Posts Tagged ‘hommeles’

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.

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.

Houtens Brouw Collectief Part 2: The Utrecht Beerbrewers Festival

Molen "De Ster" around which the Utrechts Beerfestival is held.

Molen “De Ster” around which the Utrechts Beerfestival is held.

In Part 1 a couple of weeks ago I wrote about Hommeles, the brewing branch of the Houtens Brouw Collectief. Part 2 today is about another successful venture: organizing the Utrechts Beerbrewers Festival, which this year will be held for the 5th time.

I myself have remarked about this wonderful festival, one of the nicest beer festivals on the calendar. I asked Kees Volkers why he thinks the festival is as successful as it is and he gave several reasons:

  • Location, location, location. Though located in the middle of an Utrecht neighborhood, the area itself is a windmill and surrounding public land. A little green haven inside the concrete and stone structures in that part of Utrecht.
    It is a ten minute walk from the train station and Utrecht is the hub of the national railway grid. This makes it is easier to get to, with often only a few or no changes, from any part of the country. Rotterdam and even Amsterdam are harder to get into this easy.
  • Setup and atmosphere. You don’t really need more than stands for the brewers, live music and good food. The area feels enclosed and the people owning the terrain are very involved with the festival. The wooden structures, windmill and farm animals make you feel like you’re something where there is a lot of space.
  • Utrecht has a vibrant beer culture and has a large number of brewers. To remain a specialty beer festival, and keep away a certain type of beerdrinker, no pilsners are served.
  • All three are well known faces in the local and national craft beer scene so getting the word out was easy, though I doubt that is even necessary, the festival itself is a gem.

But I have noticed that the more popular the festival gets, the more crowded it gets as well. Isn’t there a fear that the festival will become too big?

Kees:

“this is something we will discuss in the coming year. This year we will keep things as they were, with some new measures. The number of visitors isn’t immediately a problem, we will just had out a maximum number of glasses. We don’t necessarily feel the need to grow. A small scale festival at a great location is perfect, but we realize that the reputation of the festival and of brewers from Utrecht is rapidly growing and the attendance shows this. One problem is that the area surrounding the mill is public terrain which can’t be closed off.

The biggest problem right now is the growth of commercial brewers from Utrecht. At the first festival there were seven, this year the number will be 20 or 21. There will come a time when we won’t be able to house all of them. If the attendance stays the same this also means that the brewers will sell a lot less. So something needs to change, and we would like to get the brewers involved too to look for a solution. “

For Utrecht the number of brewers is of course great, people are still realizing that brewing is fun, hip and that you can even sell what you make. With the number now at 21 the end isn’t in sight yet.

Could this festival be the first one to crumble under the weight of the craft beer revolution? Could well be, but I trust that the HBC men will find a solution. This festival is one of the few you really should have been to at least once. In fact, my wife and I postponed the honeymoon for one day so we could visit two years ago, and left for the Alps straight after. That’s how great this festival is.

Houtens Brouw Collectief Part I: Hommeles

Frequent readers of the blog will know that I consider Utrecht to be the Oregon of the Netherlands: a small part of the country with some of the best brewers in the nation. The home of a vibrant craft beer culture with great brewers and pubs. Today’s article will be the first about the Houtens Brouw Collectief, the Houten Brewing Collective. The HBC is the driving force behind three things that make Utrecht an even better beer destination.

  1. They brew craft beer and call it Hommeles.
  2. They organize the Utrecht Beerbrewers festival, one of the best festivals in the country that I discussed in a blogpost a few years ago.
  3. They aim to advance beer culture in Utrecht, and one of the ways they do this is by holding open brewing days every first Saturday of the month at the same windmill the festival is held at. If they are not there you might find them around the area at tastings, regional markets and other gatherings.

I asked one of the three people behind the HBC, Kees Volkers, a few questions about Hommeles and the festival. To make reading a little easier I have decided to post separate articles about them, today we start with…

Part I: Hommeles

You already met Kees, now let’s introduce the other two men making up the HBC: Jan Ausems and Jos Eberson. The three met at a brewing course back in 2007 and found out they were all living in Houten, a town close to Utrecht City. Ever since they met they have been busy brewing. But don’t think that they only started with beer then, their beer resumé started way before 2007.

Jan for example runs cambrinus.nl, a website loaded with great information about beer. If you want to find out which breweries started in what year, this site is the place to be. It’s easily one of the best resources for Dutch beer information online, unfortunately for some of you only in Dutch. In his daytime job he is an IT man for the BOVAG, an automotive branch organization.

Kees has written a book about the history of beer in Utrecht called “Wandelen over de Bierkaai [walking along the Beer quay]” , and this led to initial contact between Jan and Kees. He makes his living as a self-employed historian and author.

Jos has experience with flavors in general as a beer lover, but also as a cook and wine salesman and home liqueur maker. Right now is a manager at a large furniture store.

The Beer

Hommeles have around 10 beers for sale, ranging from a beer with honey to an IPA. Their best beer is called Molotov and clocks in at warming 9%.

As almost every brewery these days they have collaborations as well. A Pumpkin beer made with the boys from Epe, and a Green Ale with Ruud from Eem. This beer highlights another thing that the HBC does, maintaining their own hop garden in a town called Odijk. They used their own fresh hops for this beer, a tasty Red Ale or ‘Rat Ale’ as they call it. With limited hop fields in the Netherlands it makes this beer a rare one.

Sallands

They brew once a month at the windmill De Ster in downtown Utrecht but this is just for demonstrational purposes. The Hommeles beer itself is made at the Sallandse Brewery. Raalte is quite a long way from Utrecht but very welcome to contract brewers. Besides Hommeles it is also the brewery where De Arn, De Vriendschap, Eem and Eanske have made at least some of their beers, if not all. Finding a place to brew is getting more and more difficult and brewer Ruud van de Gevel is a cool and patient guy who is open for all kinds of experiments. He is now helped by Oscar Moerman, also a good brewer. Though it’s usually Ruud and/or Oscar who brew the beer according the recipe, they don’t mind at all if you help them out. Something Kees tells me they haven’t been doing a lot lately. When they are making a new beer for the first time they always make sure they make the trek to Raalte.

Success

Of the ten beers they put on the market 6 were introduced in 2014. The Dorstvlegel and Bokkepruik won awards. The Ondeugd (a smoked beer) had the distinction of being bottle of the month at the ABT-cafes all over the country.

Hopefully this has spread the name Hommeles among beer drinkers in the Netherlands, and hopefully beyond as well. Their beers deserve the attention, and I for one can’t wait what else Jan, Kees and Jos will bring is in 2015.

One of the things they will definitely give is this year is the 5 year anniversary of the Utrechts Beerbrewers festival. This will be the topic of the second installment about the Houtens Brewing Collective.

HBC op Internet

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Bierfestival Groningen 2013

I wrote about the first edition of the Bierfestival in Groningen two years ago. I raved about the great location and the excellent, professional organization. The third installment was no different. The old Martinikerk still provides an indoor location unlike any other. The choice of three timeslots in two  days with presale of tickets never makes it feel too crowded.

It also is a festival for a wider audience. Besides the micro breweries some local bars and restaurants had a stand too, serving beers that were more known. You might argue that this defeats the purpose of a beer festival, but it might bring people into contact with a Jopen beer who otherwise would never have tried it.

De Rooie Dop at work

De Rooie Dop at work

Good to see was the continuing emergence and presence of brewers from Utrecht. Duits & Lauret, De Rooie Dop, Maximus and Hommeles showed off their excellent beers, showing once again that Utrecht is full of talent. As a former inhabitant of Groningen it was equally good to see that the northern provinces also showed some of their beers. Maallust is by a now an established name and it is great to see the De Kromme Jat / Golden Raand still present, with a few more beers to boot.

The festival is not about drinking beer alone. Several workshops and lectures (Melissa Cole and Peter van den Arend for example), and also a small competition for brewing the best Spring Bock, the award going to De Molen. It was even possible to have your glass engraved! It more and more seems to become an annual gathering of Dutch brewing; a Dutch Comicon for beer. The brewers themselves also seemed to be satisfied with the organization, like shuttle busses bringing them back and forth to the church.

Small, yet tasty, spare rib with beer foam snack

Small, yet tasty, spare rib with beer foam snack

Now it’s time for some negative points. Almost all of the festivals we go to and have written about have enough food. Food by the way that seems to get better every year. The Bierfestival in Groningen had great food, but lacked in quantity. The biggest thing you could get was a warm ham sandwich which was undeniably good, but it was the only thing you could get that filled the stomach. Some restaurants and hotels brought some excellent little dishes that were great in taste, but after a strong De Molen 10% beer a large portion of something would have been nice. And with a price of 13 Euros for just two coins a little more could be expected.

In its third year it remains however a festival of great quality, one I am already looking forward to visiting next year.