Of the many end-of-year lists there was one that especially caught my eye. Untappd released a list of the Top 10 cities with the most checkins.
I’m not going to try and find an explanation why New York, Chicago and Philadelphia are on the list and great beer towns like Portland, Seattle and San Diego are not. And why are the rest, apart from London, all Scandinavian cities? Sure, all are hotbeds of this century’s craft beer revolution and in the case of Scandinavia combined with high tech savviness. But a deeper explanation is more for the sociologists and demographers to provide us.
What caught my eye specifically are the two cities in the Netherlands that made the list. That Amsterdam is on there should not be that surprising. The city is small, smaller than you’d think with only about 750,000 people living here. It does attract people from all over the world and has a great beer scene. It has the perfect beer trifecta with great bars (e. g. Arendsnest, Beer Temple, In De Wildeman), shops (Sterck, Bierkoning) and breweries (‘t IJ, Walhalla, Oedipus and many more). Even in a year with far fewer tourists because of corona this can be explained, also with the high usage of Untappd and tech savviness in general. Our society is in many ways structured like a Scandinavian country and when they pop up in ‘best living in the world for this and this reason’ lists we often are on it as well.
The second city on the list is Utrecht, a city of little over 300,000 people. This is not as surprising as it seems. It is the fourth city in the country after Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague but the latter two cities have a small craft beer scene, nothing compared to Utrecht.
In the last decade I have often compared Utrecht to Portland on this blog, they are sister cities for a reason! When the beer revolution also enveloped the Netherlands this city and the surrounding eponymous province already had a great number of breweries. Now it can boast six breweries alone that rank among the country’s best: Van De Streek, Kromme Haring, Eleven, Oproer, Maximus and De Leckere all brew in the city and have their beers in bars and stores not only in the Netherlands but in other countries as well.
The beer bar scene is equally impressive with the legendary DeRat, België, Ledig Erf, Drie Dorstige Herten and that is just a small part of what’s available. You can have a perfect night out drinking very special beers without setting foot in any of these bars. Stores like De Bierverteller, Zuylen and Little Beer Shop offer a wide variety of great beer to buy. Most cities are lucky to have just one great store, Utrecht has many.
And because tourism does not play that big a part in checking in beers you know that the number of beer fans with good beer knowledge in the city is high.
Untappd only proved in numbers what we have known for a decade, Utrecht is the Netherlands’ #1 beer city, with Amsterdam a very close second.
*** UPDATE ***
I was just about to publish this when I saw that the big six of Utrecht brewing decided to have a 24 hour festival in the last weekend of January. For more information visit the Facebook page.
Beer in 2020 is more than just an alcoholic beverage. What started out as a necessary food product (as it was safer to drink than water) later became the luxury product it still is today. Like any product it has gone through its own evolution in technology and societal status. In this century too a whole new subculture has evolved around it, and beer has gained a new meaning and message.
A few decades ago it was a singular product meant for the (mostly white) man and it was advertised as such. It is shaped by the times, but some changes – notably the changing role of women – it has been completely oblivious to.
Women for centuries were invisible in the beer world, if present at all. They were the brewers up to the late Middle Ages before the industry got more professional. If they were still brewing they likely inherited the brewery from their late husbands. Right until the 19th century they were often the people selling it in cafes. But the big brewers, the ones that got wealthy, were almost always men.
These days most brewers and brewery owners are still men. Even the specialty beer cafés and shops are often run by men. But I see more and more women finding a place in the world of beer. How they are treated in general here in the Netherlands is something I don’t know too much about. This is a better topic for a separate post in the future, but it is something not written about extensively yet.
What I do see are the pictures on bottles and the names of breweries and beers. And this is something that I want to address here, also because it still relatively unknown outside our borders.
Whenever I bring up the sexist language and imagery rife in beer marketing, an often heard reply is: yes, sex sells. And often with this line the conversation is over. It just is that way and it will always be so. This ‘let boys be boys’ mentality leads to inaction. Inaction leads to a sense that whatever you do or whatever objections you may raise, there won’t be a lot of backlash so let’s keep going. But what impact does this pervasive messaging have on women generally, and particularly on women in the beer industry?
Below are a few examples of names that I have come across lately that have sparked my interested. I do not mean this article as on all-encompassing deeply researched article into (sometimes unwitting and latent) sexism in beer, but with each new post on this issue I want to bring four examples. And today we have some cringey examples. These are the first four, but I will keep posting more.
Not even the name of a beer but of an entire contract brewery from Nijmegen. It is an utterly disgusting name for a brewery. The literal English translation is Manporridge, and is almost exclusively used in smutty porn magazines. It scores a double whammy for stupidity: on the one hand it is a sexist/pornographic name, and on the other hand it again reinforces that beer is somehow by and for men.
Mannenpap made a collaboration with Dutch Bargain a while back with the name Menage Sacch Trois… the name itself you can still consider tongue in cheek funny. But why is this label necessary?
Making beer together is an intimate moment, especially with three people. With a lot of sweat and grunting this collab with Mannenpap reaches a climax.
Beer for men
Another brewery that did not get the memo is a new brewery called Bier Door Mannen. The guys (did you really think otherwise?) were drinking beer but missed a ‘real man’s beer’. Whatever that means. And do you really feel so insecure? Their website even claims that it is brewed for men and call it the ultimate beer for men. What that is, is beyond me.
A brewery that otherwise has an overall decent and wholesome look did release a beer called Blonde Snol, translated best I guess as Blonde Bimbo. The label…. Well see for yourself.
And please scroll down for some more interesting labels.
“True love goes through the throat” is the tagline when you go to their website. One of the beers is called the Hitsig Hertje, the horny little deer. Is this for a David Attenborough nature documentary? No, the Hertje is slang for a female student in Leiden. “Enjoy and treat your tongue!” with this beer by student brewery Bracque.
If the brewers and breweries don’t decide to change these offensive names then it should be taken up a step. Distributors, cafés and shops can decide not to stock beers with offensive names. Better yet the consumer can decide not to buy this.
The Great British Beer Festival decided to ban bottles with sexist labels and names. The Dutch organization where most small craft breweries are combined (craftbrouwers.nl) has mentioned nothing about this. Sexist labels and names were still allowed to be judged in the Dutch Beer Challenge. In a reaction the Dutch Beer Challenge said: we didn’t see them this year, and besides we only judge beer. Bier door Mannen won a medal by the way, and winning a medal comes with extra publicity and sales.
The whole idea that beer is for men only, or that certain types of beer are perfect for women is an old fashioned, 20th century way of thinking. Fruit beers were once for women, but the recent sour movement has shown that sour and fruity appeals to everyone. If anything the lazy and backward marketing of the big brewers in the latter half of the 20th century has created a world where beer was for men and men alone.
I have seen discussions about this, and actual things being done in most of the English speaking world. Here it remains quiet. Too quiet. We can change this, let’s start with not buying beers with offensive names and offensive labels. Drinkers could let the breweries know that some names and labels are considered offensive. When I contacted CRAFT about this they only said they did not receive any complaints from their members, the smaller breweries in the country. Their American counterpart is lightyears ahead. They started talking about this at least two years ago. Here in Holland no one in the business is willing to take any action. But you as drinkers of beer can change things. Let them know, and let’s open the discussion.
Last year Heineken took a step into the Dutch craft beer world by buying into Oedipus. This raised some eyebrows. Not necessarily from Heineken’s side because it makes business sense but more from Oedipus’ side, as written about before. This and Heineken’s datamining company/online beer store BeerWulf means they are taking big steps into the craft beer market. They are also working together with a few smaller breweries like Oadaen but also Rotterdam’s Noordt, a bigger brewery.
This week they struck again by buying the Texelse Bierbrouwerij. Yes, they bought the entire brewery, not just a stake. Texels has been brewing excellent, yet middle of the road, beers since 1999. Their market is mostly in the western part of the country and on the heels of their Skuumkoppe, which is an undeniably nice beer. A dunkelweizen that Heineken doesn’t really have in their portfolio.
This deal is not part of the expected wave of takeovers of small breweries by bigger breweries when the small ones start to falter during Covid. This deal was about a year in the making and considering Texel’s position in the beermarket with Skuumkoppe and Heineken’s strong position in bars it was something that to me seemed only logical to happen one day.
Of course in the press releases you hear the same old stories about expertise, distribution and ‘the best possible partner’. Just like the facts that the brewery is staying on Texel and all employees will keep their job. For now… history has shown in the USA and the UK that this is not always the case.
Details about the money changing hands have not been released. Sure, it is sad to see an independent brewery leave for the money, but after 21 years it does make some sense.
Sad? Absoutely, but Texels beer occupied the market between the big pilsner breweries and people who are slightly more adventurous. It is when the good IPA brewers, sour blenders and stoutmakers get calls from the green giant that we should be more frightened.
The bars and restaurants have been closed now for about two weeks. It was another blow for an industry that wasn’t doing too well since the reopening earlier this year. Some anger has been aimed towards the government for closing these places, but not shops or schools. On Facebook on Saturday I read remarks about the closed bars but very crowded streets. This is not helping. The Dutch people still think their right to move about is more important than someone else’s right to live and breathe. The hospitals are getting full and we started moving people to Germany already.
Last week I read a post from Jeroen Carol-Visser. Former chairmain of PINT (our version of Camra I guess) and now owner of the wonderful bar De Goudse Eend in Gouda. His post was exactly who I, and many others with me, think of the whole situation. With his permission I translated it for you to read:
“Fine. Again we are forced to close closure.
The bar and restaurant industry is once again a victim of stricter measures. As an entrepreneur again I have to look for a way to survive. And why? Because people just don’t want to listen.
I would like to thank you very much for that. Thanks for not listening to the five feet (1.5 meter) rule. Thanks for not meeting in groups. Thanks for not having a party at home, Thanks for the “yes we 12 are all part of the same household”. Thanks for the “oh I’ll grab a chair, so you can still get in between”
Thank you, you who think that rules do not apply to you.
Rules have always been drawn up. And YOU only had one job. STICK TO THE RULES.
Was it so difficult to keep that 1.5 meter distance for a while?
Or YOU colleagues in hospitality, did you really have to sit those 8 guys together at a table on that larger terrace? You understand that that was not a household, don’t you?
And do you own that large business with a mega terrace extension? Wasn’t that good enough? Why were guests allowed to sit shoulder to shoulder with you?
Using and implementing the rules is not difficult. All you need is discipline. Just do it.
For now we are closed again. We have to. Sitting in a corner and crying isn’t going to help my business.
Soon, someday, we may open again. And may I hereby make an appeal to you? Just stick to the rules. Not for me, not for you, but for society.
If together we can give the virus such calm waters that it is not gone but let it be infected now and then, we can continue living. Everything van run again and we can have a society where we learn to live with a deadly virus.
If we all just keep paying attention we can do this.
This is a sentiment shared by me and others. The freedoms we enjoyed and have taken for granted have brought this country a lot. Now people don’t want to give it up. A form of selfishness that at this stage is not helping us beat this virus.
And oh, if you are in Gouda getting cheese and stroopwafels, make an effort to visit Jeroen’s bar. Whenever I am in the position to do so again you will find me there.
So stay home if you don’t have to and follow the rules!
On Tuesday (October 13) the government decided to once again close all bars and restaurants for at least four weeks. The number of corona infections has risen rapidly in the last few weeks. So rapidly in fact that the Netherlands (and Belgium) are now among the nations with the highest number of daily infections. For two weeks the government tried to curtail it by adding a few minor restrictions. They did not help. To prevent the hospitals being swamped by corona patients everything is done to not have too many people in the same space.
Bars and restaurants already had a difficult time during the spring when everything closed. The intervening period wasn’t great with fewer tourists and people who were still apprehensive to show up. Sure the government will try and help out but some owners will decide to pull the plug after this new setback.
So who is to blame for all of this? The government could have been more strict in their decisions. They were not very clear about what needed to be done. Where other countries have strict lines of number of infections that when crossed will lead to new restrictions we decided not to. Prime minister Rutte seems to rely on the common sense of people. But the people let him down. Where in most countries people just did what they needed to do we flaunt the rules and social constructs and just do what we want. Seemingly without any regard for those around us. We complain that we are restricted in our freedom. Yet no other country in Europe has as much freedom to move around as we do.
The breweries seem to have done ok. The first lockdown period made them aware that setting up online shops and pickup points would help and it did. The sales of bottles went up as well with people opting to drink more at home and not in bars. They will likely survive the next phase as well, though the breweries with pubs will have it harder.
The police union has suggested that the best thing to do would be a complete prohibition of alcohol sales. Alcohol seems to play a part in the spread of the virus. Bars closed at 10 at night for a while and huge lines formed in front of supermarkets for people to get beer and continue drinking and partying at home. And yes, it seems alcohol at the moment is doing more bad than good with huge outbreaks happening during parties, sometimes in cafes. Sure, not the more thinking people of IPA and sour drinkers but still. And if you read this and are afraid you won’t have enough alcohol for the coming weeks then maybe you should get help first before raiding the supermarket for some Schultenbrau.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to the total ban of alcohol sales. This would mean that many more people will lose their jobs. With around 600 breweries in this country (not all professional) many depend on the income of selling beer. And let’s not even start thinking about all the liquor store owners, employees, suppliers etc. With bars closed shops are the only remaining thing.
How can you help
Stay the f&#* at home! And if you do have to leave the house wear a facemask. The sooner we get the hospitals empty again the better. In the meantime buy your beer directly from the brewery or from a local liquor store. Some (beer) distributors have opened the doors too for private buyers. Check out in your area what is available. And think of those around you. We can do this!
Corona has changed the way we consume. Beer is no different. Bars are not open as long as before and many of us have opted to drink more beer at home.
The shops have remained open so we were always able to get our beer. However for those living outside of the bigger cities, like me, it has been harder. I am fortunate that I have an excellent beer store in the tiny 5000 people village I live in, that’s De Zwart in case you are interested. Without a car and not wanting to lug around heavy bags of bottles I decided to order beer online.
I randomly picked 7 different stores, all small and independent. Of the shops six were from the Netherlands, and I bought beer from the U.K. on one occasion.
At first I thought I would review all the stores separately. But I am sticking to some points that I noticed or have made me thing about the whole process. And let’s say some things might need to change if the independent stores want to fight Beerwulf (Heineken) or Hopt (InBev).
With the box of beer I ordered beer from Bierloods22 in Woerden came a postcard with a handwritten note. It might be a small thing but it means they took some time to do so. It also had my name on it so you know they wrote it on the spot. It makes you feel appreciated as a customer.
Another personal touch is letting your customer know that the delivery will be delayed. Premier Hop, the only UK store I bought from, did this. Not that I even cared one bit but it is nice to see they are thinking of you. The order came days sooner than a delivery from a Dutch store I placed on the same day. One of the cans I bought from them exploded. A combination of some carbonation problem I think and extremely hot temperatures. I let both them and the brewery know and within minutes the money was refunded. Classy.
In one other case I had to email what was happening with my order and it felt as if my email restarted the process again. Let’s just say I would order beer from Bierloods again and not from this store.
All orders came on time. With one order the store was waiting for one of the bottles to be delivered. Fine but I would have preferred knowing this in advance so that I had the option to either pick another beer. With smaller stores you have to take into account that if you place on order on Sunday it might take longer. Stores are not always open on Monday so they may only start making the orders on Tuesday. A good store should mention this on the website. Most did. The Speciaalbierpakket store in Leiden made the promise that any order before 21:00 would be delivered the next day. And it was. This was the second time I ordered beer on their website and I would happily do it again. And as I mentioned in the previous paragraph an order from the UK arrived here days before an order made on the same day at store in the Netherlands.
Have what you say you have
Too often it happened that I ordered beers online that were not available after all. I would get emails back either with the question of picking other beers and getting the difference back, or a list of beers I could choose from with the same value as the ones that were not available. Fine by me because I am not too picky. A CMR system that automatically subtracts both store buys and online buys and corrects this on the website can be a hassle and a investment. However it offers a lot in return. Better for the store, better for the customer but also for the suppliers. But I also admit it is a small thing and I was happy with the way the stores handled it.
I bought beers from stores in Friesland and Groningen and was very happy that they stocked beers from local breweries. Things that never will make it to the stores in Amsterdam and Utrecht. Even stores in Leiden tend to have very local things too that don’t make it over here. And buying local is more important than ever these days to keep the beer culture all over the country vibrant.
Not all webpages worked perfectly. In some cases after putting one bottle or can in the basket going back a page made you end up on the front page again. Annoying if you were only looking for beers from a certain country or in a certain category. One store was brazen enough to email me back saying ‘well it works on my phone’. Sure, but it should work on all platforms. The store will remain unnamed, but I won’t be buying beer there.
Some stores have been very good on social media showing what is new. Little Beer Shop and Just In Beer for example pepper Instagram with cool, self-made, shots of new beers. Keeping the name of the store in the minds of people and showing you constantly renew is only a good thing.
Better for brewers
Buying at smaller independent stores is also better for the brewers. Webshops owned by multinationals (Heineken is 100% owner of Beerwulf, InBev owns hopt.nl and more in the UK) often ask for a bigger discount than the smaller stores. So breweries might sell a bit more in bulk, but get less per bottle sold. By supporting the smaller stores you are also helping the brewers.
A good store should I think have the following: a good selection with plenty of local options. Good personal communication that makes you feel valued and a good working website. I will keep buying beer from most of these stores.
Stores I bought from, with one positive note
Bierloods22 in Woerden. Great selection and the personal touch is awesome
Little Beer Shop in Utrecht. Great and fast service and a good selection too, rotates.
Just In Beer. Happy to see a lot of local stuff and other cracking IPA’s.
Specialbierpakket winkel Leiden. Best website , fast service, great selection, fair prices.
Premier Hop. Fast in both service and delivery. UK beers not available here.
Specialbierwinkel. Lot of local Northern beer.
Sterk. Varied selection, some local Amsterdam beers and amazing selection.
Someone asked me the other day how long I have been writing about beer. Some sleuthing online and rummaging through some old files leads me to believe that the first time I published something on what was then still the Dutch Beer Pages was ten years ago. Probably about Wispe. So this means I can celebrate my decade long beer writing anniversary!
Things have changed dramatically in this decade. In the beginning I could just send a couple of questions through email and get great answers back. Breweries then were often still one man operations and the brewers were often very enthusiastic about their craft and just very happy someone had shown an interest. For some I was apparently even the first interview. I remember some of the very first ones being Wispe and Vat 13. The former now has a great brewery in a church in their hometown Weesp while Vat 13 no longer exists. And these are two examples of how it has gone the last ten years. Almost all the breweries I interviewed either started their own brewery (many were gypsy brewers) or folded. Some of the most successful stories I wrote about for example are ‘t Uiltje, Bax, Rooie Dop (now Oproer), VandeStreek, Kompaan, Oersoep and Gooische. The better the brewer, the more passionate the replies I got.
Writing about beer has brought me to cities and towns I would never have dreamed of visiting. Every short trip or vacation became a trek to find local beer. And by looking for that beer I discovered a lot more in my own country as well. And made friends along the way.
Yet is was never my intention to write about the breweries alone. You can brew all you want but you need fans of your beer and they need to get the beer from somewhere. That is why I have always tried to also write about the bars and shops that sell the beer. They have also seen the changes happening.
The quality of the beer has gotten better significantly. The time of exploding bottles and weak beer seems to be mostly over. The standard of Dutch beer has gone up, but the influx of beer from other countries is bigger now as well. Every bar or restaurant I go to now has at least something local. Utrecht then was already a hub for great beer and it still is today. Other cities have also caught on but I am lucky to live between Amsterdam and Utrecht.
I have enjoyed writing and chronicling the Dutch “craft” beer revolution. I have put craft in quotation marks because I don’t really think this is the right term anymore. That is why you won’t see me use it a lot anymore. Another thing you won’t see me do is write about what I think of a certain beer. Flavor is something personal. A nicely made tripel or blonde might be great but I will likely never enjoy it as much as a double ipa or an imperial stout. I will leave that to others. My blog is not about me but about the great and varied group of people that has worked hard the last ten years to make beer into the multi million euro business that it is today.
And I will keep writing about it and inform you about the people and places that make up Dutch brewing. And in English so that everyone can understand what great beer we make here.
It has been a blast these last ten years, let’s add at least ten more.
I don’t know exactly when I first saw Anthony Bourdain on TV. It must have been one of the first episodes of No Reservations on the Discovery Channel. He visited Iceland and even though it wasn’t much for food I kept watching having once been to this country. His somewhat sarcastic outlook, his willingness to try everything and his fondness for 70s punkrock struck a chord. When I started writing about beer he was a big influence. I knew that a slew of food allergies would prevent me from ever writing about food as he did, but I could tackle beer at least. The shows turned me onto his books. Both his television work and books were about more than just the food, they were also about the role that food played in the culture, sometimes he even went as far as to completely forgo the food and just talk about the history and culture of a part of the world. And my aim has always been to show the role beer and everything related to it plays in the world.
Then came the sad news that he took his own life while filming in France.
He never visited The Netherlands for an hour long episode of any of his shows and I can understand that. His only visit to Amsterdam was in 1970 when he, like so many other around that time, slept in the Vondelpark. Living here is great and the food is great too, but the local delicacies are few and not really worth a trip for. He did record an episode of The Layover where he stays in a city for 36 hours and eats and visits places. And in those 36 hours he basically ate what all tourists though. Some snacks but nothing earth shattering. Some cafes, pancakes, herring and yes even the FEBO. If you like fried stuff and have never been here visit one of these. It’s a wonderful smorgasbord of fried stuff with influences from Indonesia, America, Germany and more.
But there is one part of the episode that is very exciting. For a few hours he visited In De Wildeman. He sat outside with Dutch actor Cees Geel and drank beers. And for once he actually seems to enjoy sitting somewhere and not be part of the touristy nightmare that it most of Amsterdam. No more talk of prostitutes, herring and drugs.
A person on the local production staff always liked In De Wildeman and somehow got it into the show. And he really is as long as they say in the city. No fancy editing or lying. 36 hours is 36 hours. If you seem him tired and cranky, it is because he is.
Beer is a common thread throughout all of Bourdain’s work. When you watch an episode, notice that he is usually drinking a beer at a meal. Whether this is in Europe or his beloved South-East Asia, a bottle of cold beer is usually standing on the table. Wine and spirits only when the item in the show is particularly about it.
After the episode aired, and especially after his death, people who visit Amsterdam sometimes try and visit all the places that Bourdain went to on his short trip. And of course In De Wildeman is part of that pilgrimage. Quite often people come up to the In De Wildeman staff to say they are there because of Bourdain.
The few hours spent there is what every traveler to Amsterdam should do. A quiet oasis of bliss in an otherwise overcrowded city.
Oh, and about that smoking of the weed you are probably wondering about? Throughout the episode he jokingly abstains from doing it, because of television rules and regulation in the US. But legend has it he did go smoke afterwards. And that it wasn’t a short time…
My second destination my first day back in Amsterdam was Walhalla. The trip from In De Wildeman to Walhalla is a short one, but does include a 5-minute ferryride across the IJ river. Because this is public transport a facemask is obligatory. Life is turning back to normal slowly but there are small signs everywhere that the corona pandemic is not over, the mask being one of those.
When I was at In De Wildeman earlier that day I saw Walhalla’s Loki being poured the most. Proof that Walhalla has turned into one of Amsterdam’s premier breweries, when a world-renowned bar serves your beer in these quantities.
The moment I step through the door I recognize that familiar smell. The thick, slightly sweet odor of brewing. I am in Amsterdam-Noord to fulfill a wish and promise I have had for over two years now: to visit the Walhalla brewery. Owner Aart looks on while two employees are brewing. The Loki is on the schedule today it turns out.
I move into the adjoining taproom and look around. About 15 minutes later Aart joins me. Inevitably the conversation turns to how Walhalla faired while all the bars were closed.
Almost immediately after the bars closed they put their webshop online. This turned out to be a great move. The staff that usually took care of the bar now made the packages that they themselves delivered all over Amsterdam. Fans also came by to pick up beer, fans who really supported their locals. Through a deal with BeerWulf they were able to turn their kegs of leftover beer into two liter growlers that were sold for hometaps. A nice cooperation that benifits all.
Of course he, like every other brewer, feared in the beginning how it would end but things went more than fine. Shops and supermarkets kept ordering and people kept drinking Walhalla beer. But having the doors open is the best.
Let’s return to the brewery for a second. 6 smaller tanks line the wall and a beautiful wood-finished mashtun immediately catches the eye. Walhalla only brews beer for kegs and cans at this premise. A mobile canning company comes by every so often from Luxemburg and cans the beer. Corona postponed this one time and Walhalla was able to use fellow Amsterdam brewery Poesiat + Kater’s canning machine. Once again showing that breweries are colleagues and not competitors.
This is not the first brewery Aart has made beer in. Before this he occupied a refurbished changing room of local football team. This was when he was still half of brewery De Vriendschap (The Friendship). It was even before this location that I interviewed him first and to see this amazing progress is wonderful. When this brewery folded he made a restart as Walhalla. From being a musician he is now a full-time brewery owner. The theme of gods is also part of the entire look of the labels and the names of the beers. There are names like Loki, Heimdall, Osiris and Aphrodite to name just a few. And he barrel ages too under the Daemon line with excellent results already 11 different versions through the years.
While Aart and I were talking the staff was slowly setting up the bar and the tables outside for the 4pm opening. The 1.5 meter taped lines still visible on the floor inside and ground outside. They got permission to use a piece of barren land across the street which should be great during nice warm summer evenings. And if you want to sit inside you need to leave a name and email address, just in case something corona related happens again. It is one of those things to get used to, just like asking if people have had coronatype symptoms in the last 24 hours.
But don’t let the ferry or the social distancing rules hold you back. Walhalla is a great spot for beer lovers. Oh, and make sure to get a tasting paddle. Not just for the great beer but the board itself is already a small work of art. The W of Walhalla lends itself for this perfectly. I really should have visited a lot earlier…
My next time definitely won’t take another two years.
In the last article I wrote about how the corona crisis affected the breweries. Today I want turn your attention to how it is affecting the Specialty Beer Cafés. It might be slightly different in other bars but because I have always considered these to be one of the engines of the Dutch Beer Revolution they deserve special attention.
When corona hit
The government’s decision to close all bars and restaurants meant that the doors had to close and personnel sent home. For the bars with personnel on the payroll there are ways of keeping them on the payroll with the 90% funding, but that still means different costs for vacationtime for example. And let’s not forget the rent and utilities, even though they will not have spent much on electricity.
Some bar owners only have employees with so-called 0-hour contracts. You work for the number of hours assigned to you that week and that is. There are fewer attachments to an employer for example. If you are sick for two days you don’t get paid for those two days. This is one difference with the full contract workers. If you have a bar and also a number of full contract workers you are in a bigger bind. Most owners can run the bar themselves for now, especially because many of the specialty beer bars are not huge places and there will only be a maximum number of guests.
Two weeks ago there was some good news. Restaurants and bars can now open again but with only 30 people max and with social distancing of 1,5 meters, or 5 feet. This is great news of course but it does mean some changes and new ways to do this.
Making money while shut
The closure has led many an owner to come with some inventive ways to still generate some income. The most often seen wat was to sell beer packages. Bring the beers a guest cannot have in the bar to the guest at home. Sometimes including bar nuts and a deck of cards like De Koffer in Groningen has been doing. The owner and maybe one or two employees could be seen driving all over the city to deliver these packages.
In some cases they could still make around 20% of the usual income, but it also meant still paying employees in some cases and having them be busy with a delivery for parts of the day. But it did keep them busy, in contact with other people in the business and it kept the name alive. This last fact could be a very important one down the line.
The near future: 30 people max
I spoke to Rob Alphenaar for some general insight, about what he will do in the near future and how he sees the role of Specialty Beer Cafes in this. Why Rob? Well, apart from being the owner of Haarlem beer bar Het Lokaal (and before that the fairly legendary Café Briljant) and owner of gypsy brewery Briljant he is also the chairman of the ABT (the alliance of beer serving bars), a group of Specialty Beer Café’s all over the country. Being a part of this means a certain standard of excellence and knowledge.
Bar owners can only reopen when they can be sure that opening will be more beneficial than staying home and use the money that the government can give you. So things need to be done to be sure that opening the bar for the day or night makes the most sense.
Bars can only have a maximum of 30 people in the establishment at once. These 30 people have to sit at least 1,5 meters away from each other, apart from people who live in the same household. So meeting a friend in a beer bar? Sure, but he better sit 1,5 meters away from you.
The government has also decided that you can only enter when you make a reservation. Rob is thinking of having sessions. Guests can book a table and in some cases will get a tasting menu. This way he knows there is guaranteed income. One guest taking 2,5 hours to finish an Imperial Stout is all fine and well, but won’t pay the bills. A reservation, maybe partly prepaid, could solve part of that. Another advantage of this that you can thoroughly clean the place between shifts. It also takes care of too much movement in front of the cafés.
Then screens need to be put up. Plastic screens between people and maybe at the bar as well. If there are no screens you need to figure out what 1,5 meters exactly is and cordon certain areas off.
Many of the specialty beer bars are often small tiny and can only fit 30 people while full anyway. For them it’s going to be harder. Bars will have to offer something special. Not just drinking a few beers but an experience of beer. This is something Rob says the ABT café’s can really offer. Every ABT café has the knowledge, and the beers, to make sure guests will have a pleasant evening with great beer and stories about that beer. They are not the type of bar where people try and break the world record for drinking lager in one hour. In face, whenever I ask owners if they have to throw drunk people out the answer is almost always: hardly ever.
Are the people working in the bars safe? That remains a question because for them it is impossible to keep to the 1,5 meters and will have to come close to the guests.
The national group of bar and restaurants have some guidelines but they are confusing at times. Not everyone I have talked to is completely certain what to do so they will have to do the best they can. But Rob sees this crisis having some positive side effects, like showing the customer what extra things a specialty beer bar can offer.
So when you are thinking of visiting a bar again, let the specialty beer café personnel give you 2 or 2,5 hours that will be unforgettable.