Bierverbond, uniting lager lovers

In a previous article I mentioned the rise of German (style) beers in the Netherlands. Bars like Café Brecht, Taverno Willi Becher and In de Wildeman are at the forefront in Amsterdam, while Boot 122 is serving great things in Utrecht. Occasionally a brewery here will brew a German style beer. Othmar has an almost perfect rauch and Amsterdam based Butcher’s Tears released a great Bavarian lager last year called the Fluiter, easily one of my favorite new beers of 2021. They are organizing a Czech lager festival in April too.

But the beer landscape in the Netherlands is still a desert when it comes to breweries who focus almost exclusively on bottom fermenting beers. One oasis in this desert is a brewery called Bierverbond, Beer Union. In a flood of Double Dry Hopped New England India Pale Ales and stouts featuring the entire pâtissier section of the supermarket, it is good to see some going into a completely different direction. 

Beginnings

Bierverbond is a two man team of Theo Verriet and Gert Hoff. Bierverbond is not (yet) their regular day job. Theo works at a bank doing IT four days a week. Gert used to work in IT as well owning several companies, but has sold all of them and retired early. His days are now filled with golf, grandchildren and beer.

It all started when Theo got a simple homebrewing kit from Dutch store Xenos. A first attempt led to  unexpectedly good results. Two further attempts however were not so successful and this put Theo onto a path of discovery figuring out where exactly in the process things went wrong. This search expanded his knowledge of brewing.  

Theo (L) and Gert (R) hard at work. Brewing is mostly cleaning.

Theo and Gert are in fact brothers-in-law. At a family party they found out they both liked beer, and that they also liked the same styles and decided to work together brewing beer. Through the Amsterdam based homebrewers collective De Bierkaai they perfected their skills and started to commercially release their beers, starting with the New Amsterdam Pilsner.

In my years writing about beer I have met many IT-professionals turned brewer. According to Theo there are definitely comparisons between IT and brewing. If there is something not correct in a beer you go back into the process and try and figure out where the mistake was made. Just as you would in a computer program where if something doesn’t work you look for the bug, and try and correct it.

Their IT background returns in their embracing of open source systems. This means their recipes are no secret and anyone can use them. It also fits in with their Beer Union philosophy: beer unites people.

Professional brewing

Theo and Gert found a small space in Heemskerk and set up a brewery installation which is perfect for small batches. Their core range is brewed at Huttenkloas.

It also storage for their beers and some other local breweries. During Covid they had success selling their beer online and also helped  other breweries with webshop activities.

Some of Bierverbond’s beers

These styles and the others in their range are as I said rare here. That the beers are not some funny experiments can be seen in the number of awards that they have won so far. And not only for one of their beers, but for many of them. That they have not yet added a Dutch Beer Award to their cabinet of prizes is because they brew styles so uncommon here that there is no competition, and therefore not a fair contest.

Future plans

They have been working hard on a series of beers that will be released in April. A tour along six different German cities and their signature beers: Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Cologne/Köln, Weimar, München/Munich and Bamberg. The labels for the city themed beer have landmarks from those cities most people will recognize. The Allianz Arena and BMW HQ for Munich, the Gehry Buildings in Düsseldorf for example. They will be released in a good looking box so you can buy all at once.

I tried some of the beers on my visit and especially the rauch (Bamberg) was a very nice beer. I also liked the Baltic Porter which might be discontinued. The name of the beer, Vladimir, might have something to do with it.

There will be some restyling. The labels have always been tight and monochrome and this will stay. But now white on black instead of black on white. The XXX, the seal of Amsterdam, will be deleted too. O.K. if you are in Amsterdam but in other parts of the country often a reason not to drink it.

Release

The aforementioned German city box will be a released at Taverno Willi Becher on April 23. A fitting location. Let’s hope the beertypes they brew become more popular. So put away your cranberry banana cake orange stout and drink a schwarz by Bierverbond.

Bierverbond Website

Bierverbond on Facebook

Bierverbond on Instagram

While bars reopen, uncertainty remains

Last week Instagram and other social media were full of happy pictures again. Bars full of people , enjoying beer flowing from taps again. A beautiful sight after weeks of yet another shutdown.

A shutdown that was decreed by the government after another surge of positive Covid tests and the rise of the omicron variant, a strain that we didn’t completely comprehend yet in mid-December. And it wasn’t only bars. All venues that weren’t essential shut down. Only shops selling food were open. For once we had the strictest rules in Europe concerning Covid.

And then came the great news that omicron wasn’t nearly as dangerous as feared and that even though hundreds of thousands of people are getting infected, the number of hospital ICU beds with Covid patients was hardly rising. The newly installed government decided on opening up most of public life again, including the bars, albeit until 10 at night at the latest.

The reopening of bars is a much needed step to keep bars open and for breweries to have more places to sell their kegs. Both have had a tough time. Sure, there was government help and even though that covered most of it, some bars and breweries are on the brink of closing with some actually folding in 2021.

Good News, but…

The reopening of the bars won’t immediately save everyone and make all owners millionaires overnight. There are at least two issues that will have a long lasting effect.

Prices

As you are probably well aware if you live anywhere on this planet, inflation is high. Resources are more expensive. This includes all the ingredients like malt and hops, but also the water and fuel needed to brew beer. If you had to start a new contract in the latter part of 2021, the price of gas has increased. To combat this, breweries are forced to ask higher prices for their beer, and bar owners in turn have to raise theirs for the consumers. So getting a good glass of beer, already pricy, will get more expensive. And not only craft breweries, big breweries like Heineken are forced to do the same.

Staff

Another problem is the lack of staff. Some bars decided to let go of their staff in the last two years. Even with government help, keeping staff was a loss because the help didn’t completely compensate the labor costs.

The omicron variant is stirring up new problems. First of all some workers decided to seek employment elsewhere. Wages are often higher doing different work, and there is a labor shortage in almost every part of the economy.

Then there is the very high possibility of testing positive with this variant. Doesn’t mean you are at home and sick as a dog, but it does mean you cannot work for a few days and if a bar doesn’t have backup, it means shutting down. Another loss of income.

Breweries

The reopening is of course good news for breweries. The corona crisis for most breweries meant selling more bottles, but fillings kegs came with a risk. Because it was hard to forecast how corona would behave it happened often that bars and brewpubs closed again. Left were thousands of kegs. So much that some breweries had to dispose of thousands of liters of kegged beer because it was going to spoil. And a tank full of beer is a lot of potential income. Some came up with ideas of filling growlers, but this was never enough to make all the money back.

So even though it is a great thing that bars and breweries are back in business, the lack of staff and higher prices might still lead to rocky return to normal, if we ever get there.

2022 is going to be interesting, to say the least.

The Rise of German Beer

It is October and that means German beer festivals. Half liter glasses of helles paired pretzels and sausage, you know what I mean. Sometimes in lederhosen and dirndls. It is more for the excitement of the event than the actual beer. Too bad, because German beer deserves more praise than just the fuel for drinking parties.

Luckily I am not the only one who believes this. Lately we have been seeing more German beer have appeared on beermenus all over Amsterdam.

The Advantages

German beer has some advantages. Advantages for both bar and consumer. German beer will never be very high in percentage so you can consume more of it, and the bar can sell more of it. Another advantage is that because of very low taxes on beer in Germany, it is very cheap, even when imported. For some a low price means that it is not very good. But for the well informed drinker this means more good beer that is you don’t have to pay too much for. And making a good pilsner is not easy, you can’t cover up a mistake with some extra hops.

It makes it the perfect antidote to all the Orange Maple Frappacino Blueberry Sour Russian Stouts and New England IPA’s that have been gaining ground in recent years.

The Third Wave

The rise of German beer is not new. It started 700 years ago when German hopped beer from came to these shores and completely changed the course of Dutch history. It made Amsterdam from a small town into a world leading metropole just two centuries later.

The second wave hit in the 19th century when thanks to the trains Bavarian style beers came to these shores. Better cooling equipment meant it was possible to recreate the exact same circumstances here as in Bavaria for the brewing of these refreshing beers. When mister Heineken noticed everyone liked golden bottom fermenting beers instead of his darker top fermenting ales, he switched to brewing the style Heineken is now famous for.

And even though we love our IPA’s and sours, Heineken’s pilsners and similar ones from similar breweries still rule the world of beer. Specialty beer still makes up a fraction compares to pilsners.

But let’s focus our attention to Amsterdam, site of what could be the third wave of German beer in Holland

Amsterdam

There are three places worth going to that are all conveniently close to the Noord-Zuid subway line. Later I will add some more places.

TAVERNO WILLI BECHER

Started by one of the founders of Oedipus but quite some ways from the plentiful hopped beers from them. This place serves mostly German beers. I was there when they held an Alt v. Kölsch festival outside for example. It has a very Berlin vibe to eat with simple outdoor seating in an otherwise nondescript plot of grass.  Kölsch won by the way. With the cold months coming outdoor seating might not seem that enticing, but not to worry, the indoor seating is roomy as well. You can even dock your boat behind it.

The beers rotate so it is always worth coming back here for some Alt or Grätzer. And bring your non-German beer drinking friends too. For them there are other beers as well to enjoy. In just a year TWB has become a unique little city oasis across the IJ river in the north and well worth a visit.

Taverno Willi Becher Website.

IN DE WILDEMAN

This iconic bar holds a German beer festival every year. Manager Simon often vacations near Bamberg too and has become quite aware of what is going on there. When they started organizing 4 yearly events at In De Wildeman there was no doubt the German Beer Days would be one of them. Lately more and more German beers have been put on the menu. I for one now sometimes order a bottled German beer instead of a tapped beer. But there are usually one or two German beers on tap as well besides the ever present Jever pilsner. And like with all things here it is sold because of a love for German beer and not a commercial move to attract more people.

In De Wildeman website

CAFÉ BRECHT

A slice of Berlin  on the edge of the old city. Joris and his mother 14 years ago decided to start a bar and they made it look like a Berlin living room café that Joris went to often while living in Berlin.

During corona Brecht, like many other bars, decided to start a small beershop and deliver their beers all over the city. This became a huge success. Mostly because Brecht has a truly unique number of German beers. Every week they drive to Germany to pick up beer, usually in the Franconia area around Nürnberg and Bamberg. And directly from the source too. Small breweries that sell only to their local community and hardly ever across the borders of the town, let alone the country. But Joris can often get a couple of cases of beer for the bar, but also for other bars and shops in Amsterdam. In de Wildeman included. The direct contact with the brewers makes it worthwhile. Kegs however are hard to come by because of the limited amount of them, something they also need to keep in their own brewery and taphouses. But if you want a unique  Helles or Zwickels make your way over to the Weteringeschans.

Café Brecht Website

There are more interesting places to go to in Amsterdam and we might return to those at a later time. Oh, and when in Utrecht check out Boot122, another place with excellent German beers.

Oproer: Rising from the Ashes

For several years the CAB building next to the Zuilen trainstation in Utrecht was a destination for (vegan) beer lovers. It was here that Oproer had their brewpub and vegan restaurant, doubling as a brewery in the first two years. A quick history lesson for those who don’t know: Oproer started as the combination of breweries Rooie Dop and Ruig. Since this fusion it has steadily been building a name for itself. The vegan restaurant won an award for best vegan restaurant in the country. When they started sending in beers to competitions, the beers also started winning prizes. Since a few years they started a sour program as well with great success. A kriek winning awards twice in a row at the Dutch Beer Challenge for example. But their Session IPA and Double Oatmeal Stout won as well, showing the wide range of what they can make.  

Things were going fine until the disasters.

First that one disaster that affected all of us. Oproer, like all bars and restaurants, had to close its doors after corona hit. They frantically set up a webshop to try and sell at least some bottles. And with great success, sales were better than expected. Over the summer the bar could open again. But with the regulations they could never be at full capacity.

Then the number of covid cases rose rapidly and they had to close. Again. And this time this also meant letting go of the entire staff.

And then another disaster hit.

On a Monday night in January a fire broke out in a wooden floor storage at the other side of the building. The fire was huge and the smoke went under the roof and ended up in the Oproer brewpub. Though nothing was burned or broken the smoke damage was so extensive that everything was useless, covered under a layer of poisonous soot. It was clear that it would be a very long time before anything could start here again.

But having their own place to serve these beers to the public is what they wanted the most. So the search commenced to find a new place. And they found one on the ground floor of a completely new structure in Utrecht Overvecht.

The new space is going to be vast, twice the size of the old pub and that was already roomy. Beer is supposed to flow out of 20 taps. Above them are hundreds of apartments are planned. Downtown Utrecht is only about 10/15 minutes away. The Overvecht Trainstation is also relatively close.

They have been socially and environmentally conscious from the start. This will come back in the beercafé. Most of the construction materials inside will be from recycled materials. And because the room has several areas different designers can make something.

It has to be more of a beercafé than the old place ever was. A big bar in the middle of the room and a lot of sitting and standing places to enjoy a cool Refuse/Resist or sour Kriek. Different sections will have different looks, as to not make it too much of a colossal space but with things to explore.

It is a completely new and bare structure. Even the electricity cables and watermains have to be installed. Because they don’t have a few hundred thousand euros lying around and insurance only covers a small part after the fire, they opted to try the often used method of crowdfunding. On October 6th the reached the goal of € 300.000 for the new bar. They are now looking for an additional € 75.000 to improve and expand the brewery. So if you want to help out with the Oproer resurrection go to their page at CrowdAboutNow.

The plan now is that they will get the key to the new place in October. With any luck the bar can open around February 2022.  

Oproer needs to continue being the presence that they were in the Utrecht beer scene, and the new beercafé is just that. I myself can’t wait to see what it will be like in 2022.

The plans for the new Oproer Beer Café

Leeuwarden Beer Festival: Back To Normal

It is one of the things to most look forward to on the beer calendar: festivals. And in the last two years that calendar has been eerily empty. The only festivals that were held were of the sit-down kind where you order at your table and they bring it to you. Not exactly how they were meant to be.

August and September is supposed to be the month of Van Mollfest, Brewda and Borefts but they were all, logically so, cancelled. The only ‘real’ festival that was still on, was the Leeuwarden Beerfestival.  This  festival had gone through the same phases as most with it being postponed a number of times. The last scheduled date was on September 25 and that luckily turned out to be the day that many of the corona rules were relaxed or completely given up. Gone is the 1,5 meter distance between each other for example. But you can only get into a bar or restaurant with a QR code. This code has let to a lot of resistance with bar and restaurant owners, but for this festival it worked fine.

My first beer festival in two years however was not as a visitor, but as part of the Oproer team that was invited to pour that day. It had been a while since I had done something like this but it was a good to do something again where corona was not the first thing on your mind.  

The festival was held at De Eenhoorn, an entertainment venue that is big enough to hold all the brewers and the over 800 people attending, without ever feeling too crowded. There were three seperate rooms for the brewers. The attending breweries were a mix of good local and national brewers like De Moersleutel, Grutte Pier, De Natte Gijt and Duits & Lauret, with some international ones like Lupulus, Dochter van de Korenaar and Lagunitas. At the same time two tap takeover were held at the adjacent café De Markies by De Ranke and Wild Beer. This also meant a nice variety of different beer styles. De Markies was also the organizer and subject of an earlier piece I wrote about Leeuwarden. Besides being a great café they show to be able to organize a great festival as well.

As a ‘brewer’ you usually don’t have a lot of time to walk around the other stands and talk and sample their beers. Especially not at this festival, it was busy all the time. I feel bad for the brewers who were there alone. But a busy festival means a successful one!

I for one was happy to be back into the action without any hassle and rules to strictly adhere too. I would not mind returning next year as a guest and sample all the fine beers on offer.

With all the complaining by some that all our freedoms are being taken away it was good to be at a festival that for the most part was back to normal. It’s good to be back, and thanks De Markies en Leeuwarden for making that possible.

Fort Everdingen up and running

For three days in the middle of August I attended a summer course to hopefully become a Beer Ambassador. The summer school was held at Fort Everdingen, now the home of the brewery Duits & Lauret. The last time I was here was almost 8 years ago on a slightly cold and somewhat rainy November day. My wife and I walked over the site of Fort Everdingen looking at old 19th century structures and sheds. It sometimes looked closer to collapsing than becoming usable again.

We were invited by Marco Lauret and Danielle Duits to come take a look at what was to be the site of their brewery and tasting room. You can read more about this in the previous article about how it all came to be.

Things have changed. The campground is now up and running: caravans, tents, campervans, there is space for all kinds of camping. And with some much grass and woods around it feels like you are out in nature. How nice is it to wake up, take a short stroll and look out over wide Dutch rivers.

The sheds and structures that looked somewhat downtrodden and had water standing in them have all been rebuilt. One houses a room for classes like the one I took, while the main structure is now both brewery and tasting room. The brewery is somewhat cramped and they can only fill kegs for consumption in bars and a few meters away in the tasting room. Most of the stone structures, the actual fort are still mostly in the same state. It is a monument after all.

The brewery also means they can be more experimental than before. Duits & Lauret is known for a selection of very good, well-balanced and award winning beers. Having your own tasting room means you can try more things and put it on in the tasting room. During the course we were treated to a great schwarz called Swarte Kray (Black Crow) and what I guess we can call a double schwarz in collaboration with De Leckere. But if dark beers are not your thing there you can go even more German with a kölsch or/and an alt. Another example of how brewers are starting to look eastwards across the border for beer inspiration?

When you decide to visit and you are not going by bike there are several routes to get there. By far the best one however is along the river by bike, or better yet on foot along the river. There is 19th century history, World War II history and an impressive number of birds and other animals. It might take two hours to walk this way, but the beer will feel even more refreshing. A faster way is to rent a  bike and cycle over the dyke. I felt like a true Dutch boy taking this route and getting rained on along the way. Brouwdok in Harlingen has a great view over the sea, but Fort Everdingen’s location next to the rivers that made Holland what it is, is equally stunning. And what better to enjoy that part of Dutch life with world class beer.

From the Archives: A Visit to Fort Everdingen, Future Home of Duits and Lauret

(Originally posted December 3, 2015)

Last week I was at Fort Everdingen / Duits & Lauret for a summer course to hopefully become a beer ambassador in the future. The last time I was here was 5 years ago when there was nothing even remotely looking like a brewery. I will post something soon about how the current state is, but for now this article ‘from the archives’.

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.

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A 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.

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.

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This 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.

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Storing

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.

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A Visit to… House of Bird

A visit to….. House of Bird

Summer is around and the corona-obstacles visiting places are disappearing. Time to visit a spot that had been on my wishlist for over a year: The House of Bird, the tasting room for Bird Brewery.

The House of Bird opened last year, but unfortunately the corona crisis hampered them in the beginning. The location is great: the entrance of the Diemerbos. A forest that was planted in the 1990s as a green space for the growing towns/neighborhoods of Diemen and the Bijlmer. It has attracted a lot of birdlife since and birdwatchers trek to this place to spot interesting birds.

You can also spot different birds here that come in glasses and are potable. Bird Brewery has been hard at work building their brand, a good example of how both smart marketing and good beer created a well-known brewery. You can find their beers with the colorful labels and the funny names in many bars and restaurants, but also in the supermarket. Unfortunately the names only make sense to Dutch speakers, but if you like dad jokes and puns you will like their names. Ok, for the Dutch speakers reading this here are a few: Datisanderekoekoek, Nog Eendje, Datsmaaktnaar Meerkoet.

Bird Brewery beers are never outlandish but all tasty and well made, this fits perfectly with the House of Bird. It attracts different people: from people heading into or out of the park, families with children and tourists who enjoy beer. Even if you did not come for the beer there are plenty of other nice things to drink and eat. When you sit down you can scan a QR code and the menu will pop up on your phone and you can order online and pay for it immediately. There are homemade ice teas and lemonade for example that are worth a try if you want something else than beer.

The food is equally interesting and diverse. There is everything from salads to burgers to pizzas. Our table was filled with fries, salmon flammkuchen, grilled vegetables and vegan blueberry pie. Something for everyone.

And all of this in or around a beautiful, mostly wooden structure that fits perfectly in the woods. The House of Bird and the land around it is worth a family trip. For the kids there is enough to do around the restaurants and for them there is enough to eat and drink.

You need to make somewhat of an effort to reach the Diemerbos, but it is worth the trip and spend a few hours in the House of Bird and the Diemerbos.

Links: Bird Brewery, House of Bird

Brouwerij Stijl: Pioneering in Almere

Almere is not the first city you would think of when it comes to beer. Though close to Amsterdam it mainly consists of residential, suburban areas. In a country of century-old cities, Almere is an outlier. A city no one in this country really wants to visit.

Yet I decided to make the trip to visit one of the few breweries in Almere: Brouwerij Stijl. I first met Raymond of Brouwerij Stijl (Style Brewery) when pouring at a beer festival. The beer was good but what most intrigued me was where they were from.

De Blauwe Reiger

I met with Anneke, the other half of the married couple that is Brouwerij Stijl, at their Bierlab. The Bierlab is located in a building with many more tiny creative businesses. There were woodworkers, people working on boats, a food truck, an artist working with iron and more. It also houses a small theatre.

Also part of the building, called de Blauw Reiger (Blue Heron) is an institution that provides care and activities for people who need help because of a handicap. It gives the area an atmosphere of collaboration for people who have qualities than can help others.

Bierlab

Stijl’s Brewlab is located in a hallway that also houses their storage. Their 8 core range beers are therefor brewed at other breweries. They use the Bierlab to experiment with new beers. During my visit I got a taste of a Black IPA. The batches are very small but interesting. They sell the bottles to beergeeks in Almere who will have to make the trek to the industrial zone where they are located, but they happily do so. Think of beers like a Dark Rye Saison, a Grisette, an Imperial Orange Stout or Loganberry Black Barley Wine.

Raymond works teaching new air traffic controllers and Anneke takes care of their two children, besides doing a lot of work for the brewery. They are taking things slow, but there are plans for their installation. We will of course let you know about these plans as they evolve.

Their beers and ingredients

Anneke and Raymond have a shared love for the U.S.A., a country they have been numerous times already. Their beers are also influenced by, but not limited to, this country. Their best known beer is the Ally (the nickname of Almere) Pale Ale, a beer made in collaboration with local professional football team Almere City FC. They have won national awards for their excellent Russian Imperial Stout.

Other beers in their 8 beer core range are a pinetop blonde, a Dubbel and a pilsner. Stijl uses many different ingredients in their beers and hardly ever stick to the usual four. For a saison they made for the Zuiderzeemuseum in Enkhuizen they used beets and carrots from a local farmer. The beer has a strange color because of these vegetables but be assured, it’s not some weird berry milkshake stout. Their pilsner is made with local malt made from locally (Flevoland) grown grains and hops. It is a truly local beer in that way.

Circular

This focus on local produce runs through everything they do. A few articles ago we wrote about Pieke Brood Bier and how they use leftover bread in their brews. Stijl does the same for every beer they brew, no matter what the style. When it is a brewday they load up the car with as much bread as they can and drive to the brewery where they brew that day. They have good contacts with a local bakery who saves bread in the freezer for them. The spent grain in turn is being made into bread again. Not too far from the Bierlab the cultivate some different varieties hop plants that have been used in the beer. Same for locally grown herbs. Flevoland, the province Almere is in, might be very new but it is a perfect breeding ground for produce, especially for hops apparently.

Almere

The city they live in was a big part of the conversation. Both are from the South and Anneke studied anthropology and has a keen insight in how the city behaves.

If you are not from around here let me explain to you what Almere is. In a country where most cities are at least 600 years old and some date from Roman times ,Almere is young. Incredibly young. Some of you reading this would have been adults already when the first house was inhabited in 1976. The city was build on the created land in the former Zuiderzee, now IJsselmeer. Almere was founded near Amsterdam and many families from the capital moved here for bigger, cheaper housing that was still close to work. Ever since the city has grown with new neighborhoods up to now where it is now the 6th biggest city in the country. And that it only 45 years.

But for its size and number of inhabitants, specialty beer culture in Almere is virtually non-existent. It is a city of immigrant families from all over the country. First it was people coming from Amsterdam, later it attracted people from all over the country and even from abroad. It can be conceived to be a miniature America. It has given Almere a feel that is different from most other cities, a newer city that is still trying to discover who it is.

Like other newer cities in the country (Hoofddorp for example) it seems hard to start some sort of beer culture. Beer stores fail and there are no classic bars and restaurants that serve locally made specialty beer. In fact most restaurants are of the all-you-can-eat type with no room for anything special.

Future

Let’s hope that Almere keeps growing in the right direction to provide a good garden for a craft beer culture to grow in. The city of Almere isn’t the most flexile when it comes to helping, so that might provide an extra challenge. Anneke and Raymond, beer pioneers in Almere, will be ready for it with Brouwerij Stijl.

From the Archives: ’t Uiltje from August 2014

uiltje2

For the few of you who have missed it, this week it was announced that Swinckels Family Brewers (Better known as Bavaria) took over Brouwerij ’t Uiltje. A Sell-out? For some maybe, but you can also see it as a logical next step.
We here have been Uiltje fans from the very beginning, so we thought it would be interesting to post an article (then on the Dutch Beer Pages) about ’t Uiltje and founder Robbert Uyleman. Enjoy!

An Owl flies in Haarlem

Haarlem once was a city that had hundreds of breweries. They all vanished over time until Jopen started brewing to become one of the biggest breweries of the smaller ones. Jopen’s logo can now be found all over the city. But from its ranks sprang a second Haarlem brewery: Het Uiltje.

Owlman Robbert Uyleman is an example of how being around good craft beer is infectious. His job and his love for highly hopped American style beers made him start brewery Het Uiltje. Robbert was working behind the bar in the Jopen Kerk in Haarlem because, well, he just liked working there one day in the week. On one other day in the workweek he was an accountmanager for a company specialized in audiovisual techniques, something he had studied for. But the call of the beer was louder than techniques for the eyes and ears so he bought the gear and started brewing with two friends at home. Of the three he was the only one to persevere and that perseverance gave us Het Uiltje. The rest is the usual story of a starting brewer. Jopen had already asked Robbert to substitute as brewer when one of them sick or to make the third brew of the day. When in February one of the brewers left, Jopen needed a new one and turned to Robbert, a logical choice. He gave up his job and started working for them fulltime, already being familiar with the installation and way of working. Brewer at Jopen is now his fulltime job, with het Uiltje being extra work besides it. But Het Uiltje is 100% his, as we will see.

The Owl Robbert’s last name is Uyleman. Uil is the Dutch word for owl. Using an owl as logo for his own beer was only logical. When he had decided on an owl he started drawing some owls. The first try was the best and that is now the simple but effective logo of Het Uiltje. Robbert designs everything himself: the labels on the bottles, the photography, building and keeping up the website, the texts on the site and labels. For him running a brewery is a creative outlet in more than one way than just brewing great beer. Robbert is in the Jopen brewery all day anyway so it was the most logical place to brew his Uiltje beers. That and living nearby. The Uiltje beers are all his own recipe and when the brewing is done, he buys the beer from Jopen and can do with it as he wants. He does part of the distribution himself but Melgers (the great store in Haarlem) takes care of some of it as well. Robbert is working on a more national distribution network.

Debut Robbert’s “debut” with Het Uiltje was in Haarlem at Café Briljant where he staged a Tap Takeover. In the crowded bar people could sample the beers and hear about his plans. The second beer (The Velduil) was launched during the Dutch Beer Week in May and was beer of the month at the Arendsnest in Amsterdam. The next two will be released shortly at different locations. At the Takeover he let people doodle on het Uiltje coasters to get some funny plays on the logo. Twelve ideas were picked up, and these drawings can be found on some of the labels too! If you find one you can make a picture and send it to Robbert. This has already happened a few times and the best photographs will be put in the monthly newsletter. The winner was Uilbelix, a little owl dressed up as Obelix from the Asterix comic books. He enjoys the interaction with drinkers, so that it is not a stuffy old way of just boring labels with text.

Local boy At the beerfestival in Haarlem I wrote about in the last article, I saw het Uiltje beer was also for sale in the café on the square. I wondered if he had help from Jopen with this but Robbert this is not the case, he does everything himself. As a true Haarlemmer he knows the local bars well and stepped inside them to try and sell his beer, with success. The bottles are already for sale in all of the eleven provinces, and he delivers the bottles himself so he has already put up many kilometers. His beer has crossed the border already too and can be found in Finland, Denmark, Germany and Belgium.

The Beer So what does Robbert actually brew? He is definitely of the American school of brewing: beers with a lot of hops. My first beer from Het Uiltje was a Double IPA and that was everything an IPA should be. Great floral notes and a very nice bitterness. A bitterness even my wife liked and she is not a fan of IPA’s (yet). The beers have the names of different owls. The Velduil, Steenuil or Dwerguil. Robbert likes a pun or two as well for the special releases; who wouldn’t want to try beers called Do Not Eat The Yellow Snow, Lekker Bakkie Kobi or Sai-so-niet dan toch? The last two are hard to translate into English but they are a coffee stout and a saison. The Lekker bakkie Kobi was made with raisins and dates.

Robbert at the Botermarkt Bierfestival 2013
Robbert at the Botermarkt Bierfestival 2013

Hoot The owl has long been a symbol of wisdom and some brewing wisdom reached the creative part of Robbert’s brain. As a brewer at Jopen and as his own separate brewer of Het Uiltje it is good to see yet another new face in Dutch brewing, and Robbert is one of the more talented ones. So walk into any Dutch beer shop and there is a good chance Robbert’s colorful label with the black owl is laughing at you, begging to bought. If you do, you won’t regret it.