The Rise of German Beer

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

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

The Advantages

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

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

The Third Wave

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

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

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

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

Amsterdam

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

TAVERNO WILLI BECHER

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

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

Taverno Willi Becher Website.

IN DE WILDEMAN

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

In De Wildeman website

CAFÉ BRECHT

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

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

Café Brecht Website

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

Oproer: Rising from the Ashes

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

Things were going fine until the disasters.

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

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

And then another disaster hit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The plans for the new Oproer Beer Café

Fort Everdingen up and running

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lockdown Part 3: a bar owner’s response

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.

Thanks.”

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!

Lockdown Part 2

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.

Blame

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.

Breweries

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.

Prohibition?

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!

Support your local brewer, especially in these strange times

On Sunday afternoon, March 15, the Dutch government took the unprecedented step of closing all restaurants and bars and to keep children home. What followed was a frantic hour-and-a-half to give customers their last meals and drinks before closing the door at 6 pm. This will last until at least April 6th although no one seems to believe things will open again a day later. Corona is here and it will stay for the time being.

That night instagram and facebook were full of pictures of unlit, empty bars. Chairs and stools on tables, not a customer in sight. The streets in Amsterdam and Utrecht, always busy with locals and tourists, are now mostly empty.

No customers means no income. The government is now trying to everything in its power to try and keep all businesses running. People will still be paid and businesses will not have to pay their taxes immediately. Banks are not asking small businesses to pay back their loans straight away but have halted this for 6 months. I will never vote for any of the political parties in the cabinet right now but they are trying to keep the country running. Sometimes it is a good thing to live in one of the richest countries in the world.

This governemt is also not standing in the way of any ideas to keep getting an income. Many breweries are now selling beer online or are driving around the city delivering beer. Or you can just drive to the brewery and buy it yourself directly from the brewery. This has to be done to keep things running, some breweries had 0 orders last week. If you don’t have bottles in a supermarket things are going to get very tough. Beer festivals have all been canceled until at least early May.

This crisis is going to change the world where we live in. We don’t know when it will be over and we don’t know how we are going to get out of this. But it is going to be naieve to think that in a year the same breweries and bars will still be around. Some tanks will fall dry and breweries will end operations.

And what can we do? As has been the mantra these last few years: support your local brewer! Bring your favorite bar to you! Some bars offer packages that they can bring to you, peanuts and games included. Order some beer at a local brewery and have them deliver it. The big guys will be fine once this corona thing is over (including Corona), but it is the smaller ones that will suffer. Support them now if you can. Let’s beat this together and keep beer culture alive.

I cannot visit places in the coming weeks, but I will see if I can still post things online now and again.

Take care my friends and hold on. Most of you will be fine, but you can seriously hurt others around you. And remember that the party that will happen once live has returned to normal will be epic.