Brewing with a View

As I stand on the dike that I can see for miles in all directions. There’s the Afsluitdijk to the left of, the 30 mile long dike with a highway on it that connects Friesland to Noord-Holland. Built in the 1930’s and making what was once a part of the sea into a lake. Far ahead I see the lighthouse of Vlieland and next to it Terschelling. The ferries taking tourists to these to popular vacation destinations both leave here. A bit closer I see modern yachts, older sailboats and every other kind of ship that you can think of. Behind me is the town of Harlingen, one of those typical Dutch villages that once was a city, walls and moats and all. And below me is the main reason for my visit: Het Brouwdok and it’s brewer Gerard.

Gerard is a proud product of Friesland, even though he has lived in the West working in IT he returned to his homeland to brew. He also started studying the one thing that is only taught in Friesland and that is the Frisian language. If the brewing doesn’t work out he can still do that. But so far, the brewing is high one and only profession.

As far as locations got it doesn’t get any better than this. It was also here, in the back of this huge structure, that Gerard started brewing. And with success because the brewery quickly grew and now there is this big, modern installation. Italian made and with a bottling line. It all looks beautiful and brand new. And with the huge ceiling and the light it shines.

Here are the Brouwdok beers (meaning Brewdock) brewed. But not every bottle and keg that leaves the brewery has a Brouwdok label. He also makes beer for others because this is unfortunately still needed. Good as a source of income, but it also means making beer for local breweries that sell it to bars and shops where his beer would fit as well. Because the beer is good. No brewing mistakes, nice and clean with good flavors.

The brewing side of Brouwdok really is a one man operation. He often does everything himself, including the bottling which I know from experience is better done with two or more people. He has one companion who takes care of the sales.

These beers that he does make are for the local market. And the local market is not as adventurous as the more populous Western part of the country. They love their blondes and triples here, so this is what he usually makes. There is no national distribution yet on any large scale. You can get the beers in Friesland and some other parts of the north but that is about it.

Name

The name might lead to a little confusion though and could turn out to be a slight problem in the future. The name was chosen because there was a big change they could move into the nearby Entrepotdok, the building used by customs to get goods into the country. This didn’t pan out however though they are still close to the sea. Another problem is that the new Brouwdok in Dutch sounds very much like Brewdog.

Tasting

If you don’t want to trek through all of Friesland to search for Brouwdok beers I suggest visiting the brewpub that is next to the brewery. Beautiful, wooden and light with direct access to the water. There are tables, couches to fall asleep on and a dog.  This is the real winner with all the beautiful views and most of all good beer. Tasting paddle is possible and the best way to sample the many taps of goodness. Of the beers that I have tried the Baltic porter and a smoked beer were my favorites.

It might take a while for Friesland to catch up but BrouwDok has the most exciting beers in Friesland that are made by a brewer himself. That alone should be worth the trip to Harlingen, the tasting room with amazing view is just a great extra.

Website of Het Brouwdok

Beer in Monuments

Today (September 14) it is National Open Monument Day. Buildings all over the country open their doors so people can have a look inside. Often these buildings are open only on this day. A once a year opportunity to stand in some Dutch history. This made me think of a number of places where I had good beer that are also in monuments and are worth a visit.

A top 5 of Monumental Beer Places

De Waag, Doesburg

One of the oldest, if not the oldest, café in the country that has been pouring beer and making food for people since 1478. It is truly a beautiful building in a wonderful city where everything has been restored in such a manner that it feels very medieval. There is wood everywhere and signs of medieval times with shields and flags. The very high ceilings give it an imposing stature and their list of beer is worth a trip too.

In de Blaauwe Hand, Nijmegen

I had the pleasure of being here once for an Oproer tap takeover. While half of the old building in Nijmegen were destroyed in an erroneous bombing by the allies in World War 2, this bar stayed and has been there now for 700 years.

The name ‘In the Blue Hand’ refers to the blue painted hands of the workers who died the wool in the building next door. Indigo was the color most used. This has likely been a place for drinking since the 16th century. And the beer? Great selection and rotation. Food also nice.

Fort Everdingen

A fort from the old Hollandse Water Linie, a line of forts all around Holland and Utrecht, once built to keep the French and other invaders out. With better weapons and airplanes these forts became obsolete and were turned into other things. This one for a while was the depot of the army’s explosives department before it was turned into a campground and brewery/taproom for Duits and Lauret. The fort alone is beautiful to walk over, but the location is awesome as well. It is located next to one of the great rivers of the Netherlands and to cycle there is by far the nicest thing you can do.

Olivier, Utrecht

To be honest not my most favorite place to go to for a beer in Utrecht. High ceilings and incredibly noisy. Makes it hard to talk to the person next to you which is a shame. It is a beautiful place because it was once a church, and a secret church at that.

There have been people living here since the year 1000 and in 1640 the house was sold to a catholic family. Catholics were not allowed to have mass in public so the used parts of houses and other buildings as secret churches. The family used their house as secret church as well until every religion was free again to hold their meetings.

And now it is a Belgian Beer Café. So get a table and drink a nice Belgian beer while soaking in a millenium of history.

Brouwerij ‘t IJ, Amsterdam

Forget about the windmill where ‘t IJ is famous for. Even though it has become iconic it is not even part of the brewery. Only the structure next to it is. Because the brewery started in what were the former bathing houses for this part of the city. This stems from a time when not every house had a shower or bath so people needed to go the public baths for some cleaning. Not that you can see a whole lot of that still but it is a historic building and another part of Amsterdam history.

Leeuwarden

Friesland, a province in the north of the Netherlands next to Groningen. A province with a proud history, culture and even their own official language. A province known mostly for dairy products and speedskaters.

Their most famous alcoholic beverage is a drink called Beerenburg, a type of spiced jenever/gin that has been around since the mid 1800’s.

Beer? Not so much. There are a handful of breweries in the province and a couple of above average beer café’s but it won’t attract any outside tourists who come for just the beer culture. Simply because there really isn’t one yet. Nearby city Groningen has done a lot better with it’s high number of breweries and bars. But this is also a bigger city with a large student population.

The most known Frisian brewery these days is Grutte Pier, named after a folk hero. Even though they do not have their own brewing installation they were one of the first local breweries and ran into some luck when they immediately won an award for their tripel beer. You can find this, and often another one too, on many a menu in Leeuwarden. The very old brewery Us Heit, once featured in Michael Jackson’s Beer Hunter show on television, is still around though but not very visible. We did visit Het Brouwdok in Harlingen, but more about that in a later post.

But that doesn’t mean it is a barren wasteland not worth a visit at all. The capital Leeuwarden has a few places though that merit taking the train over for a day. It is not the biggest city in the country and all the places I am describing here are all within the limits of the old city.

Let’s start with buying beer in a shop while it is still early. Jelle’s has a brilliant collection of beer from both Friesland to all over the world. So bring a suitcase for all the wonderful stuff that you will have trouble finding anywhere else in the country. It is not a beer shop alone but has a beer selection bigger than most smaller beer stores.

If you want to have a choice out of all the wonderful but standard Belgian beers walk over to the Dikke Van Dale. This café is worth a visit for the atmosphere alone. Huge high ceilings and ‘fake’ books on the walls. The Van Dale is the Dutch dictionary, hence the books. If you like to rummage through an entire book of (mostly) Belgian beers than this is definitely the place for you. The list is simply amazing, though it doesn’t feel like an actual beer café. It is more of a restaurant where you can have a very nice lunch or piece of cake.

We happened to wander into Café Spoek on our way back to the hotel and were surprised by the nice atmosphere. Lot of music memorabilia around and what appeared to be local clientele. Their beer list is more than interesting too. It seems they have opted for a just a few breweries but they then do have everything that brewery has produced. So a lot beers from for example De Scheldebrouwerij. Great to find their Oysterstout just after I wanted one after dinner. A day later Gerard from Het Brouwdok in Harlingen told us that he also liked coming here and I can see why. Maybe not the best beerhunting place but a nice bar to hang out for a few hours.

If you do like beer hunting then De Markies is the bar for you. Awesome selection, beautiful bar and very knowledgeable staff. This is always an extra in a bar. Lot of taps too with mostly interesting stuff from local breweries, Dutch breweries and international beers. The bottle selection is impressive as well. Some great sours, stouts and other fancy beer stuff. They do tastings for a group, including a interesting talk if you are interested in that. Best thing is that you can get a tasting board of 4 glasses from the taps. I have wanted to visit this place for a while now and I was not disappointed.

If you are visiting Holland and want to make a beer trip out of it then maybe Leeuwarden isn’t the right place to go compared to other cities. If you are here for a bit longer than you should definitely come over.

Hardcore UFO

In the southern city of Eindhoven Van Moll has steadily been working over the last few years to become one of Hollands premier breweries. And like any brewery that considers itself a big player they have their own brewpub and festival. This festival has been held for a number of years now. Two years ago I had the honor of being at Van Moll Fest as a participant when I poured beer for Oproer. This year I decided to go both days, as a visitor.

The two day setup really works. The international breweries (from countries like the U.S.A, England, Belgium and more) were there for both days, the Dutch breweries one day only but the same number every day. That meant more breweries and of course even more beers to try.

The location is the same, under the shadow of a huge flying saucer looking building in Eindhoven called the Evoluon. This building was built in the early 1960’s to showcase technological advancement, with Phillips at the forefront. This Dutch multinational has had a huge part in shaping Eindhoven as it is today. It is no longer a museum but a building where congresses are held. And beer festivals.

Holding this beer festival at the Evoluon is fitting. Van Moll has been on the forefront of the new wave of Dutch brewing and has never shied away from innovation itself. And the breweries that were invited are cut from the same cloth. Forget your Belgian triple and blonde brewers. Beautiful stouts, IPA’s and maybe the best lineup of wild ales and sours that I have seen lately.

The entire Evoluon area is closed off by a moat and a fence, which mean that there was a lot of space to walk and sit. Something other festivals often lack. Even though this weekend the country was again hit by a heatwave, the third one this summer. There was enough water and people seemed to take it easy. 

The cream of the crop of Dutch brewing was present: De Molen, Jopen, Kompaan, Nevel, Oersoep and Het Uiltje to name just a few. Special mention though for De Moersleutel. During the days of my former blog they weren’t around yet so I never had a chance then to mention that this brewery from Alkmaar is my new favorite. They surprise you with stouts like De Molen once did. Their IPA’s and sours are also world class. And some local pride for me that two breweries from Amsterdam (Walhalla and Butcher’s Tears) and two from Utrecht (Kromme Haring and VandeStreek) were present.

Some of the best from the UK were here as well. Like previous years Wiper and True and Siren were here. But of all the newcomers for me extra praise for the beers of Central Waters. I had been chasing their beers for a while now and was happy to see more of them in bars and shops here. But to taste their XX stout was a moment of pure bliss and their other beers were world class every single time as well. 

With the great lineup of breweries and it being a two day event you cannot help yourself to compare it with Borefts. If I had the option of only going to one of them the room at Van Mollfest and the fact that is it held on Saturday and Sunday make me choose a trip to Eindhoven, even if Bodegraven is right around the corner from me. See you next time you weird huge UFO!

a magnificent Central Waters stout

It’s the Data Stupid!

You can get anything you want online these days. What started with books, CD’s and clothing turned into online stores selling everything. You really don’t need to leave the house anymore for your needs. Beer is no different. Across Europe multiple shops have started sending beer through the mail. Saveur Bière (Hopt.nl here in the Netherlands) has been doing this for a while, with the help of AB InBev. And talking about these Belgian giants, they also bought UK seller BeerHawk not too long ago. It is an interesting move. Sure it brings some money into their wallet, but that is peanuts compared to one single day of selling Budweiser.

Heineken showed up a bit later to the party. Three years ago Beerwulf bursted on the online beermarket with a slick website, good customer service and a nice selection of craft beer. One that did not include the basic Heineken beers. Beerwulf has always tried to maintain a form of independence from Heineken but let’s be honest, if you can afford television commercials around football games you know where the money comes from. From the outside they appear to be completely independent from Heineken. Or as two people who started it says in this rather baffling interview: it is 100% funded by Heineken, but other than that the cords are cut.

They then go to say that they offer more beers from different breweries to maintain credibility. Even more striking is the line “there are two disruptions Heineken wants to play a role in: the digital revolution and the craft beer revolution”. So if they practice what they preach shouldn’t it be Beerwulf that wants this instead of Heineken? No strings attached right?

But why are AB InBev and Heineken interested in these companies? If you can afford expensive commercials with celebrities and sponsor the biggest sporting leagues in the world why do this?

The answer likely is not that different from AB InBev interest, and now 100% ownership of, RateBeer.

What is the 21st century most important economic commodity:

DATA

There was a job listing a while ago on the Beerwulf website where they were looking for a data engineer. The single job being to delve into the data and get the interesting information. Or as the listing says : “Attention to detail and high conscientiousness, because you’re working with our gold: all our data sources and you manage our data lake.” So that is pretty clear that you the buyer is not the gold, your data is.

Mark Schouten, co-founder, even says “They get direct feedback about their craft beers and indirectly, it gets experience on how to create an online craft beer platform, which may extend to other types of alcoholic beverages”. The ‘they’? Heineken, that company that supposedly only funds them. Strings go both ways.

All big companies deal mostly in data so they can sell their wares. Amazon, Facebook and Google may offer something different, but what makes them the size that they are is big data. Where do people live, what do they consume, how old are they and what is their income. And that is just a selection of available data points.

The more Beerwulf is being used, the more information it hands over to Heineken. Oh, this part of Friesland likes IPA’s? Let’s push Lagunitas a little more in the local cafés and shops. Everything we as consumers do can be turned into an algorithm.

The problem is that BeerWulf is a great way for brewers to sell beer, it is direct and they can maintain the prize they want for their beer as well. But they are also handing the competition valuable data about where their beer is sold.

AB InBev and Heineken have stepped up their attempts to regain the beer world. Buying stakes, or sometimes complete, breweries is one step. Getting a hold of your consumption patterns another, maybe even more substantial one.

In 1947 Heineken bought the entire address book of Maggi, a still existing company that makes a spice/herb condiment that has become synonymous with the brand name. With this data they got a complete insight into the market of groceries. This was at a time Heineken was working on entering the shops and up-and-coming supermarkets where before they only sold to cafes. 70 years later, they are doing the same thing, just in a different form.

Heineken’s Stake in Oedipus, Part of Something Larger?

Lately I have been doing some research on Heineken’s increasing influence in the world of Dutch beer. OK, I am going to say it once for those who don’t understand what I mean: craft beer. A term that I try to avoid as much as possible. This influence isn’t immediately visible but is happening in small, incremental steps.

Or so it seemed until this week when Oedipus announced that Heineken was going to be a minority stakeholder in this brewery. This has been the most open and blatant move from Heineken into previously uncharted territory in the Netherlands. They have already taken an interest in Lagunitas from the USA and Beavertown in the UK but now they have set their sight on their homecountry.

I will still post the articles I have been working on so let this be a short introduction of what’s to come.

Beerwulf

This online retailer was started a few years ago by Heineken employees and backed by Heineken money. A good looking website, great selection of beer and fancy television ads made this site popular in a very short time. They put the brewers center stage and don’t have excessive prices. They also claim not to be influenced by Heineken. But a massive investment is just that. It gets real Black Mirror-y when you think of the massive amount of data Heineken has their hands on now. Very similar to InBev buying RateBeer.

Heineken Local

When Groningen based brewery Punt won an award at the Dutch Beer Challenge it was as a Heineken beer. This raised some suspicions. A short investigation showed that Punt, and some other breweries including Van Vollenhoven and Oudaen were also operating under the banner of Heineken Local beers. The small breweries on this last have a very small impact so it is as of yet mysterious why Heineken did this. This is worth investigating more.

Heineken in Africa

Looming over all of this is Heineken’s less than decent handlings in Africa and Asia. This has best been documented in Olivier van Beemen’s book Heineken in Africa. Government meddling, bribes, writing legislation about alcohol, fueling the genocide in Rwanda, using girls/prostitutes to try sell the beer, it is all part of it. The latter has made banks like ASN in Holland decide to kick them out of their investment portfolio for example. More about this later as well.

And it’s especially this that makes Oedipus’ choice for Heineken uncomfortable to say the least. I appreciate that in the current way the brewing world works the next stop for a larger brewery is some sort of cooperation with a larger brewery. Lagunitas and Beavertown are good examples of breweries who were lured by the big ole sack of money in front of their nose.

Oedipus has always struck me as a brewery that took a stand against discrimination, racism and other kinds of inequality. Yet now they are working together with a multinational that used sex to sell beers in Asia and Africa and did not nothing to stop genocide. This is a brewery whose first released beer was called ‘Mannenliefde’ (love between men), a common term for gay love. A type of love that in many African countries is a death sentence. Countries Heineken actively invests in.

For now it is a minority stake and Oedipus will keep doing its own thing. But as most examples from USA and GB have shown us this will not be the case in 2 to 3 years.

Heineken has been slowly setting the chess pieces into position for a strike. Their stake in Oedipus is their biggest step yet. In the second half of the 20th century they bought all the smaller breweries in the Netherlands to close them. I don’t think this will happen again but I am curious to see what their next steps will be. We know this was coming, but happy about it we are not.

What will Heineken’s next step be?

Dutch Mega Collab 2019

The collective of small Dutch breweries (Craft) had a novel idea at their annual meeting. Why not have all the breweries part of the collective make collaboration beers? Toss all the names in a hat and bring together two breweries who might have nothing in common and let them make a beer together.

Over 40 breweries decided to do this and on Friday the 17th of May they were all simultaneously released at the start of Dutch Beer Week. Well, most of them anyway.

Breweries that had a tap room tried to have a number of them available. I was able to taste some of these at the Oproer tap room. And let’s just say that not all collaborations led to amazing beers.

There was often not enough time and not enough capacity as well. Breweries are running at 100% capacity in most cases and allocating one just for this beer has to fit the schedule.

The Dutch Mega Collab 2019
Just some of the beers brewed this year for the Mega Collab

There were a few good ones however. Van Moll’s, Jopens and De Praels Golden ale Gouwe Doesj (yes, Golden Shower) was perfectly drinkable and a Pina Colada beer from Jopen and KraftBier was also tasty. My personal favorite was a raspberry beer from De Brouwschuur and In de Nacht, a brewery I am starting to turn into a fan of.

The first edition of this event seemed to be somewhat rushed perhaps but the thought is a great one. Show everyone that brewers are united in trying to make good and tasty beer. It was an event that deserves a second try next year.