The Beer Café, the other engine of the revolution

Last year I wrote about the role the specialty ‘beer’ store plays in the distribution of (Dutch) craft beer  and how much that segment has grown in the five years. The Dutch craft beer revolution has one other foundation and that is the specialty beer café. Beer cafe’s 20 years ago were almost always Belgian Beer Café’s with maybe a few other breweries from nearby countries to spice things up. But the role of the beer café has changed and they mirror what the beer store: more Dutch beer and more beer from countries not named Belgium. But is this true? We asked around to find out and send out a questionnaire to Jasper from Doerak in Delft, Marjolein from De Koffer in Groningen, Simon from In De Wildeman in Amsterdam, Erik from DeRat in Utrecht and Peter from Het Bierhuys in Woerden. Here are some of the conclusions.

Growth

The famous In De Wildeman chalkboard above the entrance

The famous In De Wildeman chalkboard above the entrance

Simon (In De Wildeman) is reminded of the first Dutch beer week In De Wildeman organized back in 1990. It was hard in those days to get a beer from Dutch craft breweries on all the 18 taps, let alone with decent quality. 35 years later and now he can pick and choose the nice ones. Taps that used to pour Belgian beer are now being switched to Dutch ones, a logical conclusion from all that we have seen in the stores. The café’s don’t only sell the beer, they also actively promote Dutch beer with some even having a special ‘Dutch beers’ section on either a wall or on the menu. In De Wildeman still has quite the selection of Belgian beers but the Dutch beers are pushing the Belgian beers of the chalkboard above the entrance. De Koffer’s list on the wall is a visual piece of art.

Two changes: local and style

People are more interested in local products, also because there seems to be more. With the rise of non-Belgian beer (mostly American) the tastes of the consumer change as well. Newer styles like IPA’s and stouts are getting more attention and people seem to like this more than the usual Belgian blondes and triples. Peter (Bierhuys) tries to offer a wide variety of specialty beers, mostly in styles. It is no use having 15 stouts and no blondes. Apart from the Hertog Jan beers he contractually has to pour he prefers smaller breweries because they won’t sell in the supermarkets where people can get their beer anyway. Simon (In De Wildeman) shares the same view, people ask mostly for the smaller Dutch brewers, they can get the bigger ones at home as well.

A Menu in De Koffer

A Menu in De Koffer

Marjolein sees the change in the visitors to De Koffer: “A Lot of People, including many foreigners, prefer to drink Dutch beers and even more precise local beers. This is probably due to the trend that people want to know where their products come from.” De Koffer also actively promotes the local beers, mostly because they know the brewers the best.  This connection with the brewer is important for them. A good bond makes it easier for them to come to agreements about price and delivery. De Koffer has no problem going to the brewers themselves to pick up the beer. Naturally the beer has to have a certain quality, something they themselves decide.

Distribution of the smaller breweries is still not the easiest. Often they will bring the kegs (or bottles) themselves to a local place. It also means that this distribution isn’t constant. Jasper (Doerak) mentions that is also a reason why he won’t have more of it on tap.

Woerden and Utrecht are fortunate enough to be in a region that has a staggering amount of great beer. The Bierhuys’ own beer is made by De Molen for example and they have many Utrecht beers for sale as well. Same goes for DeRat. The popularity of Utrechts beer has reached Groningen too where I have seen more beers from that province than local beers. Unfortunately the north still lags behind the rest of the country. DeRat is excellent in its offering of Dutch beer and the people who come to this place enjoy it. Erik from DeRat decides whether a beer will be sold or not and he has three rules that make perfect sense: 1. Don’t be too expensive 2. Be tasty. And 3. Get sold to the customer.

Future

Erik had one last thing to mention when I asked him if he had anything else to say about the rise of Dutch beer. It is a sentiment that I have heard more people share and one I agree with.

“the market for small brewers will eventually level out. There will be great beers and beers that won’t be that great. It’s up to the consumer to decide what they like. I as a bar owner can help in this, also in educating my guests who are not yet at home in the world of craft beer.”

Erik hits the nail on the head, and that is why his bar and all the others that have the courage to sell Dutch beer are that other engine of the Dutch craft beer revolution!

Numbers

Here are some numbers for the statistically minded:

Café Number of Taps Dutch
Doerak, Delft 12 3 or 4
Bierhuys 11 4 or 5
Koffer 10 4
DeRat 6 5 or 6

Bottles

Café 5 Years ago Now Dutch
Doerak 20 180 40
Bierhuys 80 (20 Dutch) 135 50
Koffer 23 Dutch 180 63
DeRat 120 65

 

-Martijn Buisman

Thanks to the following café’s

In De Wildeman (Amsterdam)

Annually In De Wildeman will end up in the Dutch café top 10. Located in the center of the middle of downtown Amsterdam Simon and colleagues run a gem. First thing to do when you come in is turn around and look above the door you just came through to see the list of beers on tap. A few times a year there is real ale too. Hangout for both locals and thanks to mentions on Tripadvisor and similar sites tourists come here often as well. Extra score for having their own app.

Doerak (Delft)

Also have their own app. Located on a canal close to the main square this also is one of the many great beer places in the town of the Royal family and the painter Vermeer. Boardgames, big wooden tables, knowledgeable staff, a place to go.

DeRat (Utrecht)

The small size of this place, located within the city walls but outside of the main walking area, is compensated by its excellent menu. Focused on the many great local beers this bar is worth a visit. I have visited this place way to few times.

Bierhuys (Woerden)

A relatively unknown beer hangout that I only came across about 4 years ago because I live close to Woerden. Since then they have organized bokbeerfestivals in Woerden. Located downtown as well, but like DeRat you have to look for it. Local beers mostly, Belgians and other Dutch beers. Their housebeer is from De Molen, Bodegraven being one town further on the railwayline.

De Koffer (Groningen)

Great place on the edge of the Groningen city centre and conveniently placed on my way from the railway station to my parents’ house. Awesome selection. They have Hel & Verdoemenis and White Label beers! They try to have as many local beers as possible, even though there aren’t that many. Visited by locals (mostly students) it seems this is a great place to hang out and enjoy good beer.

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