Archive for the ‘beer festival’ Category

Brewda 2016

The summer is coming to an end and so does this part of the beer festival season. When Borefts finishes at the end of this month brewers and beer lovers alike will turn their focus to the traditional bock beer season.

But before making the annual pilgrimage to Bodegraven there are other festivals worth a visit. Last weekend’s Brewda in Breda, now in its third year, is one of those.

A new type of festival

Festivals in Holland tended to be small affairs. Most of them organized by PINT, the national association for the promotion of traditional beer. With not as much happening compared to now, what they did was great and important in keeping the craft beer flame alive.

A different beer festival came with the first editions of De Molen’s Borefts festival. For me at least the first time I could come into contact in my own country with similar breweries like De Molen, but from Europe. Breweries that were hard to find. Just like De Molen often went to festivals in other countries.

But it wasn’t only beer drinkers who came into contact with new brewers. Dutch brewers too got to see what else was made in the world, leading to inspiration and great colabs.

This cross-cultural interaction got another boost when a number of Dutch breweries made the trip to the new promised land of beer, Oregon. This as part of the Portland – Utrecht sister cities program, something that has been repeated every year since.

The International Festival

It was only a matter of time before other festivals went international, and it is no wonder that it is the great number of breweries with international, mostly Portland, ties that are organizing them.

20160903_151537Festivals abound now at Van Moll, Kaapse, Oersoep or Oedipus. Last weekend was Breda’s own Frontaal’s turn with their Brewda, held for the third time. For the first time it was organized over two days, with different breweries on each day. We went for the Saturday, it had some of the finest Dutch breweries around these days. It didn’t seem a coincidence that the setup was International brewery next to a Dutch one next to an International one etc.

This was an invitation festival, meaning that the brewers were invited to come. With many festivals you actually sign up and pay for a stand. This means some brewers with a little money to spend and bad beer to serve can stand there as well. Good for exposure, not always great for overall quality. Quality wasn’t a problem here. Apart from the beer which I will get too, other things were taken care off too. Plenty of food stalls outside, they problem of not enough food seems to be over. Free water taps and plenty of room to sit inside as well. Seating was also a problem at many festivals, but organizers are taking care of that as well. Of course this was a festival with online presale, something that was special just two years ago but is now. Now to the beer!

Mojito So20160903_154131ur anyone?

The breweries from abroad came from the U.K., Spain and the U.S.A. It is always great to see Weird Beard bring their awesome beers. Their double coffee milk stout was wonderful.  A new one for me was Oregon’s own Caldera, a brewery I had heard much about but had never had the privilege to taste before. Let’s just say I hope this wasn’t the last time.

A brewery that brought the strangest beers was Sheffield’s Lost Industry. Sour beers with daquiri, pina colada but their best one was a mojito. Just the right sourness for a sour beer and it works great in tandem with a mojito. Definitely worth checking out more so Dutch beer stores, get crackin’.

The Dutch breweries

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Walhalla’s Aart van Bergen at work

When breweries are invited you know that they will be good. On Saturday big ones like Frontaal, Oedipus, ‘t Uiltje and Oproer poured their beers. Walhalla was also invited. And deservedly so. Since brewer Aart has been making his beers for about a year now the reviews have been great. Having had all of his beers now I am rapidly becoming a fan. For example,  I waited with trying his golden ale, the Loki, because it is not a style I usually try right away. I should have done earlier, this hopped up beer was great. He also brought a colab with Kromme Haring so you know what company he keeps. I cannot wait to try more.

And the others? Well, Oproer brought along an old geuze from Rooie Dop days. A two year old sour that cleared the sinuses. Too bad nothing of that is made anymore. ‘t Uiltje brought mostly beers that are easier to find, just like Oedipus did. But these two have become giants seemingly overnight. A festival without them that aims for quality is simply not complete without them. Frontaal is brewery that is relatively new to me because it isn’t always easy to find for me where I get my bottles usually. I recently read they are scaling up as well. What I did have so far was good. Experimental stuff and regular beers Frontaal does it all, and often in collaboration with other good breweries like for example Oproer. I really hope they make it to more stores so I can try more.

The International Festival, what a feast

I am not advocating the end of the Dutch brewery only festivals, anything but. Their merit has increased with the current rise of brewing. They need a place to showcase their beers and gain the experience needed to take further steps. It is only a great thing that next to these we have international festivals like these. It can only making the state of brewing in this country better.

 

Oedipus International Beer Festival: More than beer indeed

That the people over at Oedipus were organizing a beer festival was hard to miss. They promoted it well online and used Untappd for further promotion and discounts on tickets.

Not that Oedipus needs it. The last few years has seen them from hobbyists turn into a major Dutch brewery. They are present at festivals everywhere in the country and abroad. Their bottles  can be bought in the major supermarkets now. And most importantly they have done so by maintaining their own identity and philosophy, something that can be found in their unique beers.

Their quality has resulted in an invitation to the annual Oregon Brewers Festival. Something I wrote about a few years ago. This lead to a movie, a lot of great Holland-Oregon collaboration beers and now some of these breweries made their way to this festival. Upright, The Commons and Cascade for example offered their beers. The quality of Dutch brewing is great and still improving, but the festival got a massive boost through these American breweries and likeminded European ones like Lervig, Brew by Numbers and Omnipollo.

These breweries in turn provided a beer list that made any self respecting beer lover salivate. From session IPA’s in the 3% range to Russian Stouts of 11% and over, there was something for everyone. The wide variety also meant that you could have beers in your favorite style for most of the day.

Twice a day you could go on a tour and have 5 glasses of beer within a separate theme. Barrel-Aged beers were one of the 4, sours the other. And if you liked sours boy did you have a great time. The festival brought together old world sours from Boon and new world sours from for example Cascade. Sour ales have been the darlings of the beer geeks, and this festival showed why.

oedipus1More than beer

But as advertised the festival was indeed about more than beer. The OIBF is a festival that is worth going to even if you don’t drink a drop of alcohol. For one the food was exceptional. Many festivals still have one or two stands with mediocre food but here it was a small food truck festival. Kim Chi, Burgers, Oysters, Noodles and Hot Dogs to name some of the options. The sausages were made by Brandt & Levie and if you never had their sausages before run to any good food store to get some. They do for sausage and meats what Oedipus does for beer, no-borders sausage making. The smells of good food hung over the festival and with the dwindling number of cigarette smokers this is a huge improvement.

Children could come, and though there wasn’t an entire playpen they could drink lemonade just like their parents drank beer. The public was mixed between old and young, beer aficionados and beer novices. Walking beer labels walked around for extra atmosphere and the music wasn’t bad either, though at times a little too loud.

First timers

You might guessed by now that I loved being at this festival. In fact the day after I had an overwhelming urge to return for day two. When I write this on Tuesday I still wish I was back. There is room for improvement, sure, but they got significantly more things right than wrong.

The comparisons with Borefts cannot be ignored, and they have beat them on a few points: One, it is held on Saturday and Sunday, although my guess is Borefts is a Friday, Saturday festival because of the religious nature of Bodegraven. Two it is easy to reach. Bodegraven is easy to reach from the 4 major cities, but a little harder from farther away. Amsterdam Centraal is easy to reach for most.

What remains are memories of a great festival, a festival that makes the first weekend of July worth looking forward to. With the Brettfest and Borefts Holland has a third unique and international festival, one that has plenty of room to grow and improve. I will be planning my vacation next year around the Oedipus International Beer Festival.

From Mill to Factory. Utrechts Beerbrewersfestival 2016

In a move that was bound to happen, the successful Utrecht Beerbrewersfestival moved from its old spot in downtown Utrecht to a larger location. Like the industrial age in the 19th century the windmill is now replaced by a factory. A former factory that is now an entertainment complex called De Fabrique.

The move was inevitable. The former location was great, close to the railway station yet rustic. But the number of breweries kept growing, and so did the stream of beer lovers making their way to the windmill. Last year they sold out their glasses long before the festival was finished, leaving many disappointed.

I was somewhat afraid when I heard this was their new location. Factory buildings conjure up images of concrete slabs of drabness. It was also 1,5 km (about a mile) away from the nearest railway station.

Boy was I wrong.

_DSC0896The setup was great. Some brewers had outside stalls, the rest was placed inside. There was room to sit inside or outside, a problem at the previous location. Though concrete the building has a retro feel to it, like they never really tried to make it into one perfect space, but rather a collection of previous additions. Old beams on the ceiling, defunct electricity units were still there. Useless, but it did add a certain warmth.

The number of breweries present this year was 27. But were all these new breweries also better in quality? Well, unfortunately new breweries tend to come out with beers that are anything but renewing, too many blondes and tripels. The market is already swamped with these and it doesn’t offer anything new. There is nothing wrong with his per sé, but I tend to try to more unusual styles. As I have noticed before the cream of the crop is getting better, the gap with the rest seems to be widening. Duits & Lauret and VandeStreek were conveniently placed outside, but it is no surprise that they had long lines. Rock City from Amersfoort is improving every year and they brought some nice barrel aged beers along with many other styles.

New breweries, no old styles

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Neobosski

If you really want to stand out as new brewery, come up with something new. A new brewery for me, and one I appreciated, was Neobossky. They have one beer, a Black IPA type with inspirated by Duits & Lauret and Emelisse. Could be worse right?

So tell me, are porters making a comeback? I had quite a few good ones in Utrecht. Oproer had a porter called Leftöver, made of you guessed it, leftovers. It’s typical that their beer made from what was laying around was better to drink than other beers. SpierBier from Mijdrecht brought a Baltic porter aged in red port barrels. One of the highlights for me and apparently also for others because they made the top 5 of most coins sold. There were other barrel aged projects that were worth trying from VandeStreek and Rock City. I didn’t even get the StapZwan porter I had last year that was amazing, and a good example of a new brewery starting with something slightly different.

Or come up with something old. De Dikke won the Most Appreciated Beer of Utrecht award with a Kuyt beer, a nice historic beerstyle that needs to be made more. It wasn’t the best beer in my view, but having the balls to make this earns a lot of bonus points. Congratulations.

Other improvements

So the new space is better. Apart from more room the food has improved too with great hotdogs and fried chicken. People walked around with Belgian fries too, a lovely touch. A pop-up Mitra store sold bottles from breweries present at the festival so you could take with you what you weren’t able to taste.

Blueprint for the future

If it is at all possible to stay at this location the festival has room to grow. I had a feeling the turnout was little less than previous years, but that could just be because they were spread out more. There now is room for even more brewers and visitors, and they only used a quarter of the available space. I will be back, I hope you will too.

P.S.

Oh, remember how I told you that I was worried about the distance from nearest railway station (Maarssen) to the festival? Not a problem, if you didn’t want to walk or weren’t able to, a shuttle brought people to and fro all day during the festival.

Groningen Beer Festival 2016: Musings and Questions

Since I have written about this event multiple times, I decided to opt for the ‘4 things I noticed’ approach.

Session Beers

It wasn’t too long ago that the only decent beer under 4% in this country was the Emelisse 2.5. For me this was a groundbreaking beer because it showed that limits could be stretched downwards as well. The session hype that came in later years gave us even better things. Nothing is wrong anymore with a low alcohol, but incredibly tasty, beer. At the festival in Groningen there were plenty of low alcohol, let’s say under 5%, beers to sample. And this is what I did for one session

The Rodenburgh Slimme Rhakker and the VandeStreek UK Pale ale were both great pale ales. Oersoep brought another type with a great Berliner Weisse. I tried the Berliner Kindl a few years ago that completely turned me off that style for a while but it made a great comeback. In Holland Oersoep and Oedipus have made some brilliant ones. Talking about Oedipus, their Gandalf beer with cherries, brett and barrel aged was worth the extra coin.

Having these low alcohol beers will only attract more people to specialty beer. Of course the blondes, triples will remain part of what is on offer, but the tasty 10% beers will find people who previously thought beer was pilsner and nothing else. The range of percentage was around 18 by the way, ‘t Uiltje brought the amazing Old Enough To Drink, clocking in at a whopping 21%.

Groningen Beer City

At the first installment of this festival only 2 breweries from Groningen were present: Grunn and Stadsbrouwerij Kromme Jat. Well, 1,5 to be honest because Grunn cannot really be called a brewery. This year 7 breweries were eager to showcase their brews to their provincial comrades.

Grunn was sort of there as the Kruisheren brewers from Ter Apel. The Kromme Jat was back again as well. You should know by now that we here are big fans of Bax Beer. Their stand, and their group of helpers, is growing rapidly every year. In the wake of its success Groninger Craft, Rockin’ Ludina, Martinus, Corviri and Pivo started turning out some good beers. Martinus started operations late last year in a former print shop and Pivo opened just a week before the festival. Their setup and philosophy is very interesting, so check out their website (Dutch only). Hopefully I can return to them in a future post.

IMG_7868[1]A completely new brewery for me was Vechter who brought a good wit and saison. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to try their Cluyn beer, a regional historic recipe. Things are looking good with the opening of Bax’ tasting room and brewery this summer and more to follow. The Groningen Beer Festival is now also a festival by the people of Groningen, not only for.

 

IMG_7867[1]More than beer

The whole beer culture before the term craft beer was invented was about one thing and one thing only: the drinking of beer. With the growth of the culture and the rise if interest in old and social media this culture is changing too in its appearance. It now attracts people not only because of the beer.  These different sides of the culture were present. It wasn’t only the brewers pouring their beer but also distributors, specialty shops and cafés.

Some homebrewing stands were there as well. Betuwe cider had a table as well, and it nice to have a good glass of cider once in a while to mix things up. Bob van Dijk, who you might have read about in an article I wrote about him last year, was there with his Craft Beer Shirts.

This festivals remains very good with social media. With special hashtags on twitter your message could make it on a very big screen in the middle of the church.

A widening gap?

At my first beer festivals the goal was often to try beers from as many different breweries as possible. Lately I tend to try fewer beers from new breweries and stick to ones I know and love. Years of trying mediocre blondes, triples and IPA’s seem to have that effect.

Is it just me? Is this what happens after a decade and a half of trying new beers every time? Somehow I am more interested in what the really good breweries have to offer. This year I tried a lot of beers from Oersoep, Uiltje, Pampus and Oedipus, breweries that are at the top of the scene. Because of both their quality and that they make new stuff all the time I always feel that I will get something good, or at least interesting there.

Is the gap widening? Are we getting a Champions League of great Dutch breweries who are running away from the pack in leaps and bounds. Is this the beginning of a new phase? Already some smaller breweries, almost all of them contract brewers, are folding. The big breweries now are moving away from contract brewing towards a full setup: their own brewery and tasting room. Maybe the market is now really too full with established names. I would rather try a new Uiltje than a new blonde from a brewer from a town I have never heard of. I could just be me, but it’s a thought I will expand on in future posts.

The Times are a Changin’ indeed.

 

Bock Season: Festival in Woerden.

When darkness sets in earlier and earlier and when the wind outside has a cold streak in it you know that fall is just around the corner. If you’re a beer lover in this country this also means that the first bottles of bock beer will start to appear in the shops.

Bock as a style is one that was present long before the current craft beer revolution. The first festival dedicated to the style PINT even before I was born in 1978. Though traditionally German, this style has become the most present Dutch style outside pilsners. It is something we should be proud of.

What the current revolution brought was more interest in bock. Many a Dutch brews a bock or something similar and the number of opportunities to showcase is growing, with the ceiling almost in sight. The number of bockbeerfestivals in October is very high, and it’s impossible to visit all of them because at some times more than 3 are held on the same day. Last Sunday there were festivals in for example Amersfoort, Zutphen and Woerden.

Woerden

After missing out on the festival for three years I finally had the opportunity to visit. The festival is organized by the SPSW, the same people who run the Bierhuys in Woerden, one of my five favorite beer cafés in the country and who recently opened a shop around the corner.

IMG_6870It is held in the iconic castle on the edge of the city that cannot be missed if you ever go to Woerden. The castle traces its beginnings back the early 15th century and was built by the Lord of Woerden, John of Bavaria. With a founder named Bavaria this could only lead to a great beer location 6 centuries later. And a great location it is with the courtyard and outside part being used for the festival, giving it a cozy and not immense feeling that sometimes makes the festival in the Beurs van Berlage a somewhat unpleasant place to be when it’s completely full.

Beer

Peter and Monique from ‘t Bierhuys support local brewers, so this festival had a regional feel with brewers from Woerden (Borrelnoot), Houten (Hommeles), Utrecht (VanDeStreek) and De Meern (Maximus). Some Belgian bocks could be tasted as well so you could compare. Dutch bocks won by the way.

But the truth is that I am not the biggest bock fan. I have no trouble finishing a bock but I will never count it among my favorite styles. There is a sameness to it that bores me after a while just like pilsners do. But I do enjoy a well made bock and having our own beer tradition can only be applauded and supported.

Danielle Duits of Duits & Lauret poured two versions of the Dubbel Bock

Danielle Duits of Duits & Lauret poured two versions of the Dubbel Bock

It is no coincidence that my favorite beers in Woerden were bocks with a twist. The VandeStreek bok for example with its low percentage was more than OK. Another one I enjoyed was the Weizenbock that De Blauwe IJsbeer (yes, that does mean the blue polar bear), a welcome change to all the bocks. Duits & Lauret was present with their now classic wood aged dubbel bock. They brought two versions: this and last years. The smokiness in this beer lifts it up from a normal bock to a great one. This was a small trend as more brewers brought two; the fresh one and the aged version. Did I have a bad one that I wanted to throw away? No, the overall quality was fine yet not earthshattering.

Food

If you didn’t want to drink beer you could spend all your coins on the more than excellent food available. I’ve been to quite a few beer festivals now and one thing that often bugs me is the lack of good, filling and diverse food.

The castle is no longer the seat of the Lord of Woerden but now houses a restaurant, and they provided most of the good food. Warm snacks like cheese croquettes and warm ham sandwiches didn’t cost too much. There was also cheese, coated peanuts, sausage (made with the Bierhuys’ own Bockbeer brewed by de Eem), ice cream (with the same beer) and very tasty pork pastries.

Will I come again to this festival? Yes, but it won’t be for the beer alone. The location, pleasant atmosphere and good food selection have made this festival a local tradition in Woerden.

Borefts 2015 and the frontline of brewing

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.

borefts2015aLocal Farmhouse Beer

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.

International

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.

National

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.

borefts2015bLogistics

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.

Oersoep Craft Beer Festival

—  Another collaboration, this time Florian from German blog HopfenLiebe.com translated the article he placed there for our website. He went to the first Oersoep Festival, here is his report —-

glas-flyer-oersoep-festival-2015-648x486The first Oersoep Craft Beer Festival was hosted in Nijmegen last weekend. It was organized by the Microbrewery Oersoep at the beautiful ‘Het Zomerkwartier’ (an artificial beach area next to river Waal) directly next to the brewery. The venue was the first thing one positively noticed when entering the festival site: There were not just some tables and benches standing around, but a nice beach with comfortable chairs, sun loungers and sofas. The whole location added a nice and smooth summer atmosphere to the festival!

But one was not (only) there because of the location, but for good and handmade beer. Oersoep invited 15 breweries from the Netherlands, England, the US and Italy to Nijmegen.

Breweries at the Oersoep Craft Beer Festival 2015:

  • Jester King Brewery (US)
  • Wild Beer Co. (UK)
  • Brew By Numbers (UK)
  • Birrificio Dada (IT)
  • Brouwerij Kees (NL)
  • Oedipus Brewing (NL)
  • Van Moll (NL)
  • Brouwerij de Hemel (NL)
  • Het Uiltje (NL)
  • Kaapse Brouwers (NL)
  • Donderwolk (NL)
  • Tommie Sjef Wild Ales (NL)
  • Rooie Dop (NL)
  • RUIG Bier (NL)
  • Brouwerij Frontaal (NL)
  • Katjelam (NL)

Form an organisational point of view; the event was overall well managed. You could either buy a ticket online or at the box office on site. The entrance to the festival ground was free but you had to have the official festival glass to taste the beers. The glass was really nice and looked at first glance exactly like the glass that is used in the BrewPub of Oersoep STOOM. However, this optics was kind of misleading, as the craft beer glass was in fact made ​​of plastic. That might was the better choice, as a large part of the location was covered with sand and we all might now what happens when we combine sand, bar feet and broken glass.

Each brewery had brought different beers to Nijmegen and served two at the same time, which meant the kegs were changed ever now and then. Some of my beer highlights at the festival include the Grätzer from Katjelam.  Brewed with Weizenrauchmalz, the beer had a great smoky and ham aroma, but was still not too heavy and pleasant to drink on a warm day. Also delicious was the Brettalicious of Oersoep, a saison with great acidity and fruity hop aroma.  Wild Beer Co.  from England, poured also a saison called ‘Cool as a Cucumber ‘, and yes, there was real cucumber involved. Great and refreshing!

In addition, I really liked the Tazara Pepe, a saison that was brewed with different kind of peppers by Birretta Dada from Italy. My overall favourite of the festival however was the Suave from Oersoep and Van Moll from Eindhoven: the Gin and Tonic Pale Ale. This beer was partly brewed with real tonic water and after the fermentation they added even some gin. The finished product was nice and round with great fruit flavours and a very pleasant juniper finish.

Craft beer events like this festival are a great opportunity to try special beers, which you otherwise only can buy (if you can buy them in your region at all) in big bottles. Also the conversations with other beer lovers and the brewers are always very informative and entertaining.

Nijmegen is always worth a visit, even if there is no craft beer festival. Visiting one of the 6 breweries and brews, or one of the countless great beer cafes is a must, as well as checking by the great beer shop De Bierhoeder.

Dutch Beer Week 2015 Festival in The Hague

The Week of Dutch Beer is a ten day national event where breweries open their doors, bars have special tasting sessions and festivals are held all over the country. A great way for the public to see how far Dutch brewing has come in the last twelve months, and if they are even a little perceptive they will see a lot has changed. It also brings reluctant beer drinkers into contact with craft beer, and this can only be a good thing.

DSC01195Festival

The beer week opened with a three day festival in the Grote Kerk in The Hague. Before the opening for the general public brewers and people working in the industry came together. Most of them stayed and this led to an interesting mix of people on the festival floor. Like last year the ticket could be bought online, so no disappointments standing in front of a full church after traveling all the way from Weert or Ter Apel. And spreading it out over three days meant opportunity enough, even though the €12,50 price tag (two coins) was a little steep. Churches are perfect for events like this like the festivals in Groningen and Alkmaar have taught us. There is usually room enough and the acoustics often fine as well. The tables in the church was set up in such a way that it never felt too crowded, though I can’t say what it was like on Saturday when it was sold out.

The floor 15 minutes after opening.

The floor 15 minutes after opening.

The big guys and the little guys

What sets this festival apart from the others is that is half festival, half trade fair for the national beer industry. It is for both selling beer to beerlovers, but also making contact with people in the industry: the designers, distributors, salesmen etc. This meant that people from Heineken and Grolsch were walking around in their 3D-suits between the craft beer fans with Rooie Dop T-shirts and Uiltje caps. Brand and Grolsch were selling their multinational mass produced beer next to the guys making beer in their own kitchen or garage. And if you like it or not, this is what the Dutch beer landscape looks like these days. Big guys at the top, a very small mid section (Jopen and a few others) and an increasingly large group at the bottom. Of course it’s the bottom group that I, and likely most readers of the blog, are interested in, but the big guys have their role and fans too. Craft beer maybe booming all over the world, over 85% of all the beer sold is still made by the Budweisers and Heinekens of this world. Tasty? Not for me, but their economic impact is too big to be ignored by craft beer fans. And their attempts to appeal to the craft beer crowd by releasing IPA’s, Pale Ales and Amber like beers should only strengthen craft beer’s claim that they make good stuff and that big brewing is getting afraid of the future.

Duits & Lauret

Duits & Lauret

The beer

A festival that has many debuts can unfortunately mean that the level of beer quality wasn’t superb. Of course as a seasoned visitor of these festivals I skip the ones I know and go for the untasted breweries or new releases by established ones. Crooked Spider and Brouwdok had decent beers, Het Kwartje from Den Haag one that was a little more than decent. They will be the before now unknown brewery I will start looking out for in the coming weeks. But hopefully some visitors were smart or lucky enough to try Bax, Kompaan, Maximus and Duits & Lauret to get a good taste of the awesome things available in the country today.

Utrecht Beerbrewersfestival 2015

With all the new breweries and contract brewers starting in Amsterdam in the last two years you would almost think that the center of Dutch Craft beer has shifted to the capital. I also spent more time writing about that scene than the one in Utrecht. But does this mean that nothing happened in Utrecht? Hell no! The beer scene in Utrecht is still growing still and as vibrant as ever. 20 brewers from the province were present at this year’s Utrecht Brewers Festival, and if they have shown anything it is that the quality of the local beer is still rising on the already strong foundations laid by the likes of Maximus, Duits & Lauret, Eem, Rooie Dop and VandeStreek. It is a festival that is also loved by the brewers. Smaller breweries (in manpower) like Rooie Dop and Duits & Lauret now pick and choose what festivals they appear on, and this one is always on their calendars.

DSC00882Too popular, too small?

This was the festival’s 5thedition, and it could well be the last time on this location as mentioned in an earlier article. The increasing interest in craft beer (I am just going to continue using this term for now, the whole discussion bores me to death, if Jopen, Uiltje, Kompaan and Craft & Draft use it who I am to advocate something else) has logically led to an increase in interest in festivals like this. It has happened a few times already this year that festivals were full, that people had to wait for over an hour to get in or that the doors were closed. Because this festival was held on a public terrain this was not possible, though volunteers were at the entrance telling people that there were no more glasses. The limit was at 1600 glasses, a number that was reached around 14:30 / 15:00. The organizers did make it very clear on social media that if you wanted a glass, you had to show up early. I would have liked giving the glass back to the organizers who could then sell it again.

It is one of the byproducts of the hype surrounding craft beer. The great locations tend to be small, and you to be on time. The festivals in Enschede, Groningen and Den Haag have been doing what is necessary in the coming years: the pre-sale of tickets, multi-day events or bigger venues, and hopefully not in some exhibition hall.

DSC00895New breweries

It was most crowded in front of the stands of the newer breweries like Kromme Haring, SpierBier and Stapzwan. The informed beer drinker know that their beers weren’t available nationwide yet and for many of them, this was the first time at a beer festival. The responses were positive, with Richard of SpierBier telling me that the best thing to happen were the people who tried one beer, and then came back to try the other one on hand.

DSC00868Quality

It also is a good sign that the jury voted for Kromme Haring’s Smokey the Barracuda as most appreciated beer in Utrecht, with my personal favorite Stapzwan getting the bronze. Kromme Haring (yes, that means crooked herring) was the most exciting because they also brought a fantastic raspberry lacto brett brew, sans hops. I started out with Stapzwan’s Porter and all the beers after that were good, but never reached the great porter flavors that touched my tongue shortly after noon.

Unlike their brethren in Amsterdam, the Utrecht brewers tend to be more brewers than entrepreneurs, more craft if you will. This means that they take more care in their beer, and in the slew of IPA’s that were released last year it is a breath of fresh air. If you ever thought Utrecht has lost its crown, it regained the title as most exciting province for Dutch craft beer.

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