Beer in Monuments

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

A top 5 of Monumental Beer Places

De Waag, Doesburg

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

In de Blaauwe Hand, Nijmegen

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

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

Fort Everdingen

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

Olivier, Utrecht

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

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

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

Brouwerij ‘t IJ, Amsterdam

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

Leeuwarden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the Data Stupid!

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

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

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

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

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

What is the 21st century most important economic commodity:

DATA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beerwulf

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

Heineken Local

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

Heineken in Africa

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

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

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

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

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

What will Heineken’s next step be?

Dutch Mega Collab 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Utrecht Beer Fest 2.0

My initial plan was for this article to be about the renewed Utrecht Beer Festival and how it is to visit a festival again as a visitor. But my former colleagues at Oproer roped me into standing behind the taps instead of in front of them so I spent a significant number of hours serving beer instead of sampling them. So I cannot give you a subjective overview of the state of brewing in Utrecht. This will come in separate articles over the coming months.

The festival was not the same as the UBBF I have written about so many times before. From humble beginnings next to a windmill in the center of Utrecht city it grew into a colossus that the last three years was held at a large event center at the northern edge of the city. And it was a festival with brewers from the entire province, and Utrecht has many of them.

The organizers however this year decided not to organize it and take the year off to think about how to continue. We wish them good luck, it would be sad to see this festival go but it was a big festival to organize and it might have grown out if its seams. May be great for the beerlover, for the breweries it was not always worth it because all the coins had to be spread out over 40 or more brewers.

This year the Van De Streek brothers decided to organize their own little Utrecht Beer Brewers festival with just 6 breweries, all from Utrecht City and all with their own brewing installation. 6 is still an impressive number of breweries. From the top of my head only Amsterdam has more now. Utrecht still is a main hub for great brewing. The six were De Leckere, Maximus, VanDeStreek, Oproer, Kromme Haring and newcomer Eleven.

The types of visitors

Standing behind the taps gives you a good insight in the type of visitors to a festival like this. Keep in mind that this festival attracted mostly locals. The weekend was also the start of the Dutch beer week so the beerlover had many opportunities all over the country to do something beer related.

The Newbie

The festival was held at the Vrijhaven Utrecht

There are always people who are at a beerfestival for the first time. They will stand before you not knowing anything. A sour and a stout are all just beer to them. These are the best ones to have because you can introduce them to something they have never tried before. Best beer to give in most cases is actually a Double IPA because it is both sweet, full of flavor and has good beer bitterness. Literally every book written about musicians in the 50’s and 60’s mention that special time they heard a song that was so special they had to pull over to the side of the road to listen to the song. Yes, I said literally every book. Look it up. No, don’t look it up, just believe me. Here you are hoping for someone who tries the sour and says ‘I have never tasted anything like this before’. The best would be for this person to sit down on a bench to softly cry thinking about how good this beer is.

The Fan

My view for parts of the day

Oproer brought two new beers. This attracted people already familiar with Oproer. There was a lot of interest especially for the Mixtape #3, a barrel-aged mixed fermentation beer. Also released this day was a new IPA called Uncut. Perfect for the warm day that this was. Social media made people aware of these two releases and it is always great to here they are already familiar with most of the beers but also want to try the news ones, like fans of a band waiting for a new song to be released. Hoping their favorite band made that one song that beats all the previous ones. Or in this case the beer that makes them silently weep, slowly diluting that perfect stout.

The Geek

The geek will often have a notebook and will try most of the beers they have not had before. Often they visit in groups so they can sample from each other. Sometimes they will systematically go down the list. I always wonder if they actually enjoy the beer or are just in it to fill their Untappd account with checkins. You will get the geeky questions about the types of hops used or the yeast. You do of course hope they come back later and try a full glass of a beer because it is really that good. So good that he sits down with his friends and bursts out crying explaining about how good that beer is.

The return customer

“I liked that one so much I want it again”. This is of course what you really want. In a time when there are thousands of beers available a lot of people tend to try different ones. At a festival it is always nice to see someone’s face a second or third time. Sometimes they try a different one, sometimes they keep drinking the same beer. Not really what I would do at a festival but hey, good for the brewers and hopefully they are going to chase it in the stores as well or visit your brewpub if you happen to have one. And at the brewpub they will choke up when they ask for that special beer they had at a festival one day that was so very very good.

Future

If the organizers of the ‘old’ Utrecht Beerbrewers festival decide to hold another one next year they would do well to look at the smaller version that Van De Streek organized. 40 is just too much. Why not let every brewery with their own installation in and rotate with the gypsy brewers. If they decide never to organize it again I hope this smaller festival will remain on the calendar. Or both ;).

Translating a Dutch Beer Label

This article was posted a few years ago on this blog when it was still called Dutch Beer Pages. 90% of what I wrote back then is not relevant anymore but this one still is.

If you are a non-Dutch speaker buying bottles from Dutch breweries it can often be a puzzle to figure out what the ingredients exactly are. So here I bring you a basic translation guide to Dutch beer labels!

Basic vocabulary

If you have heard or read any Dutch at all you will notice that with a good grasp of English you can translate most of the words. A good knowledge of German aids this even more significantly. The Dutch language is like on the map, stuck between English and German. This also explains why tourists coming here have a hard time finding anyone who doesn’t speak English. It really is our second language and we have no trouble using it. In fact we are so lazy that new words from English don’t even get a Dutch translation. Computer, Manager, smartphone all mean the same. In beer lingo it isn’t any different. Stouts, porters, IPA’s, DIPA’s, Saisons, Russian Stouts are the same here as they are in most of the brewing world. And the classic styles like dubbel and tripel are from Belgium where they also speak Dutch. To reach most of their drinkers many breweries don’t even bother writing the label in Dutch anymore but choose English from the get-go.

But just in case you do find a label in Dutch, here are some of the most used words.

Bier = beer. Surprising isn’t it?

Brouwerij = brewery. See the resemblance now between both languages? Gebrouwen door is brewed by.

Fles = bottle

Blik = can

Ten Minste Houdbaar Tot literally translates as ‘at least best before until’. It is the best before date.

Another pointer for storing the bottle is ‘koel en donker bewaren’: keep cool and dark.

Statiegeld = bottle refund. Most bottles now can be thrown in the glasbak (glass container found often near supermarkets), certain types of bottle still offer a ten cent refund and in rare cases 25. The bigger craft breweries like Jopen, Uiltje, De Molen and Emelisse use non-refundable bottles. If you live here, take all your bottles to the supermarket and try feeding them to the bottle return machine. Even labels that say there is no statiegeld might give you a return of 10 cents. After a while you will figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Bier van hoge gisting = is a beer with top fermentation. If the description is lage instead of hoge it means the opposite.

Kan gluten bevatten = May contain gluten. Gluten vrij means gluten free.

Inhoud

Bottles of beer are 33 centiliters. That’s little over 11 oz for you on the other side of the ocean. Occasionally you will find larger ones like 50cl and 75cl. Some of the more commercial bigger breweries may have smaller bottles of 25cl. The size will be translated as ‘inhoud’. In the last year the number of Dutch breweries who put their beer in cans, mostly in 33 centiliters as well. And yes ‘gebotteld’ means bottled.

Ingredients

It is here that the words start to become a different. Water and hop are Water and hops. The names of the grains are different:

  • Gerst = Barley
  • Tarwe = Wheat
  • Rogge = Rye
  • Boekweit = Buckwheat
  • Rijst = Rice
  • Mais = Corn
  • Spelt and Emmer are the same

Mout = malt.
Geroosterd = roasted.
Gerookte = smoked
zuur = sour.

Other often used ingredients:

Suiker = sugar

  • Rietsuiker = canesugar
  • Kristalsuiker = crystallized or granulated sugar
  • Kandijsuiker = candied sugar

Gist = Yeast. It may be the hardest beer word to pronounce in Dutch. It is pronounced like ‘jist’ if that was a Spanish word.

Other ingredients:

Other ingredients I have come across:

Zeewier = seaweed

Zoethout = liquirice root

Sinaasappel = orange (and bloed means blood)

Jeneverbes = juniperberry

Korianderzaad = coriander / cilantroseed

Specerijen = spices

Citroengras = lemongrass

Honing = honey

Kruiden = herbs

Cat I, Cat II, III and Cat S

Every beer gets one of these categories. What does this actually mean? This is a purely Dutch categorization and done for taxation purposes. Taxes are paid according to the height of the Plato, but the actual Plato cannot be mentioned on the label. The four categories are:

  • III = Plato 1-7
  • II = 7-11
  • I = 11-15.5
  • S = 15.5 and upwards

Enjoy!

Welcome Back

Welcome my beer loving friends.

I don’t know if you remember me. For a long time I wrote a blog about Dutch beer. But about two and a half years ago I stopped. And for a great reason! I was one of the fortunate ones who made a hobby into a career. For two years I helped out Oproer, a brewery I was already a fan of before when they were still Rooie Dop and Ruig.

It was an experience that made me look at the world of beer from the inside. An experience that I think will be invaluable for the restart of what once were the Dutch Beer Pages. My plan about a decade ago was to build a site that gave the reader all the needed information about beer in Holland. But the number of breweries and cafes is now so vast that an attempt to be all encompassing will only lead to a huge muddled mess. And the name was rather lame right?

But the blog will still be about the world of Dutch brewing and the people who create, form and inhabit it. It will definitely not be about me. I see too many blogs where the focus seems to be on the writer and not the subject. So here is what I promise:

  1. No pictures of me. I don’t think your appreciation of a brewery, bar, or festival is in anyway enhanced with my face.
  2. No reviews of beer. Just read my rating on Untappd if you really want to know. Taste is very personal and I see no reason to tell you a particular beer makes me think of some long last candy from the 80s. Do you guys really read a page long review of an Amstel light? It will definitely be part of articles if I really like it, but never the focus.
  3. No style hierarchy. Of course I have my preferences. I will never be a triple fan and love Russian Stouts. But that doesn’t make one brewery less than the other. Only quality does. What I aim to find out is why a brewery chose to make a triple instead of DIPA. If they didn’t make both of course.

What I am going for is making the brewery or bar the main focus. Why do they do what they do? What has influenced them to take this route and how have their own views changed over the years. My former blog was always focused on telling the reader things that were new. Background or a deeper insight if you will. That will not change.

And this won’t only be about the present. I will also write about beer culture in the past. There are a lot of stories still untold about that as well. Maybe not for a local, but a lot of it has never really been told in English.

So I present to you: Hop Culture Reference. A blog on which I am going to attempt to tell you more about this wonderful sub-culture. Because of family and a fulltime job I don’t know how often I will write something. The aim is two new articles per month. I already have some things lined up. Follow the blog on all the social media I am using.

I am looking forward to writing again and I hope you are willing to read it once in a while. The blog will grow and change and I would like you all to be part of it. A lot has changed in a decade, let’s see what the beer world looks like now.

See you all soon.