. And the festival is also a good boost for the surrounding cities with visitors staying in hotels in nearby Alphen and Gouda but also in Amsterdam and Utrecht. In the days after I saw many of them visiting breweries in Amsterdam and Haarlem for example, making Borefts more than just a De Molen festival.
One thing is for sure, as long as this festival brings together brewers and beer drinkers from all over Europe as it has done now for 7 years, the state of craft beer remains strong and will keep growing. Bring on the strange brews.