On warm sunny days the Oudegracht is as busy as a mall the day before Christmas. Tourists in and on boats, yachts, water bikes, canoes, surfboards. Anything that can float on water and pass underneath the many bridges.
It is never boring when I stand outside waiting to give a brewery tour at Oudaen. The canals in Utrecht runs a few meters below street level. But where in other cities there is only water and a street above, Utrecht has a canal and a terrace next to it, leading to the doors of over 700 cellars. Four meters above me people walk on the streets with their shopping bags, on their way to eat something.
On a nice warm day people sit outside on both levels. Staff walks around bringing beers, other drinks and food. Inside in the huge grand café it can at times be empty when it’s nice out, but around dinner time people pour in for dinner. Five tasting glasses with different Oudaen beers on a wooden paddle are served at different tables. The waiters offer a short description of a dubbel, or explain what hops are used in the special summer ale.
In a small separate room a group of young women enjoy a high tea surrounded by pink balloons. One wears a tiara. A few levels up a group is enjoying a dinner after finishing a conference in the theater room. It’s much better than the members of stag parties staggering from a party barge into the restaurant, slurrily asking to use the bathroom. An unfortunate byproduct of these warm sunny days.
And I look up. The ‘city castle’ that is Oudaen towers over its neighbors. It had done so for almost 750 years. Back then a member of the wealthy and influential Zoudenbalch family also looked up and envisioned a fortified house for his family. A house showing their wealth, but also defending them from other important families in Utrecht. After the Zoudenbalchs other families moved in, until it became a house for the elderly, which it stayed until well into the 20th century. Since the 80’s it is what it is today. A grand café/restaurant with in the basement one of the oldest craft breweries in the country.
A brewery that started in 1990, which makes it one of the oldest ones still operational. They started with the then newer Belgian styles like wit, tripel and dubbel. In the decades since beer tastes changed, styles came and often went away again. Yet beer drinkers have always found their way to the castle on the canal and the beers brewed in the cellar. They did so in the early nineties, they do so in 2022.
And this is what I tell the guests. History of the building, what beer is, how beer is made it. Anything you can expect from a brewery tour. I can do brewery tours all over the country. But standing in front of the copper kettles in the basement of a 750 year old building, looking out over a busy canal in one of the Netherlands’ nicest cities… nothing beats that.
Most of you reading this have visited a beer festival, though it might have been a few years. You remember the stands, the breweries, the other visitors and the many beers you had. And that one person you had a fascinating conversation with sitting next to you on a wooden bench.
The last article was about my visit to a festival. The second day of that festival, the start of the Dutch beer week, I was on the other side of the table working for Oudaen tapping beers instead of drinking them. I thought it would be interesting for those who never worked at a festival to explain what it is like from the other side.
The stages of a festival
The stage before the festival opens. At the brewery you pack your taps and the kegs of beer you want to pour. You get all the marketing stuff you can get. Signs, flags, coasters, leaflets, T-shirts, bottles etc. Anything that stands out. Then you get in the car or van and leave for the festival. If you are unlucky this can be on the other side of the country.
When you arrive you put up your stand, connect the taps, decorate the stand and talk to the organizers, who undoubtedly have some things to say about how things will work and who you have to talk to if there are problems or questions. If you are early you have some time to kill to talk to the other brewers there. If you were smart enough to bring a trolley other brewers will ask you if they can borrow it. They can, you’re at the festival with likeminded spirits, not competitors.
The festival opens. Guests trickle in. The first hour or so hardly anyone visits your stand. Not good for business but it does give you time to talk to the guests about your beer or a brewpub if you have it. The beer they get at your stand is likely their first, so they often start with a lighter one. A special group that often visits are the collectors. They ask you if you have beer labels, bottle caps or coasters for them. A tote bag hangs over their shoulder filled with anything collectable they have hoarded in the first thirty minutes. At their often advanced age this is their highlight of the festival. They seem dorky at times, but they perform a function as guardians of beer culture and history. Treat them accordingly.
Most people are now at the festival. Peak hours. Chances are you are constantly pouring and with any luck there is a line forming in front of your stand. No time to explain things about the beer, hopefully people have made a decision before ordering. Hard work but the most satisfying part of the day. The atmosphere is changing too. A mix of beer festival veterans and newbies. The true festival goers know how to restrain themselves while still trying new beers. The newbies might come back to your stand because they like one beer in particular.
This is usually around dinnertime. Good festivals have a separate part of the terrain or venue for food. If things are really busy you can often trade a few beers with food from one of the food stands. But a separate room is the best. You have time to eat and to calm down. And oh, in these times of changing attitudes towards food festivals should always offer a vegetarian option. In Den Haag you had to stand in line with the other guests which took ages, only to find out your coupon didn’t provide for a vegetarian meal.
The last part of the day. That time when the beers people get at your stand are definitely not the first. There is more crowd noise. Some men for no reason start shouting and for a minute you think you are at a football game. You hear the sound of breaking glass more often, usually followed by a load roar from anyone who heard. A roar that then gets picked up by everyone and rolls over the terrain or through the venue as a wave.
This is the time drunkenness start and when it at times can get annoying. The line is held up by drunken indecisiveness or a minute long repetition of what beers they liked. If that beer is one of yours doesn’t really matter. They day is over. The organizers come by and tell you at what time exactly the taps close and not a minute later to not getting into any permit trouble. When you close the taps and can’t serve anymore there are always some who complain, but it is over.
Cleanup and the long road home. Or if you decide to stay over an after party until the early hours of the next day. If you do go home you clean. You get rid of all the excess water, wipe down the table and taps. You also clean the taps and lines, the sooner the better to limit the risk of infections.
A long day is over. But there is always a new festival soon.
Remember the days before corona? Full bars, beer flowing everywhere and a beer festival every day of the weekend. But 2020 and 2021 were quiet years. The few festivals that were held were often non-social affairs where you bought your beer through QR-codes and where social distancing limited good conversation. This, and getting corona, meant that I stayed away from them altogether. The only festival I was at was in Leeuwarden where I was behind the taps helping Oproer.
With corona at the moment not a thing on the forefront of our minds I was able to visit a beer festival again. I went to the start of the Dutch Beer Week, kicking off with a festival in the Grote Kerk in Den Haag. I had the privilege of being at the festival for two days. The first day as a regular visitor walking around the church. The second behind that taps manning the Oudaen Brewery stand. Part 2 will be about that experience.
The festival for the Dutch Beer Week started off with the announcement of the best beer of the Netherlands. In the weeks before the Dutch Beer Challenge was held with gold medal winners in different styles. Of all the gold medal winners one beer was chosen as beer of the year. In this case the blonde by Maallust, the Weldoener.
What is nice about this festival is that it is one of the few that offers stands by both big breweries like Heineken or Grolsch but also tiny ones like Hans and Grietje or Eiber. It was a good showcase of what you can find among the over 900 breweries in the Netherlands today.
It is not an easy festival to be on. Apart from the bigger breweries it is first come first serve, so many breweries you’d think would be there were not. But there was enough variety. I read somewhere that there were over 100 different styles available.
I won’t give you an entire rundown of which breweries were present and what they brought. The liver can only take so much. I do want to briefly mention three beers that surprised me in a positive way.
Two Chefs Prague Nights
As you probably know if you have been following me is that I have a thing about ‘simple’ German and Czech style beers. Two Chefs made a Czech Dark Lager called Prague Nights which was more than palatable. More please.
This is a kuyt beer. A predominantly Dutch beer style that has seen some revivals this century, though it has died down somewhat. Only a few breweries make decent version. I was happy to see Avereest brought one. Even if it wasn’t a good beer, it was quite nice actually, just the fact of making one and bringing it deserves praise. But besides this they also brought a dubbel and some beers with rye and wheat. And I love rye. I only had two of their beers, but I will seek them out more.
This brewery is the one I was looking forward to. A brewery with actual monks in the center of The Hague. Their beers are not the easiest to get and if you do find them they are not cheap. But I had heard tales of their excellent beers and was happy to see them on the festival. I was not disappointed. Their Patmos, a red ale with rye, was excellent and I can’t wait to try more.
This is what is nice about beer festivals. You can come into contact with beers that you have never tried without losing a lot of money on an entire bottle. And you can get to know some new breweries you had never had beers from.
Next week more about my experiences behind the taps.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.