Brewing with a View

As I stand on the dike that I can see for miles in all directions. There’s the Afsluitdijk to the left of, the 30 mile long dike with a highway on it that connects Friesland to Noord-Holland. Built in the 1930’s and making what was once a part of the sea into a lake. Far ahead I see the lighthouse of Vlieland and next to it Terschelling. The ferries taking tourists to these to popular vacation destinations both leave here. A bit closer I see modern yachts, older sailboats and every other kind of ship that you can think of. Behind me is the town of Harlingen, one of those typical Dutch villages that once was a city, walls and moats and all. And below me is the main reason for my visit: Het Brouwdok and it’s brewer Gerard.

Gerard is a proud product of Friesland, even though he has lived in the West working in IT he returned to his homeland to brew. He also started studying the one thing that is only taught in Friesland and that is the Frisian language. If the brewing doesn’t work out he can still do that. But so far, the brewing is high one and only profession.

As far as locations got it doesn’t get any better than this. It was also here, in the back of this huge structure, that Gerard started brewing. And with success because the brewery quickly grew and now there is this big, modern installation. Italian made and with a bottling line. It all looks beautiful and brand new. And with the huge ceiling and the light it shines.

Here are the Brouwdok beers (meaning Brewdock) brewed. But not every bottle and keg that leaves the brewery has a Brouwdok label. He also makes beer for others because this is unfortunately still needed. Good as a source of income, but it also means making beer for local breweries that sell it to bars and shops where his beer would fit as well. Because the beer is good. No brewing mistakes, nice and clean with good flavors.

The brewing side of Brouwdok really is a one man operation. He often does everything himself, including the bottling which I know from experience is better done with two or more people. He has one companion who takes care of the sales.

These beers that he does make are for the local market. And the local market is not as adventurous as the more populous Western part of the country. They love their blondes and triples here, so this is what he usually makes. There is no national distribution yet on any large scale. You can get the beers in Friesland and some other parts of the north but that is about it.

Name

The name might lead to a little confusion though and could turn out to be a slight problem in the future. The name was chosen because there was a big change they could move into the nearby Entrepotdok, the building used by customs to get goods into the country. This didn’t pan out however though they are still close to the sea. Another problem is that the new Brouwdok in Dutch sounds very much like Brewdog.

Tasting

If you don’t want to trek through all of Friesland to search for Brouwdok beers I suggest visiting the brewpub that is next to the brewery. Beautiful, wooden and light with direct access to the water. There are tables, couches to fall asleep on and a dog.  This is the real winner with all the beautiful views and most of all good beer. Tasting paddle is possible and the best way to sample the many taps of goodness. Of the beers that I have tried the Baltic porter and a smoked beer were my favorites.

It might take a while for Friesland to catch up but BrouwDok has the most exciting beers in Friesland that are made by a brewer himself. That alone should be worth the trip to Harlingen, the tasting room with amazing view is just a great extra.

Website of Het Brouwdok

Hardcore UFO

In the southern city of Eindhoven Van Moll has steadily been working over the last few years to become one of Hollands premier breweries. And like any brewery that considers itself a big player they have their own brewpub and festival. This festival has been held for a number of years now. Two years ago I had the honor of being at Van Moll Fest as a participant when I poured beer for Oproer. This year I decided to go both days, as a visitor.

The two day setup really works. The international breweries (from countries like the U.S.A, England, Belgium and more) were there for both days, the Dutch breweries one day only but the same number every day. That meant more breweries and of course even more beers to try.

The location is the same, under the shadow of a huge flying saucer looking building in Eindhoven called the Evoluon. This building was built in the early 1960’s to showcase technological advancement, with Phillips at the forefront. This Dutch multinational has had a huge part in shaping Eindhoven as it is today. It is no longer a museum but a building where congresses are held. And beer festivals.

Holding this beer festival at the Evoluon is fitting. Van Moll has been on the forefront of the new wave of Dutch brewing and has never shied away from innovation itself. And the breweries that were invited are cut from the same cloth. Forget your Belgian triple and blonde brewers. Beautiful stouts, IPA’s and maybe the best lineup of wild ales and sours that I have seen lately.

The entire Evoluon area is closed off by a moat and a fence, which mean that there was a lot of space to walk and sit. Something other festivals often lack. Even though this weekend the country was again hit by a heatwave, the third one this summer. There was enough water and people seemed to take it easy. 

The cream of the crop of Dutch brewing was present: De Molen, Jopen, Kompaan, Nevel, Oersoep and Het Uiltje to name just a few. Special mention though for De Moersleutel. During the days of my former blog they weren’t around yet so I never had a chance then to mention that this brewery from Alkmaar is my new favorite. They surprise you with stouts like De Molen once did. Their IPA’s and sours are also world class. And some local pride for me that two breweries from Amsterdam (Walhalla and Butcher’s Tears) and two from Utrecht (Kromme Haring and VandeStreek) were present.

Some of the best from the UK were here as well. Like previous years Wiper and True and Siren were here. But of all the newcomers for me extra praise for the beers of Central Waters. I had been chasing their beers for a while now and was happy to see more of them in bars and shops here. But to taste their XX stout was a moment of pure bliss and their other beers were world class every single time as well. 

With the great lineup of breweries and it being a two day event you cannot help yourself to compare it with Borefts. If I had the option of only going to one of them the room at Van Mollfest and the fact that is it held on Saturday and Sunday make me choose a trip to Eindhoven, even if Bodegraven is right around the corner from me. See you next time you weird huge UFO!

a magnificent Central Waters stout

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?

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 ;).