Archive for the ‘Specialty Beer Cafes’ Category

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.

2016, a promising year

Happy New Year

Hello you lover of craft beer, you fan of Dutch beer. 2015 is already two weeks behind us, and 2016 promises to be another good, if not better, year for beer. I will again write about this beautiful product, as much as time and finances will let me.

Because dear reader, I am glad to see that you keep visiting my blog. Last week it reached 50,000 views, 49,999 more views than I ever expected. And because of it I have seen, and became part of, a growing culture in this country. Because of it I know more people. Because of the festivals and breweries we have seen cities and parts of the country that I had never been to before. I have been to bars and shops I otherwise would have passed by. This revolution doesn’t just lead to having more different beers, but has given me so much.

So what will I write about on these pages this year? There is much to look forward to. New breweries, new bars, old breweries in a new form and a city that will be a premier beer destination in 2016.

The Next Step

Most of the brewers I interviewed share a similar history. They start brewing at home, and when it is not just them that seems to like it, they approach a brewery where they can make bigger batches. Contract brewing is still how many brewers operate, especially the smaller ones who just started and who are still doing this as a side hobby/business. Some of these brewers who started out like this at the beginning of the Dutch Craft Beer Revolution about 5 years ago are moving into new territory this year.

20151109_123318I have already blogged about Duits & Lauret and their move into an actual fortress this year. This is the most prestigious project in beer so far and I will be writing more about it when it opens. Another veteran that deserves a mention is Ruud van Moorst of Eem, who finally will get his own brewery. A well-deserved spot for someone who has given the Dutch brewing world so much already

logo-oproer-brouwerij-light-on-dark-250pxOproer!

The first major event on the calendar is the opening of Oproer! The name is new, the people behind it certainly not. Oproer! is the combining of forces of Utrecht breweries Ruig en Rooie Dop. Mark Strooker of Rooie Dop has already been doing great things for Dutch brewing in the last 5 years. Not only was Rooie Dop one of the better known breweries abroad, he also organized the Dutch delegation to the Oregon Brewers festival two years ago, which led to a slew of collaboration beers and the confidence that what was happening here in Holland meant something.

Oproer! Will be a brewpub. The brewing will take place here and besides the beer you can have a vegan/vegetarian meal. It will be another boost for Utrecht, already one of the best places to go for craft beer. The opening is today and since it is close to where I live it will be one of the first things I will be writing about on the blog.

Also in Utrecht, VandeStreek is working on their own brewery and pub. We will of course report about that to when the time comes.

Amsterdam

The number of brewers in Amsterdam is still growing, with most of them still contract brewers. Writing about Oedipus has been in the pipeline for two years now and hopefully this year I will finally get around to visiting their place and write about this unique brewery. And then there’s Gebrouwen Door Vrouwen (Brewed by Women), two enthusiastic brewing sisters that deserve a post. Another post will be about Aart van bergen, formerly of Vriendschap, who has decided to start brewing on his own brewery.

The city itself will feature in several posts. The western part of the city has seen new bars and shops pop up and is worth a day trip on its own. Another tour is along the almost finished North-South subway line. On this street there are great old and new bars and breweries like Troost.

Other cities

While the Amsterdam-Utrecht area is still the axis of Dutch brewing the other cities are following in their footsteps. Rotterdam with Kaapse and The Hague with Kompaan have already shown to be good beer cities. Three other cities are also gaining ground. In Nijmegen several breweries make excellent beers like the superb Oersoep. The number of great bars here is high as well. Hopefully soon we will get a chance to visit the city for a weekend and write about it. Another city on the list is Eindhoven with Van Moll and a new city brewery. Good things are happening in Haarlem too. ‘t Uiltje is hard at work financing their own brewery. Once this is done the ties with Jopen can be cut and they can do everything themselves.

groningenbierbord

The Blackboard with only beers from Groningen at De Koffer

Groningen

But if there is one city that will be our focus this year it will be Groningen. It has for decades been a perfect place for specialty beer cafés, but has been bereft of quality breweries. The city got a big boost with the annual two day festival in the main church and when Bax Bier started selling its beer. After having their first two beers it was immediately clear that Jeroen and Sepp from Bax made beer that was miles ahead of the other breweries in the north. And I wasn’t the only one who spotted this. Their success has led to their own brewery/tasting room/restaurant which will open in Groningen this year. It will be one of the biggest buildings in the country. But Bax isn’t the only brewery that is active in the city. Late last year Martinus started in a beautiful old building in downtown Groningen. They started off with a new brewing installation and restaurant. I haven’t been there yet but will soon. City Brewery het Kromme Jat has been brewing for a years now but is not alone anymore. The Groninger Craft Brewery has been around for a year now with some success and last year also saw the start of brewers like Corviri, Rockin’ Ludina, Pivo and Jotner. In the provincial city of Wildervank, Jan Abbingh has been producing some decent beers already. The number of establishments where you can find this beer is growing as well, with its crown jewel Mout (we wrote about the crowdfunding campaign last year) scheduled to open in 2016 on the edge of the old city. So stay tuned follow this blog for more about the Groningen beer scene.

Leftovers, labels and geeks

I will be posting more articles about other things. I got a question from a read last year who wanted to know what all the symbols on the labels of his bottles of Dutch beer meant. This will be a two part article. One a translation guide to the labels, the other about the at times mystifying laws about what and what not print on a label.

In the coming weeks I will post something about the amazing facebook group BeerGeeks, a group of beerlovers who have shown that a love of beer unites people. And it is a union that encompasses more than just beer.

The page

The page will see some minor changes this year, I will keep updating the calendar and the map. I will also add a page with all the prizewinning Dutch craft beers.

2016 is going to be a great year for beer and I hope to meet some of you somewhere in this great country in a beautiful bar or at the festival.

 

See you then. Proost.

 

 

My 5 Favorite Bars

Someone asked me about my favorite beer spots. This made me go all Thrillisty in these warm days of summer. So many places to mention… So I decided to split it up into my five favorite bars, breweries/tasting rooms and shops. First part is about my five favorite bars. Be aware, this is a list of beer cafe’s I really like visiting, it isn’t a list of the best ones, or the bars with the best beer selection. So don’t go naming other bars you think deserve to be on the list.

Here they are in alphabetical order.

Bierhuys in Woerden

The most unknown of the 5. Why did it make my list? Well, for one it is the closest to where I live so I come here more often than in other bars. But apart from that it is a great place to go. Located just outside of the city center in Woerden, it has the feel of a living room with a bar. The public seems to be mostly locals with the accidental tourist wandering in after a day in beautiful Woerden.

There may not be a lot of taps but the bottle selection is excellent and they try and have many local beers so there is a chance of trying something new almost every time. They have two house beers that are made by De Molen in neighboring Bodegraven, so you know that is going to be good. And talking about locals, they come here often too and they seem to visit it like another room of their house.

De Drie Dorstige Herten in Utrecht

A bar I really should be going to more than I do now. Within a mile there are at least 4 other great beer places you can go to but this is my favorite. I will write about the Golden Square in Utrecht later but in a city already swamped with excellent places to drink craft beer De Drie Dorstige Herten (yes, you are right, it means The Three Thirsty Deer) ranks #1 in my book. It is small, almost living room size but the owners’ knowledge is limitless and the selection as good as I have seen anywhere in the country. They support local brewing a lot and Maximus is even their house brewer. GO HERE!! I will more often. You will not be disappointed.

De Koffer in Groningen

As I have written before beer culture in Groningen is rapidly increasing with new bars and breweries opening all the time. But way before this all started De Koffer was already the standard bearer for what a good beer café is supposed to be. And they didn’t stand idly by sticking to an old formula while the world around them was changing, they in fact are on the frontline of the revolution. A huge board with just Dutch beers occupies one of the walls but they have so much more than that with a great selection of foreign beers as well. The public is diverse with students, tourists and locals all frequenting the bar.

The managers of De Koffer (The Suitcase) are the best too and know a lot about beer. They keep their staff up-to-date and it is one of the few places I can go to where they will always have something unfamiliar for me on tap. I also love it that they know their customers and will always great you when you walk in.

In De Wildeman in Amsterdam

Need I really say more? Only the Arendsnest surpasses it in selection, but because In De Wildeman has beer from all over the world it is maybe a little more exciting. As with Woerden and De Koffer I admit it helps that you are recognized when you walk in. It makes it more personal and keeps you coming back. I usually come here during the day when it is not too busy and you can sit on the wooden bench overlooking it all: the people walking in, the knowledgeable guests asking about the latest beer, the newbies who just want to try something new. All the while with the board above the door looking down on us. There are people here I see every time, but also tourists find their way, helped by Tripadvisor and Ratebeer no doubt.

Het Hijgend Hert in Vijlen

I admit that I have only beer here once. Also, the beermenu isn’t as great as in the other 4 places. In fact, I can name 20 other café’s that have a better beer menu. Why is this in the Top 5 anyway? Because it is a location without equal. Located on top of a hill looking out over parts of Limburg. Farm animals are nearby and a beautiful forest behind it. It is about as far away from most people as possible. For someone in Groningen a city like Bremen is closer. It is also the highest located café in the country. I know that doesn’t mean much, the coffeemachine on top of the Empire State Building is higher for example but in a country as flat as ours it is at least something. For the greatest setting imaginable go to the Panting Deer, I am going to plan vacations nearby just to go here again.

Rotterdam: Kaapse Brouwers, nothing, nothing, and some decent bars

Revolutions move at different speeds. This is clear when you look at rise of craft beer in the Netherlands. Utrecht started, and Amsterdam followed soon after and in the last two years more cities are joining the bandwagon: Eindhoven, Nijmegen, Groningen, Haarlem and more saw the opening of new bars and breweries have. Rotterdam, the second largest city, has been lagging behind however. Sure, Rotterdam has some decent Belgian Beer Café’s and some good stores but for a long time De Pelgrim was the only thing beer related worth going to in this huge city. Our visit two years ago was enjoyable with decent beer and great food. But cities like Haarlem and Nijmegen have more interesting bars in a square mile than Rotterdam has in the entire metropolitan area. And with the world largest harbor next to the city, this is surprising. DSC01438

Kaapse Brouwers

But like many other cities Rotterdam too is finding the way upwards with new breweries and cafés. The most significant boost came a year ago when the Kaapse Brouwers opened as part of the Fenix Food Factory, an instant success. In an old factory building on one of the islands in the river food producers (cheese, meat, beer, bread, coffee, cider) came together in a cool, and tasty, collective. It really is a collective with open doors or no doors at all. If you want coffee and your friend wants beer and together you want a cheese platter you can sit wherever you like. The local / homemade / organic scene has found a new to-go place here at the Fenix Food Factory: food made by craftsmen, not people looking to sell the most stuff for the most profit. 20150529_150450Two weeks ago I wrote that the Uiltje Bar in Haarlem has become a new pilgrimage site for craft beer lovers. You can add Kaapse to the list as well. Like at the Uiltje Bar the choices are vast with apart from their own Kaapse brews, beer from good breweries across Europe. And like any good beerplace these you can get a tasting board? Block of wood? Anyway, you can get the Kaapse Beers. You can also get a board with lighter beers or with heavier beers, and with 30 taps to choose from that won’t be a big problem. The big Kaapse beers are still made at De Molen, so that should give you an idea of the quality. They do have a small brewing installation in the back where the day we were there Ramses and De Bebaarde Brouwer happened to be brewing.

So is there really nothing else in Rotterdam? If you want Belgian Beer there are apparently a few places you can go, but since this blog is about Dutch beer and we don’t want to dwell in the past we went looking for something else and found two bars through the magic of Ratebeer and the Dutch BeerApp that seemed to be ok.

DSC01397Proeflokaal Reijngoud

A downtown bar that serves quite a lot of food. Unfortunately they didn’t have the pulled pork sandwich I had set my eyes on. Quite a lot of taps, but no extraordinary ones. The Boulevard Brewing was the most exciting one next to mostly Belgian and some Dutch taps (Jopen for example). They have quite a few bottles of Kaapse, but the other Rotterdam breweries were not to be found. The high ceiling and nice interior does make it a fairly nice place to go, but I doubt I will return any time soon.

Bokaal

Now this place was quite good. Was it good because of the choice of beer? No, let’s be frank about that. The huge outside terrace mostly had people drinking Belgian ales, German Weizens and Dutch pilsners, but the staff seemed to be a little more exciting about the other things they had on tap and they were eager to tell me they had a Citra Pale Ale made by Kees Bubberman (Brouweij Kees) on tap and were then eager to know what I thought about it. They also had a bottle by a small Rotterdam brewery called Kaf & Koren which was fine, good to see Bokaal somewhat supports local brewers. So Bokaal does have room for good Dutch and local craft beer, but I doubt that it will ever turn into a specialty beer café. The Heineken propaganda book had an interview with the owner who announced his favorite beer was a glass of Brand. Not bad I know, but no craft. Worth a visit? Definitely, you might find a beer gem and if not their platters of meats and/or cheeses are very fine.

Shops

We didn’t go to any shops because of baggage constraints, but I had been to Bierenzo before and that is more than ok, from word of mouth and the book of faces I have a clue that Plan B is more than excellent so next time I will go there, but I can already give you advise based on just that to go here. DSC01457

Future A new brewery will open in the north, so hopefully that will give another boost to brewing in Rotterdam, because it needs it. Rotterdam is a fascinating city with old neighborhoods but with a very modern downtown area. You can easily spend a weekend there and more. And maybe in one year the weekend can be interlaced with brewery and bar visits too. But when the local bars open their menus for local beer, that can grow too.

A Pilgrimage to the Uiltje Bar

It didn’t take long after drinking the first Uiltje beers to understand that this brewery was something special. Overnight Robbert Uyleman’s beers were ranked among the best beers in the country. Since then things went fast, production increased, the line of beers increased and het Uiltje could be seen at festivals not only in the Holland, but also in the U.S.

Late last year we reported the opening of their bar, and we finally got around to visiting it on our way to the festival in Den Haag, where incidentally Robbert was picking up an award for one his many beers.

DSC01171And we were not disappointed. A huge drawn owl laughed at us from the wall when we walked in. The mostly black and white interior front part make it light and artful, the booths in the back have more of an café feel with bottles of other breweries all lined up overhead and T-shirts hanging on the walls. Het Uiltje’s owl logo is everywhere and the simple drawing is effective because very recognizable.

DSC01162The one thing I had no doubts about was the beer. 30 taps with delicious stuff from het Uiltje and likeminded breweries. In this case for example beers from The Kernel, Redwillow, Emelisse, Brewdog and Lervig. But the good bar that it is, this can change any day. This also means that this is one of the few places in the country (with the Beertemple and Craft&Draft) where even a seasoned beerhunter will find more unknown than known brews.

But it is easy to sample a lot of these by getting the paddle, 4 little glasses for €12,50 and including a glass of water. The tasting paddle is custom made and has a glass of water. If for some reason you have had everything on tap, there are still a lot of bottles and cans you can drink as well.

And if you’re hungry you can get pizza, yes, beer and pizza, that combo from heaven that also give the bar a homely feeling. Nothing wrong with fine dining, but sometimes you just want a good IPA and a pepperoni pizza.

IMG_0072Extra credit for the wonderful sausage made by local sausage maker Olijck, often made with Jopen beer. Someone should really start a blog about all the great new sausage makers…

The Uiltje bar will from now on also be on my itinerary everytime I am in Haarlem, and fortunately for me Haarlem isn’t too far away. It is definitely one of my 5 favorite brewery based bars in the country. Well done sirs, you’ve added a new pilgrimage site to the Dutch beer scene.

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A Burger and Beer at Bret

Sloterdijk, an area of Amsterdam once so drab and grey that the only thing you wanted to do is get the hell out of there and go home. Once this was area had only office buildings with an occasional hotel in between. Trees and grass were sparsely placed in the jungle of concrete but could be seen from behind your desk just too far to go there in your lunch break.

But Sloterdijk lost its position as the center of business in Amsterdam. Zuid (South) attracted a lot of company headquarters and businesses in Sloterdijk vacated their buildings too for the move south. At the same time Amsterdam was looking for more space for new hotels, something there is a big lack of in the capital. The old office buildings in Sloterdijk are now converted into hotels. A convenient location because both downtown Amsterdam, Zaandam and Haarlem or 10 to 15 minutes away by train.

It is here that a group DSC01150of architects and young ambitious restauranteurs decided to build Bret, with support from local government. You may remember an earlier story I wrote when Thomas Boonstoppel of Nordman Beers led me around what was then still a construction site. It has now been open for about a month and a half and it is going better than expected.

It is going great in that a reservation is needed for lunch and dinner, which I am glad we made. While we were sitting there people kept coming, most were able to sit but some had to be turned away because the container structure was completely full. Good for Bret, unfortunate for the guests.

DSC01155And it’s not because Bret is the only available place to go in that area. It is a good restaurant with a good menu. Because they open at 8 a.m. already you can get breakfast, lunch and dinner apart from the wide selection of beer. Getting a coffee-to-go is a good choice. We started a three day holiday to Rotterdam here but I had my best coffee on the first day here at Bret.

DSC01154They attempt to have the food as fresh and local as possible and it shows because it looks good. We had a burger (with awesome onion relish) and a lentil salad. The menu isn’t pages long but varied enough so that most people can find something they like.

The beer

Beer is of course the reason we went to Bret in the first place. Their beer menu might not rival that of other places in the city but is quite good for the area it is in. Because the guys from Nordman are part of the team running Bret you can find all or most of their beers on tap (3 in our case). It is possible to get 4 small glasses in a tasting paddle, and that is a great thing always and everywhere and something every bar should do.

DSC01151Gulpener is the big contributor so you can find their beers on tap as well, but it is the bottles that are most interesting. Again, nothing you can’t find anywhere else but they try and have beers from most of the bigger Amsterdam breweries so ‘t IJ, Prael, Two Chefs and Oedipus you can find here, as well as a good selection of beers from the country like Emelisse, Uiltje and Jopen.

Their effort to promote Amsterdam beer will have a highlight when this weekend they will host the first Amsterdam Craft Beer Festival in and around Bret. The garden and surrounding area are well suited for this.

Future

Because Bret has barely been open it is hard to say what the future will bring, but things are looking great so far. The building already seems to small! And with the plot of land across the street under development as well we can only hope that it will be yet another highlight in the Dutch beer revolution.

Conclusion

Is Bret worth the trip to Sloterdijk? Yes it is, but for the overall experience of the organic building, the food and the coffee. The beers as I said are decent but nothing unique, it is however a very nice place to drink your Oedipus Mannenliefde. If you are in Amsterdam and want to visit Haarlem or the windmills north of the canal Bret is a perfect starting point. It is well worth visiting this nicely stacked sea container structure.

Groningen Part 2: Shop update and a new place to drink beer.

Last year on this very site I published a piece on Groningen and it’s beer stores and specialty beer café’s. Last weekend I was back in my hometown and made another visit to the stores again to see how much things changed since last year. What I encountered in the shops is another sign that the revolution is still going strong, and Groningen is catching up fast.

New beer distributors have started delivering up north, greatly increasing the variety of beer in the stores. For example, it seems that a shipment of Mikkeller and Brewdog came into town and it now sold in the stores mentioned below. The prices of the bottles seem lower compared to the Western part of the country. This is another reason to visit, but bring a car or a sturdy crate, you might be coming home with more than you wanted.

The owners/managers of the stores too have seen the value of varied and changing selection of specialty beer and every single one of the stores mentioned below has only gotten better since the last time I wrote about them a year ago. A short recap of the visits.

IMG_6129 De Roemer

De Roemer’s core business remains their excellent stock of wine, whiskey and other heavy liquor. Their space for beer hasn’t grown but is, though small, excellent and rotates frequently. Since my last visit in December it seems half of it was new again. A good place to find some special barrel aged De Molens or an Emelisse White Label. The owners’ beer knowledge is also getting better and better but he also keeps his mind open for suggestions.


IMG_6134Van Erp

My encounters with the shelves in Van Erp’s store in downtown Groningen have been varied. Sometimes the selection is so wonderful you are not able to take everything you wanted back with you, other times you walk out of the store with only 2 or 3 new ones. This I found out has a reason. I was lucky because the day before I came in new De Molens had arrived. But word of mouth and the internet disperses news fast and it usually takes only a week before it is all sold out. So my apologies to Van Erp. In the first article I lamented the sometimes lack of selection, it seems now that they are selling their stock so fast that sometimes they just can’t keep up. So the only thing I can still blame them for is that they don’t have enough on stock J. For those willing to take a trip, in their second store in the town of Roden (about 20km away) they also have a good selection of beer.


IMG_6135Mitra Vismarkt

In last year’s article I named the Mitra on the Vismarkt the number 1 destination to fill your crates with good specialty beer. And manager Bas has no plans of stopping and is planning to increase the number of bottles in store even more. His ideas about where he wants to go with the store are wild but if they pan out it will become a haven for beerlovers. More on that hopefully in the coming months on this blog.


Extra addition: The Dog’s Bollocks

In the last article I wasn’t too happy with De Pintelier, a Belgian beer bar where the staff doesn’t know what brett is. Jeroen Bax told me about a new place that was checking out, and we did. The Dog’s Bollocks is a bar/restaurant that has a more than decent beer menu, and a few special beers on tap (‘t IJ and Thornbridge this time). It offers beer menus so you can try 4 different IPA’s or Triples. Bigger bottles can be shared and the menu outside the regular one is very fine.

IMG_6138What sets it apart from the other specialty beer places in Groningen is the food. Especially the burgers seem mighty fine and a favorite since the staff was carrying them constantly from the kitchen to the hungry guests. Their huge burger that you can share with friends rivals the size of the infamous De Molen tosti. The menu is meat oriented but has vegetarian options. We didn’t get a chance to try the burgers, but next time I will definitely order the smoked burger, that is served under a glass dome filled with flavorful smoke. And what better to wash down a culinary delight like this with a good De Molen, Maximus or Bax beer while watching a football match on the screens.

I’m getting more and more proud of the city I spent my youth in, keep up the good work.

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The Owl spreads his wings!

It didn’t take long for Robbert Uyleman and his brewery Het Uiltje to become one of the leading voices of craft beer in the country. His barrel-aged Meneer de Uil series is a classic and his other, mostly hoppy, beers are so good that it is hard to look for equals. The “Met je Cascade Groene Trui” (you and your Cascade green sweater) has been getting rave reviews and will be made again. He has made the anniversary beer for the Beer Temple and this will be the house beer. So when you are over in Amsterdam and are going to the Beer Temple, try it.

This is all good news, but it pales in comparison to this news:

Het Uiltje will open a bar and bottle shop!

That’s right. The success has led to het Uiltje having its own space in downtown Haarlem. In February a bar will open in the Zijlstraat. And it won’t be just a small bar with two beers on tap. You will be able to choose from 30 different taps. That’s right, thirty, dreizig, trente, XXX. 12 of those will be for het Uiltje beers, and some of those will be for beer that will only be sold here. Think more Meneer de Uil beers, single hop IPA’s and more. The other 18 will be for other Dutch breweries and from the rest of the world. My guess is the experience will be like the Beer Temple. Every time you’re in the bar, there will be more beers you have never had than beers you once tasted and you feel so very very small, like a speck of dust in an ever expanding universe.

If you can’t wait for the bar you can get your Uiltje beer bottles in a new store that will open next to it. This shop will open in December. Expect the same thing as in the bar; all the Uiltje beers and great ones from Europe and the U.S. You can also get your Uiltje gear here and merchandise from other breweries. The IPA’s will be cooled as Robbert is adamant that these are consumed as fresh as possible.

Growler

Het Uiltje bar and shop will be one of the first in the country where you can fill a growler. You can choose from any of the 30 taps or you can use that same growler to walk over to the nearby Jopenkerk and fill it up there. This means there are around 45 different beers at any time to buy.

A new owl

This expansion means that there would be too much to do for Robbert alone. Het Uiltje is now joined by Tjebbe Kuiper who will be in charge of the bar and shop while Robbert will keep making those awesome beers.

It’s another big step in Dutch brewing, and it’s great to see that someone who has shown the passion and craftsmanship like Robbert will get more outlets and attention. Het Uiltje has been one of the best things to happen to Dutch craft beer, and it shows no sign of stopping for now.

A Post-Modern look at Dutch brewing

Is brewing a craft or an art? Both? The dictionary calls art: “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power”, and a craft as “an activity involving skill in making things by hand”. A brewer can be both, but he can be just a craftsman. The brewers we appreciate today are definitely artists.

The craft brewer uses his creativity, experience and craftsmanship to create something new, something that is indeed beautiful and evokes an emotion. The craft brewer therefore is an artist. Thomas Keller, Ferran Adria or Heston Blumenthal take a totally different and new look at food. They change how it is made and play with your senses and make you look at food in multiple ways. The consumption of food, and also beer, takes on more than one meaning than just a tasty beverage.

If beer is an art-form it can be analyzed like art. The modern brewing world is behaving a lot like other post-modern art. For a deeper understanding of what post-modernism entails, I refer to sites like Wikipedia. In this article some of the characteristics will be mentioned, and hopefully it will give you a little more understanding. I have looked mostly at music and used it to look at brewing.

4 main characteristics

Many lists of characteristics will mention at least 10. Since many of these overlap I have compressed it into these four main characteristics of post-modern brewing:

  1. No boundaries between styles. Styles are in effect meaningless.
  2. Challenges what is a high or a low style.
  3. Has no problem looking at past, present and future for inspiration.
  4. Challenges the idea of a brewer(y).

Does this cover everything? No, but for what I want to highlight it will suffice.

1. No respect for boundaries between styles. Styles are in effect meaningless.

The supermarket shelves show you the rigid borders between styles. There are pilsners, weizens, blondes, dubbels and tripels. Easy to understand styles that don’t mix. With the influx of English and mostly American styles these borders are fading. The IPA made its entrance but also the DIPA, the Imperial stout, etc.. Good brewers these days just start brewing without a clear style in mind. In some cases the beer can even be a vehicle of another ingredient, which we will see later. Since for them it is not the market that prescribes the overall flavor they can, and will, do whatever they like.

A post-modern brew? The De Molen Open & Bloot, Double IPA-ish

A post-modern brew? The De Molen Open & Bloot, Double IPA-ish

A while back that De Molen started putting styles on their labels because people asked. They did, hesitantly, but kept calling their beers ‘IPA-ish’ or other ‘ish’es. Styles really are just a guideline for the consumer, not the aim of the brewer. So if someone next to you in the bar says that a certain beer falls a little outside ‘the style’, get the nearest blunt object and smack them on the head. It is in essence no different than someone saying ‘I don’t like beer’ when they mean Heineken.

Rooie Dop has this to say about one of their beers:

At Rooie Dop, we don’t really care about styles. But this is our version of an American IPA. Classic example of the style? Fits perfectly into the category? No. Does it need to be? It just needs to be pretty tasty! Chinook and Cascade hops dominate this beer and are assisted by a biscuity malty backbone”

On menus in beer cafe’s and on shelves of specialty beer shops you see them struggle with this new idea. Some shops and café’s will sort the beer according to style, which is getting increasingly difficult. The better shops and café’s have stopped doing this at all. De Bierkoning and Bert’s Bierhuis sort their beers according to country and then brewery. They have correctly seen that people nowadays tend to follow a brewery more than a style. If there is a new brewery in the store, often all the bottles of said brewery are bought. For café’s it’s still a slightly different story. Many consumers still think in old terms of pilsners and anything else, it’s up to the barman to try and describe his way through it all. At least to good bars give you a taster.

With the rise of the internet, social media and the open market it is now easier to travel and try beer made from all over the world. Brewers will also get their inspiration from other cultures. Beer from non-Western European countries will not even fit the old ways of pigeonholing. Modern brewing is eclectic and crosscultural, with no borders of style.

From style to ingredients, a form of deconstruction.

There is a shift from style to ingredients. A beer made with brett and Cascade will give you a better sense of what it will be than knowing it’s a stout or dubbel.

Now let’s look at additions to the beer. Let me be clear, I am not talking about additives to keep to beer fresh or the foam firm. This is not about chemical elements put in mostly for show or commerce. I am also not talking about the usual additions of citrus or orange peel or coriander in Hoegaarden or candied sugar in bocks. They are there to make elements already part of the beer more pronounced. I am talking about the addition of things way out of leftfield. Hot peppers, melons, cucumber, or a variety of herbs and spices.

Oedipus Thai Thai. Galanga, Orangepeel, Korianderseeds, Lemongrass, Chili Peppers. A very postmodern, crosscultural eclectic beer.

Oedipus Thai Thai. Galanga, Orangepeel, Korianderseeds, Lemongrass, Chili Peppers. A very postmodern, crosscultural eclectic beer.

At Borefts a few years ago they had beers aged in vinegar barrels. Go figure. With every ingredient added many more beers are possible. The best examples of breweries who don’t limit themselves by ingredients but are using them as new opportunities are Oersoep and Oedipus, though Emelisse and De Molen have great examples as well.

Single Hop

But in a clearcut example of post-modern contradiction they can just as easily deconstruct beer to one main element and highlight this. All the releases of special beers highlighting hops or yeast are a good example. It makes a certain kind of hops the star of the show.

2. Challenges what is a high or a low style.

Pilsner is often seen as a low style for the masses. Joe Sixpack wasn’t drinking six cans of barrel-aged Baltic Porter with juniper but cheap generic lager. Beercafe’s will mostly serve stronger, more interesting styles even though a pilsner is in fact not an easy style to get right. It is much easier to score with an Imperial Stout than a pilsner, yet the former is seen as a high style.

Modern brewing challenges what is or what is not a high and low style. In fact, just as with styles there is no distinction apart from personal taste. Brewers will make whatever they want from pilsners to IPA’s to fruit beers.

A great example of a more democratic, fluid way of thinking about high and low styles are this year’s Borefts festival. Every year there is a theme, a style that the brewers present at the festival will make in a sort of contest. This year they will be making radlers. A style generally thought of as a sweetened, watered down version of already boring German lagers. Yet the country’s premier brewery thought it was a good idea and from what we have seen already the result will be unique and amazing. People will still think that this is a bad idea, but the people at De Molen know what’s going on. A strawberry IPA? Yes, please.

3. Past, present and future

Look at the list of beers from Dutch craft breweries. Apart from finding most of the styles from the traditional beer countries newer styles appear as well. The typical Dutch beer Kuyt has been making a comeback, backed in part by Jopen who have this as a staple beer. Many interesting things are happening and I have seen gose, mumm and braggot on menu’s, all beers that originated well before most of you were born in other parts of Europe. A new look at historical documents might give us even more new, yet old, beers.

The present is clear, whatever is made now they can make and often will make. The future is that great undiscovered country. Because post-modern brewers tend not to think in styles the future is open for even more inventions and ingredients. Thinking in styles is thinking in traditions, and traditions usually are not the best engine for progression. I have already said that styles are relative and that high and low are, add time to the list to.

4. The Modern Brewer(y)

Many brewers are, or at least start out as, contract or gypsy brewers. This is mostly for financial reasons. They almost use the other brewery as a sort of pop-up installation. Some brewers are fine with this and see no need to have their own kettles. The recipe is there and there might be some changes with every brewery but if you are brewing at the right brewery who recognizes and respects the recipe there is no problem. If anyone is complaining that the beer wasn’t made in their own brewery, please tell them it’s an empty and outdated notion. It makes the production of beer easier, people who have great ideas might not have entered the market but now they can.

Many brewers are only interested in crafting the recipe in the first place. Once the recipe has been fine-tuned to their liking they often leave it alone and let others do the actual producing. Very similar to a composer who just finished a sonata. Does him being there make it better?

A Dutch/Brazilian collaboration, made with coffee.

A Dutch/Brazilian collaboration, made with coffee.

Craft brewers are part of a movement. The Impressionist painters often painted together or each other. Picasso sometimes teamed up with others to create art that was truly the result of combined efforts. In brewing the collaboration brew is a great example. They have a common cause, making great craft beer and you need the help and expertise of others sometimes, it’s a win-win.

The future of (Dutch) brewing

At the moment we are experiencing a time of rapid growth. New breweries start every week and not many are folding. How long this will take is anyone’s guess, but I reckon the beer scene being very different in a decade. The smaller ones will have vanished again and if the public gets more beer savvy they will start to recognize what is good and what isn’t. With limited space in stores and bars only the good ones will survive, but the good ones with a strong foundation behind the ideas.

There are many good things happening in the Netherlands right now having to do with beer. The best ones that we have shown us and most of all the world what the way forward is. Style rigidity and making beer like it was the 20th century won’t hold anymore, post-modern brewers of today are looking at the past and will because of that still be with us in the future.

Drinking beer in Groningen

Groningen, that jewel in the north, the city I lived in until I left at age 20 to see other places on this planet. But it is still the city the majority of my family calls home and the city I am proud of to be from. In the years I lived there beer wasn’t on my mind, but music was. Groningen is an excellent city to grow up in if you love music. And now when I come back the concert venues and record stores have made way for beer café’s and good liquor stores. Time then for a Guide to beer in Groningen!

Beer in Groningen

As mentioned before the beer scene in the north is underdeveloped compared to other parts of the country. Where I live now I have more brewers within a 35 kilometers radius than the entire north (about a quarter of the country in size) has. But with Bax Bier the city got a quality boost and their bottles can be found all over the city within just 5 months.

The city and surrounding area might be low on breweries but the city has some advantages, like the students at the local university. Groningen has 3 ABT café’s, only a few cities in the country can say that. What follows is a review of those 3 café’s and the best places to buy bottles of beer.

The Café’s

Before I start with the café’s, here’s a short aside. When I moved to Amsterdam I had to get used to the bars closing a few hours after midnight. The bars in Groningen often open late, but stay open deep into the night. This can be a disadvantage for those of you visiting Groningen for one day. On a weekday the earliest bar to open is De Pintelier at 3 pm, with the others following at 4. In the weekend it is slightly better but don’t expect to find a bar to drink beer and have a nice lunch at noon, apart from De Toeter in the weekend.

So, here are the ABT café’s, rated worst to best:

#3 De Pintelier (Kleine Kromme Elleboog 9) – The Orval ambassador, unaware of what brett is.

Once upon a time Belgian beer was king. Yet some people are unaware of the changing landscape in beer and stick to a remnant of a world they know, afraid of anything that’s new and scary. For these people there is De Pintelier. To be honest, this place wins the award for nicest looking beer café in Groningen hands down. A nice little building surrounded by mostly university buildings. Students also seem to be the main visitors. Wood everywhere and beer paraphernalia on the walls. What they have to offer is impressive, but 99% Belgian. Jopen is the only Dutch microbrewery on the (bottle-) menu. And Jopen isn’t exactly small anymore. Other than that you have to hope there is something interesting on tap.

And what about beers from Groningen like Bax, Kromme Jat or even Maallust from neighboring Drenthe? Nowhere to be found. De Pintelier does not adhere to the saying “support your local brewer” but more “support your local InBev supplier”.

The knowledge of the staff seems to be of the level of a small diner run by some old ladies. These ladies have every right to know nothing about what they serve because they run a diner and serve scones and not 100+ different beers. I asked the bardude about a special bottle they had for sale, a Straffe Hendrik Wild. If you are into a beer a little bit the word Wild automatically makes you think of brett, like all the other Belgian beers with that word. When I asked him what kind of beer it was he started talking about a beer made with different hops. If I was unaware of different beerstyles I would have thought it was hops that make beers sour, because it was indeed a brett triple.

In a good bar either the people behind the bar know what they are selling or will at least say they will look it up. A beerbar like De Pintelier that offers Belgian beers should have staff that know this, being such a Belgian style to begin with. To make matters even more interesting, they pride themselves on being an Orval ambassador and if you have to name one beer as an example of brett, chances are it’s going to be Orval.

I could end this bit by saying that if you really like Belgian beers and/or whiskeys this place might be worth a visit, but I will be honest, the next two bars have this as well, and just as good.

#2 De Toeter (Turfsingel 6)

De Toeter’s selection of whiskey and beer is more international. This place has the most students as guests so Fridays and Saturdays in the evening may not be the best times to visit. What they offer is good and will sometimes be from smaller breweries. The majority is Belgian but their selection of Dutch beer is growing, and not only with the bigger ones. At the moment I write this you can get Bax, Ramses and even Reuzenbieren here. On a good day you can sit outside and look over the canal. This is a decent place to go to, but I don’t like their own blond beer. At least De Toeter seems to have a sense of the growing beer culture in Holland. Seems to be a little more pricy than the:

A Menu in De Koffer from fall of last year.

A Menu in De Koffer from fall of last year.

#1 and runaway winner: De Koffer (Nieuwe Blekerstraat 1)

I will be honest, to drink good beer there really is only one place and that is De Koffer (The Suitcase). A bar that has so much to offer that I will always find something I haven’t tried yet. The owners know what they sell and their knowledge is unsurpassed in these parts.

It is also the best place for Dutch beer with a huge blackboard with a list of also smaller Dutch breweries, as we wrote about earlier. The prices are also great with a Wesvleteren 12 for under 10 Euros. They also promote Dutch beer with tastings once in a while like VanDeStreek and Kompaan.

The guests are mixed, students, locals and people finding it on Tripadvisor. Read of the books they have here or strike up a conversation with the people behind the bar, they enjoy their work and it shows.

The Stores

#3 and sadly falling: Van Erp (Grote Kromme Elleboog 16)

For forever Van Erp was the only place to go to for good craft beer. In a narrow part of the store you can find a lot of Belgian, English, German and other international beers. The other side is for all the Dutch beer. All the local beer is here and there will always be a few from Het IJ, Emelisse, Jopen or De Molen. Apart from that there usually is more, but it’s not always the greatest selection. You can be here one day and go away with a bag full of new stuff but sometimes leave with almost nothing new. Van Erp also has a store in Roden and that one seems to have a slightly better selection most of the time.

#2 and in with a bang: De Roemer (A-Straat 13)

New store De Roemer occupies a beautiful building just outside the city centre. Focused mostly on wine and whiskey they sell quality things and they show their knowledge in the many tastings they organize. The beer section is small but of great quality. It is also always changing which in my view is a good thing. They are the first to say that beer is not their strongpoint, but they do seem to know what is going on and which styles and breweries are good or up-and-coming. They are learning, and learning fast. Het Uiltje, Maximus, De Molen, Emelisse, you name it, you will find it here. They started less than a year ago but have already surpassed Van Erp.

Some of the beers I found in Groningen

Some of the beers I found in Groningen

#1. Mitra (Vismarkt 36)

I never expected I would name a chain store the best place to buy beer. In this case I have to. In Groningen this Mitra is run by people who can decide for themselves what they want to sell. Any store with more than 6 shelves of only De Molen and Emelisse beer wins in my eyes. Of course you can find the locals here and a lot of other good stuff from the country (I found Ramses, Berghoeve and even Bad Hair here). The section of Dutch beer is bigger than the Belgian one, so they know quality and the market. They also know what they are selling. It’s a fairly big store with room to move and surrounded by a great food market and other fine stores

 


 

 

Is Groningen a good beer destination? Depends on what your reasons are for going. If you want to go to good places to drink and buy beer Groningen is fine, especially because this city has so much more to offer with its great downtown with shops and restaurants. For a weekend the city is perfect. Will you find things here you won’t find anywhere else? Probably not if you live or visit the western part of the country. The lack of local beer prevents it from being a destination to find things you won’t find anywhere else. But since it is my city, take the train and go here, as long as you visit De Koffer.

Detour

If you are traveling to Groningen by car and through Friesland, park your car in Joure and go to the Lekkerbier shop. Easily the best selection of beer in the north.