Posts Tagged ‘spierbier’

SpierBier: From Kitchen to Bike Shed to …?

Just before I was ready to post this story, the website Business Insider published an article with the best brewery in every province. There were some surprises (the excellent Tommie Sjef for North-Holland for example. Great beers but not widely known) and some not so surprising outcomes like Bax, Oersoep and De Molen. The ‘winner’ for Utrecht turned out to be a surprise as well: SpierBier from Mijdrecht. Significant because it was according to Untappd ratings, not some editor naming his favorites. For Richard Spierdijk and Gilbert Janmaat a sign that they are making beer liked by many. But it also brings challenges for the future.

Visit

In August I finally went to the brewery to witness a brewing session first. The word brewery is making it more impressive than it seems, because it is nothing more than some equipment in a bike shed in the garden. This was my second visit to his house. The first was when they inaugurated a new tap to use at festivals. The brewing then was still done in his kitchen. And it is this setup that once again showed me the grassroots of the beer revolution. This is where everyone starts.

Richard and Gilbert could have decided to brew somewhere else, but they like to keep as much as possible in their own hands. It is this dedication, perfection and do-it-yourself attitude that makes SpierBier’s story similar to, but not exactly like, that of other brewers.

Another American influence

It was on a business trip to the US when Richard saw someone brew tasty beer at home and he thought: I want to do that. For his birthday he asked friends and family for all the ingredients he needed to brew. It was the spark that lit a fire that is still growing. Experimentation led to experience and this experience and deep interest in brewing led to a job at De Schans in neigboring Uithoorn. Work here lasted only a few months. It didn’t pan out exactly like he hoped but he says now he learned a lot there. Both how to do things and how not to, especially on the business side of being a brewer. As part of the deal he wasn’t allowed to brew on his own for a while, but after that period was over he immediately started SpierBier with friend Gilbert Janmaat.

Both have different working backgrounds. Richard is a computer programmer, Gilbert is a contractor who can make anything. The combination of these two skills had led to some interesting inventions. Even in the little shed/brewery there are computer parts regulating temperature for example. Programmed by Richard and put in equipment designed and built by Gilbert. Richard showed me a wooden apparatus Gilbert made to easily label bottles. I won’t describe or show it, he should see if he can patent it, it’s a joy to behold. The use of technology also makes sure the beer they make is relatively constant. Something not every brewer can claim.

It is a good match, and is saves money. Small things that someone else would have to do in most cases they can build or fix themselves.

img_8500Living Room / brewery

When Richard and Gilbert first started it they brewed in the kitchen. Everything, including the storing of bottles, was done in the living room. Even now parts of it are used for this purpose. A large stack of boxes stands behind the couch, and the fermentation takes places next to the television.

The brewing has now moved outside of the house, freeing up some space in the living room and kitchen. From the shed hoses run upstairs to the bathroom or to the drain in the garden that couldn’t be better placed.

Some things just work out that way. A little luck with the situation of a shed and access points go a long way in helping him brew at home instead of somewhere else, although that has never really been an option. If the house was set up a little different or was somewhat smaller, the history of SpierBier would have followed another path.

img_8498 From shed to ?

Every Friday night, and sometimes during the weekend, they brew. SpierBier’s beers are classic like a blonde, tripel and a wit. The most far out beer so far, and my personal favorite, is an excellent barrel aged Baltic Porter called ShakeSpier. Yes, the beers too have Spier in the name.

So far the only money they used is what they made with the sale of their beer. No outside investment, no savings or anything. Every euro spent was made through someone buying a bottle of SpierBier. It’s a save business model, but one that takes time and it makes the next step harder. He is not taking risks that can put them, and their families, in jeopardy. Every potential next step has been thought through and the math has been done to see if it possible. Their goal is a simple one too. Because they already have pretty good paying jobs, they want to be able to make as much from brewing now as they do from the jobs they currently have. Calculations show this is possible.

img_8497Own place

In order to fulfill that dream the next step is their own brewery. They have been looking around for a good location but so far no luck yet. Richard is hard at work scouting for a new location for the brewery. Doesn’t have to be a huge one, but a good one. And he wants to stop brewing at home. His family has supported him all they can, but now it has to end. Richard even goes as far as saying that if there isn’t a new location before winter ends, the history of SpierBier will come to an unfortunate early end. It is also the only way to keep the costs low, as brewing somewhere else brings risk and is something they don’t want to do. It costs more and you don’t have full hands on the product. Something they are adamant about.

It’s getting serious

Earlier this year they sent their tripel ‘SpierKracht’ to the world beer awards competition in Philadelphia. They didn’t win anything but the jury report was positive. They did think, or is it dream, about what to do if they did end up winning. With the Business Insider distinction they are facing that problem now and they are now aggressively looking for a new place so they can brew more to keep up with the demand. I was in the local bottle shop last Friday and most of the bottles were already gone. People here like SpierBier, so if anyone from Mijdrecht is reading this, help them out, they will enrich the community. And if all goes well the rest of the country might be to. Things are evolving fast so keep checking the blog!

Website

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

_DSC0899.JPG

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.