Bierfestival Groningen 2015

I went to three editions of this festival and though the location inside the Martini church is awesome it was lacking in some areas. Reasons that made me skip the festival last year. The entry fee was steep and the brewers not the kind you wanted to make the long and expensive journey for. Most of them were at other festivals nearby anyway and if it wasn’t for the simple fact that I went to school about a hundred meters from the church and that my family still lives there, I wouldn’t pay over 20 Euros for the train fare to Groningen and another 14 Euros for the entry fee. And 14 Euros is only worth 2 glasses of beer and a bottle of water.

Smaller brewers are improving

But the festival has evolved, along the lines that the Dutch craft beer scene evolved in the last few years. The organizers want to highlight brewers producing around 1200 hectoliters. This is laudable but in the past meant that only brewers with average brews were at the festival. But the festival has shown that the overall quality of Dutch beer is improving and the smaller breweries more and more have beers that are more than decent.

New brewery from Groningen/Haren: Pivo

New brewery from Groningen/Haren: Pivo

There’s nothing above Groningen

For ages Groningen lagged behind in the rise of craft beer in the Netherlands. Just a few years ago only De Kromme Jat could really call itself a brewery from Groningen. But in the last 18 months this has rapidly changed and now for the first time you could if you wanted to only drink beer from brewers from Groningen. Kromme Jat was serving their beer yet again but they got company from the likes of Groninger Craft Brewery, Pivo, Wildervanker and Bax. The first one debuted with a Spelt Pale Ale and a Sweet Stout, both fine. Pivo is so new that their bottles aren’t even available in the shops yet. I tasted one of their three beers and it was ok, but not world shattering. Their back-story however does merit more investigation, something which I will hopefully be able to do in the coming weeks.

Bax Bier had a big stand in the main part of the church

Bax Bier had a big stand in the main part of the church

Jeroen Bax and Sepp Janssen however are miles ahead of the regional competition. This was shown for one in the huge stand in the main section of the church. Bax Bier are Major League (or Premier League, Serie A, Eredivisie, NHL whatever your regional case may be) brewers and it’s no coincidence that their beer made of left-over malts and hops still beats most of the beers at the festival. There is big news coming apparently, and I for one cannot wait.

Not just brewers

I’ve mentioned before on these here pages that the craft beer community is not just made by the brewers and their customers. The shops and café pay an equally important part and they too were represented with stands. Shops like the Mitra and Van Erp were present, while De Toeter and our favorite De Koffer represent local beer cafés. De Koffer served Rogue’s Chocolate Stout for example, what more can I add. But there were cheese stores, restaurants and distributors present as well. It’s good to show the public who else is involved with getting craft beer at the level we want it to be. Even De Drie Gezusters, a café I used to steer well clear from during my high school years, was at the festival and serving and promoting the excellent Tasty Lady beer. The night before they had a tasting in the café itself, an example of how the festival is encompassing more days, venues and events. It’s turning into a beer week. The Noorderslag/Eurovision music festival was once a two day event and is now hold all over the city on multiple days. If the people of Groningen get behind this festival the city might become a haven for beer lovers for a week in April.

Bigger than just beer

I always enjoyed the fact that you can choose between three timeslots over two days. It prevents overcrowding and you can plan ahead. Presale is something other festivals might start to think about because of the rising success of festivals like this. Overcrowding isn’t helping anybody.

There was more than just drinking beer. Workshops and talks were held about a myriad of subjects, for example coffee and beer by Bax or women and/in beer. These talks show exactly what the craft beer movement is about: more than just drinking good beer. It is also exactly the thing we aim for here: craft beer as a cross disciplinary cultural phenomenon.

The night before the festival in one of the rooms in the church, the restaurant across the street (the excellent Feithhuis) held a beer dinner with help from renowned beerologist Melissa Cole, who traveled all the way from England to explain the guests a little about beer and food pairings. Accompanying great dishes were beers from only Groninger breweries, another example that something right is going on there.

Brewing competition

And if that wasn’t enough, local brewers were able to have their beer judged by experts like Melissa Cole and Derek Walsh! The remarks and pointers that these two give could very well raise the level of local brewing a little more again.

Who knows that the festival will bring in 2016. There are already new breweries and beercafés planned this year, so it might get an even more regional flavor next year. I will be there.

The Martinikerk's organ. This year the proceeds of the Olle Grieze Beer (by Ramses and Groninger brewers) went to restoring the organ

The Martinikerk’s organ. This year the proceeds of the Olle Grieze Beer (by Ramses and Groninger brewers) went to restoring the organ

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