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.
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.
In 2020 worldnews was dominated by corona and its effects on society. The beer world was hit hard with bars and brewpubs closing in large parts of the world for a long time.
But there is a darker cloud that hangs over everything: our rapidly warming earth. A lot of things that we humans do are destroying the earth: gas powered cars, flying all over when a train will do, eating too much meat, cutting down forests… I can go on for a while. If the rest of the world would live like we do here in the West, we would need three earths worth of resources.
The beer world is trying to do their part by becoming more sustainable. Solar energy on the brewery, energy sufficient equipment, better produced ingredients and distribution with electric trucks are just a few examples. The grain left over after mashing often goes to animals who will eat the still very nutritious stuff. Sometimes bakers bake bread with the grain. Anything better then throwing it away in the trash.
In the Netherlands some breweries have started interesting projects to become more sustainable. Projects that deserve more attention. Attention I want to give them in a series about people in the Dutch beer world trying to do their part. In episode 1: Pieke Brood Bier. I spoke to founder Laura Nieboer about this interesting concept.
Who are they?
Pieke Brood Bier (Pieke Bread Beer) is part of the start-up Innowastion, a company trying to ‘give waste value’. Innowastion was started by Laura Nieboer after graduating from Maastricht University. Maastricht is where they are also based. It is now a three woman team with the addition of Karlijn and Joanna.
So how do they do fight waste with beer? Laura:
“It all started early 2018 when I realized how much bread we throw away in the Netherlands. We throw away around 12 whole loaves of bread per person per year. Knowing that so many people worldwide struggle to get (good) food I felt shocked by this statistic. As bread has a short shelf life due to its high water content, there are not many things you can do with bread. I wanted to show people the potential of food ‘waste’ beyond the obvious, such as making croutons or breadcrumbs out of it. Somehow, I made the connection between bread and beer, which was the start of the Pieke Broodbier adventure.“
“A friend and the internet taught me how to brew beer at home. After testing many batches, we finally had a nice beer. Taking a bit of a risk I decided it was time to brew it commercially at a local brewery here in Maastricht. We started with a batch of 300 litres, but soon due to its almost immediate success, we scaled up to 600 litres and later to the 1000 litres batches that we currently run.“
2020 saw the release of two batches of 1000 liter. They plan to brew at least that much in 2021 with maybe one batch more. If the bars can open again soon there is more chance of this.
Whenever they brew, at nearby Fontein brewery, they collect bread that would otherwise have been thrown away. Because of the many types of bread that they pick up every batch of Pieke Brood bier is slightly different every time. But this is something they know is part of the experience and adds a little extra. The beer as it is currently can best be described as a blonde beer or a golden ale.
Where to get it
For now Pieke Broodbier is for sale in some local (Maastricht) shops, bars and restaurants. They also supply three local markets every week. These markets are a good way to have direct contact with fans and customers: “An observation I can share from interacting with people at markets is that especially older males think our beer is not dark enough for their taste haha. They generally ask us why we brew an ale and not something stronger. Overall, the reactions we get are positive especially if people realise the positive impact they are making by buying and drinking Pieke Broodbier. “
Development continues on new beers and drinks. They are this year working on a new types of beers, often in collaboration with other parties. So who knows , this year we might see a new Piekebrood beer.
But Innowastion won’t focus on beer alone. The plan is to introduce new drinks made with waste this year. This has led to a name change. It is now Pieke Drinks, Pieke Broodbier will remain the name of the beer. So keep checking their social media channels for more.
She is not far enough yet to have Innowastion be a fulltime job. When it was founded she was still working on her masters, which she got at the end of 2020. Innowastion has not attracted investors or government help yet. They did win a Maastricht Student Entrepreneur Award in 2018 and got help from a business coach to set things up. But for now it is all own money. The profit from the first batch financed the second and so Pieke Brood Bier can be made.
The dream is that in the coming years Innowastion can be full-time activity. But as with many startups, the finance will have to come first.
So whenever you are in Maastricht seek out this wonderful initiative. We all need to do our part to combat the climate crisis, and why not enjoy a beer in the process?
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.
I don’t know exactly when I first saw Anthony Bourdain on TV. It must have been one of the first episodes of No Reservations on the Discovery Channel. He visited Iceland and even though it wasn’t much for food I kept watching having once been to this country. His somewhat sarcastic outlook, his willingness to try everything and his fondness for 70s punkrock struck a chord. When I started writing about beer he was a big influence. I knew that a slew of food allergies would prevent me from ever writing about food as he did, but I could tackle beer at least. The shows turned me onto his books. Both his television work and books were about more than just the food, they were also about the role that food played in the culture, sometimes he even went as far as to completely forgo the food and just talk about the history and culture of a part of the world. And my aim has always been to show the role beer and everything related to it plays in the world.
Then came the sad news that he took his own life while filming in France.
He never visited The Netherlands for an hour long episode of any of his shows and I can understand that. His only visit to Amsterdam was in 1970 when he, like so many other around that time, slept in the Vondelpark. Living here is great and the food is great too, but the local delicacies are few and not really worth a trip for. He did record an episode of The Layover where he stays in a city for 36 hours and eats and visits places. And in those 36 hours he basically ate what all tourists though. Some snacks but nothing earth shattering. Some cafes, pancakes, herring and yes even the FEBO. If you like fried stuff and have never been here visit one of these. It’s a wonderful smorgasbord of fried stuff with influences from Indonesia, America, Germany and more.
But there is one part of the episode that is very exciting. For a few hours he visited In De Wildeman. He sat outside with Dutch actor Cees Geel and drank beers. And for once he actually seems to enjoy sitting somewhere and not be part of the touristy nightmare that it most of Amsterdam. No more talk of prostitutes, herring and drugs.
A person on the local production staff always liked In De Wildeman and somehow got it into the show. And he really is as long as they say in the city. No fancy editing or lying. 36 hours is 36 hours. If you seem him tired and cranky, it is because he is.
Beer is a common thread throughout all of Bourdain’s work. When you watch an episode, notice that he is usually drinking a beer at a meal. Whether this is in Europe or his beloved South-East Asia, a bottle of cold beer is usually standing on the table. Wine and spirits only when the item in the show is particularly about it.
After the episode aired, and especially after his death, people who visit Amsterdam sometimes try and visit all the places that Bourdain went to on his short trip. And of course In De Wildeman is part of that pilgrimage. Quite often people come up to the In De Wildeman staff to say they are there because of Bourdain.
The few hours spent there is what every traveler to Amsterdam should do. A quiet oasis of bliss in an otherwise overcrowded city.
Oh, and about that smoking of the weed you are probably wondering about? Throughout the episode he jokingly abstains from doing it, because of television rules and regulation in the US. But legend has it he did go smoke afterwards. And that it wasn’t a short time…
My second destination my first day back in Amsterdam was Walhalla. The trip from In De Wildeman to Walhalla is a short one, but does include a 5-minute ferryride across the IJ river. Because this is public transport a facemask is obligatory. Life is turning back to normal slowly but there are small signs everywhere that the corona pandemic is not over, the mask being one of those.
When I was at In De Wildeman earlier that day I saw Walhalla’s Loki being poured the most. Proof that Walhalla has turned into one of Amsterdam’s premier breweries, when a world-renowned bar serves your beer in these quantities.
The moment I step through the door I recognize that familiar smell. The thick, slightly sweet odor of brewing. I am in Amsterdam-Noord to fulfill a wish and promise I have had for over two years now: to visit the Walhalla brewery. Owner Aart looks on while two employees are brewing. The Loki is on the schedule today it turns out.
I move into the adjoining taproom and look around. About 15 minutes later Aart joins me. Inevitably the conversation turns to how Walhalla faired while all the bars were closed.
Almost immediately after the bars closed they put their webshop online. This turned out to be a great move. The staff that usually took care of the bar now made the packages that they themselves delivered all over Amsterdam. Fans also came by to pick up beer, fans who really supported their locals. Through a deal with BeerWulf they were able to turn their kegs of leftover beer into two liter growlers that were sold for hometaps. A nice cooperation that benifits all.
Of course he, like every other brewer, feared in the beginning how it would end but things went more than fine. Shops and supermarkets kept ordering and people kept drinking Walhalla beer. But having the doors open is the best.
Let’s return to the brewery for a second. 6 smaller tanks line the wall and a beautiful wood-finished mashtun immediately catches the eye. Walhalla only brews beer for kegs and cans at this premise. A mobile canning company comes by every so often from Luxemburg and cans the beer. Corona postponed this one time and Walhalla was able to use fellow Amsterdam brewery Poesiat + Kater’s canning machine. Once again showing that breweries are colleagues and not competitors.
This is not the first brewery Aart has made beer in. Before this he occupied a refurbished changing room of local football team. This was when he was still half of brewery De Vriendschap (The Friendship). It was even before this location that I interviewed him first and to see this amazing progress is wonderful. When this brewery folded he made a restart as Walhalla. From being a musician he is now a full-time brewery owner. The theme of gods is also part of the entire look of the labels and the names of the beers. There are names like Loki, Heimdall, Osiris and Aphrodite to name just a few. And he barrel ages too under the Daemon line with excellent results already 11 different versions through the years.
While Aart and I were talking the staff was slowly setting up the bar and the tables outside for the 4pm opening. The 1.5 meter taped lines still visible on the floor inside and ground outside. They got permission to use a piece of barren land across the street which should be great during nice warm summer evenings. And if you want to sit inside you need to leave a name and email address, just in case something corona related happens again. It is one of those things to get used to, just like asking if people have had coronatype symptoms in the last 24 hours.
But don’t let the ferry or the social distancing rules hold you back. Walhalla is a great spot for beer lovers. Oh, and make sure to get a tasting paddle. Not just for the great beer but the board itself is already a small work of art. The W of Walhalla lends itself for this perfectly. I really should have visited a lot earlier…
My next time definitely won’t take another two years.
My first beer visit after the reopening of the bars was at Oproer where I was at 12:00 sharp, the exact time when bars and restaurants were allowed to open again. Utrecht is not too far from where I live by bike. My second trip to a beer destination had to be In De Wildeman. Because public transport is still only for essential personnel I again got on my bike and cycled the 20 kilometres to Amsterdam. It was fortunately a nice day. A perfect day for this happy occasion.
In De Wildeman is my favorite bar in Amsterdam and it fortunately opens every day at 12:00. So I had made a reservation by e-mail from 12 till 2. Reservations are only needed inside. You don’t need one to sit outside. You can just sit down if there is space of course. You can still just walk into a bar and ask if there is space, but that can lead to being turned away because of the no-more-than-30-people rule. If you are in luck and there is a seat available inside you have to leave your name, email address and phonenumber. Just in case a contact investigation has to be done later.
When I arrived owner Simon was already outside talking to some customers. Finally, he had been looking forward to this for weeks.
The days before the inside was tuned into a social distancing bar. Immediately at the door you are shown the hand sanitizer station and most people are asked if you are feeling well and if you had any coronalike symptoms in the last 24 hours. A question that every bar and restaurant has to ask, though the awkwardness of the question often leads to not asking it all.
There are now screens everywhere between seats to stay at a save distance from the table next to you. This means a reduction in the number of seats, even though 30 is the maximum at the moment anyway. The big Jever cardboard screens and crates do make you thirsty. There are signs every where warning telling you to keep the 1,5 meter distance.
The legendary menu above the door was not full but only had 11 spots for beer, half of the board is empty. With fewer people it makes no sense to open all of them. Some of the usual standard beers here like a Weizen and Jever but some good sours from Wild Beer and Brewdog too. The book with all the bottled beers and snacks has disappeared from the table. Too many people could touch it and spread the virus. And to wipe a book with a lot of pages every time is a waste of time. But you can always ask what else is available.
Yet some things remain the same. Simon still knows almost everyone and talks to everyone. The beers are still great and the service ditto. It is interesting to see him don the red Wildeman outfit himself again, something I had not seen for a while. And they are also opening the door on Sunday, usually a day when it was closed.
Everyone, both bars and guests, are still getting used to all the rules. Some bars across the country have already run into trouble. People tend to stand and don’t keep to social distancing. Figuring all of this out takes time. But let’s also hope this period will end soon. Not that we should all of sudden abandon all the social distancing rules that try and keep us safe from a horrible disease. Let’s hope we get rid of the disease, I want to see a full board about the door again and even though this helps the bars, they still need more guest. So support your local bar as much as you can.
Monday June 1st, the day a large part of the country was looking forward to. The day the bars and restaurants were allowed to open again. They were in luck. Monday was a holiday and the weather turned out to be great for sitting outside.
I decided to go to Oproer whose doors opened at noon sharp. Because public transport is still only meant for people in important jobs I took my bike. Something I will forced to do more in the coming weeks.
Bars had been working hard the days before to get things ready. Heavy use of rulers and tape was needed to divide the inside part and outside terrace to make sure there would be distance between seats and to make sure that when you walk you don’t run into each other thanks to the assigned walking routes.
City officials had come by a day earlier to see if everything was correct. In Oproer’s case it was. The police won’t actively patrol to see if everyone follows the 1,5 meter rule. Only when they get a credible call that something is not ok will they come. This has happened a few times in the Netherlands on Monday. Maybe having a conga line through your restaurant is not the best idea, as the owner of a restaurant in the south had to admit.
The 1,5 meter rule is a hard one to adhere to but people are at least trying. If it was not 1,5 it was not very close together. Although I don’t know how it would be after several people had a big glass of double stout. Staff also has to ask visitors if they had symptoms in the last 24 hours. A weird question to be honest. People will either not go out when they are sick or when they have been sick won’t answer truthfully. There was cleaning stuff all over the place to wash your hands. Staff was wearing gloves and dirty glasses had to be deposited in blue boxes.
From what I heard downtown Utrecht took a little longer to fill up. People might still be somewhat cautious. But it is great to see people laughing while drinking a beer. Hopefully this will last for the time being and the second wave of corona won’t hit it so hard and that the bars can stay open.
The weather turned out to be beautiful, I even got a sunburn sitting outside. This was needed because even though the bars are open again the owners still need the income to recover some of the losses of the last three months. Oproer turned out to have a good day, indoors there were reserved signs on most of the tables, which is good. You did not need a reservation to sit outside but that got fuller as well by the time I left.
It is still a situation everyone is getting used to and bars will have run into problems they had not thought of. In good Dutch ways the government won’t immediately start. Let’s hope for more good days like this to restart the Dutch brewing world.
In the last article I wrote about how the corona crisis affected the breweries. Today I want turn your attention to how it is affecting the Specialty Beer Cafés. It might be slightly different in other bars but because I have always considered these to be one of the engines of the Dutch Beer Revolution they deserve special attention.
When corona hit
The government’s decision to close all bars and restaurants meant that the doors had to close and personnel sent home. For the bars with personnel on the payroll there are ways of keeping them on the payroll with the 90% funding, but that still means different costs for vacationtime for example. And let’s not forget the rent and utilities, even though they will not have spent much on electricity.
Some bar owners only have employees with so-called 0-hour contracts. You work for the number of hours assigned to you that week and that is. There are fewer attachments to an employer for example. If you are sick for two days you don’t get paid for those two days. This is one difference with the full contract workers. If you have a bar and also a number of full contract workers you are in a bigger bind. Most owners can run the bar themselves for now, especially because many of the specialty beer bars are not huge places and there will only be a maximum number of guests.
Two weeks ago there was some good news. Restaurants and bars can now open again but with only 30 people max and with social distancing of 1,5 meters, or 5 feet. This is great news of course but it does mean some changes and new ways to do this.
Making money while shut
The closure has led many an owner to come with some inventive ways to still generate some income. The most often seen wat was to sell beer packages. Bring the beers a guest cannot have in the bar to the guest at home. Sometimes including bar nuts and a deck of cards like De Koffer in Groningen has been doing. The owner and maybe one or two employees could be seen driving all over the city to deliver these packages.
In some cases they could still make around 20% of the usual income, but it also meant still paying employees in some cases and having them be busy with a delivery for parts of the day. But it did keep them busy, in contact with other people in the business and it kept the name alive. This last fact could be a very important one down the line.
The near future: 30 people max
I spoke to Rob Alphenaar for some general insight, about what he will do in the near future and how he sees the role of Specialty Beer Cafes in this. Why Rob? Well, apart from being the owner of Haarlem beer bar Het Lokaal (and before that the fairly legendary Café Briljant) and owner of gypsy brewery Briljant he is also the chairman of the ABT (the alliance of beer serving bars), a group of Specialty Beer Café’s all over the country. Being a part of this means a certain standard of excellence and knowledge.
Bar owners can only reopen when they can be sure that opening will be more beneficial than staying home and use the money that the government can give you. So things need to be done to be sure that opening the bar for the day or night makes the most sense.
Bars can only have a maximum of 30 people in the establishment at once. These 30 people have to sit at least 1,5 meters away from each other, apart from people who live in the same household. So meeting a friend in a beer bar? Sure, but he better sit 1,5 meters away from you.
The government has also decided that you can only enter when you make a reservation. Rob is thinking of having sessions. Guests can book a table and in some cases will get a tasting menu. This way he knows there is guaranteed income. One guest taking 2,5 hours to finish an Imperial Stout is all fine and well, but won’t pay the bills. A reservation, maybe partly prepaid, could solve part of that. Another advantage of this that you can thoroughly clean the place between shifts. It also takes care of too much movement in front of the cafés.
Then screens need to be put up. Plastic screens between people and maybe at the bar as well. If there are no screens you need to figure out what 1,5 meters exactly is and cordon certain areas off.
Many of the specialty beer bars are often small tiny and can only fit 30 people while full anyway. For them it’s going to be harder. Bars will have to offer something special. Not just drinking a few beers but an experience of beer. This is something Rob says the ABT café’s can really offer. Every ABT café has the knowledge, and the beers, to make sure guests will have a pleasant evening with great beer and stories about that beer. They are not the type of bar where people try and break the world record for drinking lager in one hour. In face, whenever I ask owners if they have to throw drunk people out the answer is almost always: hardly ever.
Are the people working in the bars safe? That remains a question because for them it is impossible to keep to the 1,5 meters and will have to come close to the guests.
The national group of bar and restaurants have some guidelines but they are confusing at times. Not everyone I have talked to is completely certain what to do so they will have to do the best they can. But Rob sees this crisis having some positive side effects, like showing the customer what extra things a specialty beer bar can offer.
So when you are thinking of visiting a bar again, let the specialty beer café personnel give you 2 or 2,5 hours that will be unforgettable.