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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.