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Historical Interlude: Amsterdam’s Sleutelbrug

amsterdam_canal_bridge_1482937_oWhen I studied at the University of Amsterdam I have crossed this bridge more times than I can remember on my way to History classes. It is one of the many bridges in Amsterdam. Fairly nondescript that got its fame more from the many junkies selling you a bike for next to nothing. A bike they probably stole from you a week before.

The bridge is called De Sleutelbrug (The Keybridge) and is on the main path from the Rokin to the University of Amsterdam. This area is full of local history. Not only is it now the university, but a large part of the complex was once a hospital. The university complex is still called the Onze Lieve Vrouw Gasthuis, Our Dear Lady Guesthouse.

It wasn’t until I was doing research for a walking tour of Amsterdam beer history that I found out that the bridge is named after a brewery that stood nearby named De Sleutel.

The history of brewery De Sleutel matches that of the rise of Amsterdam as a global economic power. Amsterdam got its first wealth by holding a monopoly on beer from Northern German cities like Hamburg where beer was made that was significantly better than what was produced locally. This trade led to more trade with the Baltic Sea. Grains and wood was imported into the city and distributed throughout Northern Europe. With the wealth from this it was possible to build ships that could sail to Asia to open up the spice trade. You need capital for this, and that was made by the trade with Northern Europe.

De Sleutel Brewery was started by Gerrit Bicker in the latter part of the 16th century. With the money he and his predecessors made, they could expand into other enterprises, especially trading companies. This made them incredibly wealthy. So wealthy in fact that they could build an entire island north of the Haarlemmerstraat, called the Bickerseiland. At its peak this island housed more than ten wharfs for the construction of ships. With economic power came political power and for a long time they were one of the most important families in the city, and by extension the country.

The brewery stood somewhere in what now is the Binnengasthuis area. Now it is an administrative part of the university, as well as having some classrooms and the food hall. Before that it was part of the hospital, and before that even it had a city carpentry shop and the brewery.

Not a single stone, wooden beam or even a plaque remembers us that there once was a brewery here. A brewery of a famous family no less. The only thing that remains is that small bridge with such a generic name that no one even things of a brewery. Which is more than for most historic breweries.

I will add more short articles Amsterdam beer history, and hopefully soon I will be able to give a tour through the city, showing the few remaining signs of beer history. I will keep you all posted.

 

Thank you all for 100 posts.

And so we arrive at another milestone: 100 blogposts. 100 times that I, sometimes with help of others, have posted about the still growing Dutch beer scene. A small scene when I started 6 years ago, bigger now with the end not yet in sight. A great scene, a great culture of people who all share a love for well-made craft beer.

This century of posts was a big tribute to all of you.

The readers, the fans.

Wow, people actually read my blog! A thank you to you all more than appropriate. You the reader are the ones who want to know more about what is going on with beer in the Netherlands. It is because of you that more and more beer is made. So thank you!

The shops and cafés

Thank you beershop owners and specialty beer café managers. Thanks to you the public has had more choice than ever. Thanks also for those who have welcomed me in their place of business and have taken the time to talk to me and answer my questions. It was very insightful.

Festivals

Thank you festival organizers. I see a growing number of people at a growing number of festivals. Festivals now so big they have to move to new spaces to accommodate all the visitors. If you organized crappy festivals this wouldn’t happen. A great way to try new beer and for brewers to showcase their beer to a large audience. A great way for beginners to understand there is more than Heineken and for those from outside the country to show what great things are made here.

The sidemen and women

This thank you is for the special people who operate within the scene without actually making or selling it. The collectors, the teachers, the graphic artists, the tourguides, the historians that make beer into a bigger cultural phenomenon. You add the dimension that makes beer more fun.

The brewers

The biggest thank you is for you: the brewers. Without you none of this would have been possible. You make that one thing that all of us love: great craft beer.

Many of you have taken the time to answer any questions I had. What I have concluded is that the best brewers also give the best and most encompassing answers. The great brewers have a lot of enthusiasm and it take their time to convey this. It hasn’t always been possible to go wherever I wanted to ask you things because of work, family and location. Your e-mailed answers have been insightful and helpful. It is no wonder that the best articles were after I e-mailed the likes of Duits & Lauret, Rooie Dop (now Oproer), Bax, ‘t Uiltje and Oersoep. And I forgetting others for sure. There were many more but their answers and subsequent articles showed they are going in the right direction. When I interviewed them they were still start-ups, now they all have great ideas and a bright future ahead. You are the front runners, the examples for others, the ones leading the way for the next generation of brewers.

So thank all of you, it has been a blast. I hope you have all enjoyed what I wanted to write about. It was never my mission to make this into a blog with just opinions but to actually tell you something new about what is going on in this country.

I am ready for the next 100 posts, I hope you are too.

 

A Visit to Fort Everdingen, Future Home of Duits & Lauret

Introduction

When I started this blog over 5 years ago, Duits & Lauret were one of the first brewers I wrote about. Their stylish labels but most of all their well-made and balanced beers showed me that great beer was made in this country. And juries all over the world seemed to agree, not a competition goes by where they don’t win prizes for their stout, smoked double bock or blond.

All this hard work is paying off. The usual step for successful contract brewers is setting up your own brewery and/or tasting room. It is the same for Duits & Lauret as they will open their own brewery and tasting room next year. But as you might have read last year, it will be in a unique part of Dutch history. In case you missed it, the new brewery will move into a 19th century fortress called Fort Everdingen. In early November, when it was still warm, we took the train to Culemborg for a visit.

20151109_123318A short and explosive history

Fort Everdingen is named for nearby Everdingen, a small town on the river Lek. The fortress was part of the Holland Water Line, a defensive line of fortress along the rivers to defend the most important part of the country (Holland) from any invader. When the fortress was finally finished, technology had already caught up and it was useless for its original purpose. The fortress remained in use by the Army (or the Department of Defense), though the Germans occupied it for during the war. The last inhabitant was the Bomb Disposal Unit, whose most recognizable work is getting rid of World War II bombs that are still in the ground all over the country. You can still see thick earthen walls behind which they detonated explosives and parts of the bunkers have everything in place to withstand large explosions.

You can read more about how Duits & Lauret got the fortress in the earlier article I wrote last year.I wrote last year.

Brewery

The fortress has a main square, a sort of courtyard which will become the main area for beer. You can see the huge dome of the fortress from here, you can walk into the store where they will sell beer and more while you are sitting outside enjoying a beer. The brewery itself will be in a large wooden shed on the square, where the tasting room will be housed as well.

20151109_124537This shed was built a few decades after the fort was opened so it is still quite old. Half of the shed will house the brewing equipment. Every process of brewing will take place here. The only thing that will be done somewhere else is bottling. A similar shed is located somewhere else on the premises and it isn’t in the same state as the brewery. This will need a lot of work before it can be used because it isn’t in the best of shape. The fleeting of time will do that to wood.

When we visited in early November they were still working on procuring a brewing installation. Duits & Lauret beers are balanced and delicate and it is no wonder that they keep winning awards at competitions all over the world. Right now the beer is brewed at Lochristi and Belgium and maintaining this quality means mean getting the right equipment.

Water

If the fortress was ever used in war time, it was supposed to be self sustainable for months. Rainwater could be collected in large tanks for further use. This system is still in place and the brewery will use the rainwater for the beer. For me this is the most spectacular things I have seen during our visit.

20151109_124811Storing

Duits & Lauret beers, stout and bock, are perfect for aging. The fortress offers a lot of room for doing just that. A fortress like this behaves like a wine cellar with temperatures that stay the same and with no influence by outside sources. Walls more than meter thick will do that. There is plenty of room still. I have had a stout from 2013 and a bock from 2014 and the difference in taste is noticeable. It will be interesting to see what aging will do in the coming years.

Not Just Beer

Beer will be the focus of Duits & Lauret but it won’t be the only thing produced here. A cheese maker is already at work making cheese and we saw some beautiful blue cheeses ripening already. They will themselves make mustard and vinegar. A room in the fortress had the tiles still from previous use and is perfect for this.

Campground in nature

Because of its location on the banks of one of the great rivers of the Netherlands, many tourists pass by on foot, on their bikes or in their cars. Tourist routes in this area often pass the fortress or even go right over it. This is a potential source of customers that might well be the bulk of visitors to the brewery. But in order to fit in even more into the countryside a big chunk of the area will be opened as a campground. There is room for a few RV’s and bunch of tents. The many bunkers and structures have been covered with earth again, making it a terraced campground. For people with hiking shoes or a bike this is a beautiful place to stay for a few nights and explore the surrounding riverlands.

The Rest

The fortress is huge and it would take ages, and a lot of money, to give every part a function for the public. Therefore this won’t be done and large parts of the fortress won’t be used yet. The most spectacular by far is the huge dome in the middle where D&L have planted their flag on. This was mostly used for housing the soldiers. You can still see the ground plans and pins for keys. Not much has been changed or damaged, but it did get new inhabitants when colonies of bats moved in. Because of laws they won’t be given newer living accommodations, but having them gives the fortress something extra, something awesome.

The Law and other obstructions

As an older structure the fort falls under Monument Care. This is in itself a great thing because you can get subsidy for certain things and there is free publicity. It also means however that changing something requires paperwork due to strict regulations. Monument Care means that the building should remain as is, as much as possible.

Another conundrum is that the Fortress is on the border of two provinces. And when I mean on the border I literally mean on the border. One half is in Utrecht, the other half in Gelderland. The brewery itself will still be in Utrecht, so we can still call them a brewery from Utrecht. But two provinces also means legislation from two different entities. And to make matters more complicated, because they are in two provinces, they automatically are in two different ‘gemeentes’, counties.

And then there’s the Fortress Green Preservation Society. Well I don’t know if there really is one, but the fortress has some flora and fauna that is varied and impressive. Some of the rooms in the main, domed, fortress part have colonies of bats and they are not to be disturbed. Fortunately the entire fort won’t be used all at once and with this much room the bats will be fine for a long time. The bats will be unseen but there is plenty of other animals walking and flying around. While walking around I saw a startled pheasant fly up from the bushes and on the way out some big waterfowl were looking for food in the moat.

Unique               

Danielle Duits and Marco Lauret won’t be moving into the fortress themselves, but someone will be manning the fortress day and night. Something that is necessary when then campground opens. But to drive to work in a place so unique as this must be worth dedicating their time to the brewery. The old jobs are gone, they will now be full time brewers. One of the countries’ most successful brewers have found a home, and what a home it is. There is so much more to tell about Fort Everdingen, but I am sure this wasn’t the last time we were here.

20151109_123616

Me and the brewers in what will eventually house the bottling line.

5 Beer Reviews II

5 Beer Reviews, Part II

It’s been a while since I last posted some reviews. Decided to approach this a little differently. I will post here after I have had 5 great Dutch beers that I feel you should try as well. So no negative reviews here! Long live positivity and great craft beer.

  1. Brouwerij Kees! – London Mild Ale

Kees is of course Kees Bubberman, formerly responsible for some of the finest beers this country has seen this century when still brewing at Emelisse. He has now started his own brewery and has released some great beers this year. My first Kees was a Citra Pale Ale at Bokaal in Rotterdam which was a great beer. The London Mild Ale is something else though. Emelisse has a great 2,5% session IPA which might be the best sub-3% beer I have ever tasted. This London Mild Ale clocks in at a hefty 3,5%. If you had told me it was 7% I would have believed you too. The roasted coffee and chocolate make it well rounded with the hops filling in any of the blanks still left in the taste. Never watery, never dull, a truly great beer. Hopefully soon more about Kees on these here pages .

  1. Dochter van de Korenaar – Passe-Partout.

Before you started spewing your hatred, in my eyes DvdK is run by Dutchmen in a tiny enclave surrounded by Dutch soil. His address might be in Belgium, but we can claim him for us as well. Anyway, since we are talking about low alcohol beers this Passe Partout is very different from the first one mentioned here. It is bitter and doesn’t have the nice little flavors that the Kees has but I can definitely see this beer being your thing. I have had much worse in this age of session IPA’s, well done. Another example of a brewer who is just as at home at 11% as 3%.

  1. Uiltje CC Porter.

I’ve always hated the Bounty Candy Bar. There is just something about the texture of coconut that ruined everything for me. Up to this day I cannot stand it. Het Uiltje finally made it possible to enjoy one and a lot more with its CC Porter. Some of it gushed out of the bottle unfortunately, although my kitchen smelled great for the next 20 odd hours so it wasn’t all bad. It is a well made porter so has all the nice coffee and chocolate flavors it is supposed to have with the added bonus of coconut. It apparently is a one-off beer but Robbert, can you please make more of this?

  1. Brouwerij Kees Export Porter 1750.

In part 1 we have established that Kees Bubberman is excellent at making low alcohol beers. If you are under the impression that this is the only thing he is good at you are sadly mistaken. He can do whoppers of 10% and over as well and this superb double porter shows just that. Thick, dry, sweet but also bitter with hints of some herb, might be laurel and liquorice. It had no head but who cares when it brings you a fraction of a second closer to tasting this. Perfection in bottle.

  1. Bax Bier Ketter

It took the release of just two beers to make Jeroen Bax and cohorts  their Bax Beer the best brewery in the north by miles. More and more I see bottles of Bax in other parts of the country and his stock keeps rising. One of the two beers he made his debut with was the Koud Vuur (Cold Fire), a smoked beer as balanced as that dude walking on a wire between the WTC Towers. As with most Bax Beers extra credit for the name. Ketter means heretic. ‘Roken al s een ketter’ means smoking as a heretic. Balance is Bax’ strongpoint and the Ketter is no different. It is higher in alcohol, but also higher in taste and awesomeness.

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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Amsterdam’s new beer scene part III: Amsterdam Brewboys

We already discussed Nordman and De Vriendschap, this installment in this series will be about the Amsterdam Brewboys. Also a new brewery that started in the last few months and with a story that in many ways mirrors that of the others.

BEERMAT-FACES_Artboard-300The brewboys are Pieter and Sebastiaan and starting the brewery came came out of the urge to do something new next to what they were already doing.

Pieter has been running a diner for almost a decade now called Langendijk (his last name). Visitors to Brouwerij ‘t IJ will have passed and seen it because they are practically neighbors. It must have been the smell then that saturated their nostrils with this good idea.

Partner Sebastiaan has been brewing for over a decade already. A lot at home but also in Sydney at Young Henry’s and he also spent some time at De Prael to look at the process.

Getting known

Being a restaurant owner already gives him easy access to the local restaurant- and bar business network. Other relations helped as well, showing once again as with the other new breweries that if the network is already largely in place it helps getting the word out and the beer poured.

The fact that it’s a local brew means that there is more interest than there otherwise might have been. Local is hot right now. Another plus is that brewers and owners are very easy to get into contact with. The same goes for the shops, if you know how to sell it they will take it. Pieter thinks all the new breweries are good rather than competition. The brewing business is a hard one but very collegial. Every brewery has its own ideas and its own product so there is enough variation.

But Pieter stresses that these facts alone do not make a successful career. The basis of it all still is hard work.

The beer

The brewboys have so far released one beer, a Pale Ale. The first two batches were brewed at the Sallandse Brewery but they have now moved to Lindeboom to make more.

Why did Amsterdam get so much more interesting after I left…

 

Amsterdam Brewboys website

Releaseparty video

Dutch Beer Week Festival in The Hague

The ten day period in the middle of May is turning into a great week for lovers of Dutch beer. Bars serve more Dutch beer and host tastings or food pairings. Breweries all over the country open their doors to the public, all in an attempt to spread the word of good craft beer among the ignorant masses. And these masses are willing to try that beer they don’t know yet in greater numbers.

The kickoff of the Dutch beer week is a three day festival in the Grote Kerk in The Hague. It is a true showcase of Dutch beer, with stands of the Great 8 of Dutch brewing like Brand and Grolsch to tiny contract brewers like Two Chefs, Bax or Ceaux.

IMG_1923It seemed at times that the division between the Great 8 and the rest is still a large gaping canyon. Even though they are also trying to make more ‘specialty’ beers what they spill a year is probably more than what the rest brews. Grolsch was promoting its new Kornuit and Brand some of its heavier beers which are I have to admit not at all bad. What does surprise me is to see people pay a fairly large amount of money to get into a festival and then drink the same Kornuit they could have gotten for less than a Euro at their local supermarket. Oh well, if next to the Hertog Jan and Brand beers they tried a Kompaan I guess that’s a plus. But as on any trade fair it showed that they had more money to spend on huge stands where the smaller ones were limited to one table and a tap.

More a trade fair

For the brewers the three days didn’t end up being great days for sales. They viewed the festival more as a trade fair. It was a way to get a little more known to the public and strike up conversations with fellow brewers and others in the profession who could be beneficial. People owning stores or starting them are looking around for nice beers to sell, and it seems to be a good time to start a beer related business.

Some of the brewers were in Utrecht a week earlier at a festival that is threatening to succumb to its own success. Great for sales but no time to talk to people interested in your beer. This was different in Den Haag on Friday. It wasn’t crowded and busy so there was plenty of time to have a fairly long conversation with the brewers if you wanted to. And the good brewers want nothing more than to talk to you (and thanks for that Bax, Gooische, Duits & Lauret, Vandestreek and Ceaux). Again, it seems that the best beer is sold by the most enthusiastic people with a great passion for their craft.

Ceaux

Ceaux

Utrecht represent!

Utrecht was again well represented with Duits & Lauret, Ceaux, Vandestreek and Rock City Beers; showing once again that this province still leads in the best craft beer of the country, though Amsterdam is breathing down their necks with a growing number of good breweries. ‘t IJ and De Prael are established names and with brewers like Two Chefs coming up the area Amsterdam-Utrecht is becoming a more interesting by the week.

Beer and more

It wasn’t all the drinking of beer. A side trend these days are beer- and food pairings and there were a lot of opportunities to do so. Were you interested in Dutch Beer and Indonesian food, well there was a demo for that, as there was for pairings with chocolate or with cheese. Once again beer shows itself to be a very versatile product or as Jeroen Bax said: isn’t it amazing that something with the same four basic ingredients can turn out in so many different ways. It will take some time before this catch on but the seeds are sown.

Location

The Grote Kerk is a spacy church, good for handling big crowds. As you well know, European churches were built also with acoustics in mind in the days of unamplified preaching. For the festival it meant that the otherwise fun folk band playing in the middle bounced their banjo sounds off the walks and between the conversations I was trying to have.

IMG_1925The festival got some things right. The huge space is one, enough sitting arrangements another. Enough tables for to sit at and drink or eat, something often lacking at other festivals. The food was another thing that seemed to be well organized. I saw people walk around with big plates of food, and not just a ham sandwich.

The cost of entrance: 12,50 for which you got 4 coins. Not too bad of a deal considering the location. A novelty for me at least was the chance to have a one token or two token glass. One token was halfful, great for tasters like me. Entrance with PayPal or Credit Card in advance only or pin at the door. The Dutch Beer week also has an App for both Android and iPhone, this is definitely the way to go and the app worked perfectly. Besides a list of the available brewers and breweries it give information about the entire 10 day period.

The Beer

The main reason for coming was still the new beers. It was all good with my personal winner Het Uiltje once again. Both the coffee stout and barleywine were simply amazing. Vandestreek’s Spring Bock was a nicely cascaded beer. It took me a little while to warm up to them but this beer and one of their Hop Art beers (a limited edition series of special beers) were the right medicine to tow me over the line, helped by the brothers Vandestreek whose enthusiasm makes it so much easier to like them. It is the same enthusiasm with which Ceaux (the most complicated way to write the brewers’ first name Ko) sold his beer to people with empty glasses. My first introduction to his beer was a bottle of which half ended up outside of bottle of glass. The newer version of the Bastard is an improvement over a previous version and I am looking forward to seeing more from Ko/Ceaux.

Jeroen Bax at work

Jeroen Bax at work

New

Some of the brewers you see every time you are at a festival (Ramses, Reuzenbieren, Duits & Lauret to name just three) but there were some debuts for me too. New names means a healthy evolving brewing culture so it was great to see Bax Bier (link), The Fiddler (from just across the street), Two Chefs and Gooische. I have been a fan of the Gooische brewery since I wrote about them years ago since I had their Schwarz. A newer version of that beer is even better and there’s new stuff coming I am looking forward to and I hope to see them again at festivals.

A ten day week

With the still growing Dutch brewing industry and the greater public that is now picking up on it (quite some attention in the media) this beer week has the potential to keep growing and next to Borefts all the activities all over the country having to do with Dutch beer could attract newer groups of tourists from in- and also outside of the country.

 

Links

Earlier Articles about:

Gooische Bierbrouwerij

Bax Bier

Duits & Lauret

 

Photoalbum on Flickr