Leiden and the coming together of worlds

Leiden, home of one of the most prestigious universities in the world. The starting point of the families who took the Mayflower to New England to start their city upon a hill. But for a long time, like many of the other cities in Zuid-Holland, not a city of beer. Well, not for new beer or dare I say craft beer. Heineken’s big brewery is just outside the city.

Only the excellent, mostly Belgian, beer café Lemmy’s and the beautiful Bierwinkel made it worth a visit. The Leidsche Bierbrouwerij for a long time was the only brewery, but not widely available in the rest of the country.

But then I walked into the Stadsbrouwhuis. A brewpub with a whopping 25 taps and no bottles. The mix of these 25 taps is very interesting, and is the main focus of today’s piece. How to offer something to both the drinker of normal, easy-to-get beers but also to the beergeek.

A big portion of the public still wants to go somewhere where they can drink what they know. This blog may sometimes try and prove otherwise, but humankind is still made up of creatures of habit.

Almost every bar, café and restaurant in the country has a brewery behind it. You can see this mostly by the sign hanging outside. In fact the accompanying brewery is signed onto the lease of the building, and not the café inside. Many times when a new café starts it has to take beer from the brewery assigned to the building. This construction merits a special article one day.

The Stadsbrouwhuis’s major brewery is Heineken. Heineken is in fact a very local brewery since they moved out of Amsterdam decades ago and are now brewing in nearby Zouterwoude.

With Heineken come more beers like Brand and its range of beers. You might not like the big boys, but Brand at least has decent beers. But here is the genius of the Stadsbrouwhuis: With 25 taps there is room enough to offer whatever they want and that they do. Don’t expect the normal stuff from smaller breweries but only the really special things, beers you won’t find in a bottle easily or at all. And beers you will find here you won’t find anywhere else in the the city. This makes it a must visit for any beerhunter. One look at the menu at this very moment and I see special beers from Ramses, Oedipus, Fyne and Walhalla.

A brewery

The words gives it away, it is also a brewery. A guild of likeminded brewers brew here every Saturday and each bring in their own recipe. The beers are brewed with the brewery name De Vrije Vogel. I had a stout that was exceptional. Even their own beers make it worthwhile to visit once in a while, mostly because it is not bottled.

And oh, it’s a good restaurant too that opens early.

The Leven in de Brouwerij Festival

 

Pronck, one of the newer Leiden breweies was also present

From the Stadsbrouwhuis came the idea to organize a big beer festival and this happened on March 22 and 23 in the Stadsgehoorzaal, a beautiful theater from the 19th century. It adds to the experience when you can walk around in an actual building with different rooms and not an outdoor square or school.

 

It was an eclectic mix of brewers from big brands like Brand to small ones like NeoBosski. And not only Dutch, also Belgian brewers were there and even Lagunitas brought two beers. Though that is not that surprising since they are part Heineken these days. This is a festival for all. The average drinker of pilsners and triples could fine enough, and so could the beer hunter like me.

Breweries from for example Leiden, Utrecht, Eindhoven, Oss and Den Haag were present so you could get a fairly good idea of the state of brewing in the Netherlands in just these two days.

The main room, 30 minutes after opening, it got a lot busier

The Dutch brewers present showed how far some have come. Uiltje, Van Moll and Kompaan are slowly reaching the level that Jopen already is at. Others like Muifel, Klein Duimpje and the Leidse Brouwers have been at it for quite some time now. New ones like NeoBosski, Sisters Brewery or Alkmaar’s Zegelis have just recently started and are still small. Breweries from all phases of 21st century Dutch brewing history were in Leiden.

It is time Leiden catches up with the rest, and with the Stadsbrouwhuis and this festival it just might. The Stadsbrouwerij and the Leiden Leven in de Brouwerij festival have shown that a hybrid between hardcore beergeeks and casual middle-of-the-road beer drinkers is indeed possible.  Who knows, both sides might actually learn from each other.