For three days in the middle of August I attended a summer course to hopefully become a Beer Ambassador. The summer school was held at Fort Everdingen, now the home of the brewery Duits & Lauret. The last time I was here was almost 8 years ago on a slightly cold and somewhat rainy November day. My wife and I walked over the site of Fort Everdingen looking at old 19th century structures and sheds. It sometimes looked closer to collapsing than becoming usable again.
We were invited by Marco Lauret and Danielle Duits to come take a look at what was to be the site of their brewery and tasting room. You can read more about this in the previous article about how it all came to be.
Things have changed. The campground is now up and running: caravans, tents, campervans, there is space for all kinds of camping. And with some much grass and woods around it feels like you are out in nature. How nice is it to wake up, take a short stroll and look out over wide Dutch rivers.
The sheds and structures that looked somewhat downtrodden and had water standing in them have all been rebuilt. One houses a room for classes like the one I took, while the main structure is now both brewery and tasting room. The brewery is somewhat cramped and they can only fill kegs for consumption in bars and a few meters away in the tasting room. Most of the stone structures, the actual fort are still mostly in the same state. It is a monument after all.
The brewery also means they can be more experimental than before. Duits & Lauret is known for a selection of very good, well-balanced and award winning beers. Having your own tasting room means you can try more things and put it on in the tasting room. During the course we were treated to a great schwarz called Swarte Kray (Black Crow) and what I guess we can call a double schwarz in collaboration with De Leckere. But if dark beers are not your thing there you can go even more German with a kölsch or/and an alt. Another example of how brewers are starting to look eastwards across the border for beer inspiration?
When you decide to visit and you are not going by bike there are several routes to get there. By far the best one however is along the river by bike, or better yet on foot along the river. There is 19th century history, World War II history and an impressive number of birds and other animals. It might take two hours to walk this way, but the beer will feel even more refreshing. A faster way is to rent a bike and cycle over the dyke. I felt like a true Dutch boy taking this route and getting rained on along the way. Brouwdok in Harlingen has a great view over the sea, but Fort Everdingen’s location next to the rivers that made Holland what it is, is equally stunning. And what better to enjoy that part of Dutch life with world class beer.
Last week I was at Fort Everdingen / Duits & Lauret for a summer course to hopefully become a beer ambassador in the future. The last time I was here was 5 years ago when there was nothing even remotely looking like a brewery. I will post something soon about how the current state is, but for now this article ‘from the archives’.
When I started this blog over 5 years ago, Duits & Lauret were one of the first brewers I wrote about. Their stylish labels but most of all their well-made and balanced beers showed me that great beer was made in this country. And juries all over the world seemed to agree, not a competition goes by where they don’t win prizes for their stout, smoked double bock or blond.
All this hard work is paying off. The usual step for successful contract brewers is setting up your own brewery and/or tasting room. It is the same for Duits & Lauret as they will open their own brewery and tasting room next year. But as you might have read last year, it will be in a unique part of Dutch history. In case you missed it, the new brewery will move into a 19th century fortress called Fort Everdingen. In early November, when it was still warm, we took the train to Culemborg for a visit.
A short and explosive history
Fort Everdingen is named for nearby Everdingen, a small town on the river Lek. The fortress was part of the Holland Water Line, a defensive line of fortress along the rivers to defend the most important part of the country (Holland) from any invader. When the fortress was finally finished, technology had already caught up and it was useless for its original purpose. The fortress remained in use by the Army (or the Department of Defense), though the Germans occupied it for during the war. The last inhabitant was the Bomb Disposal Unit, whose most recognizable work is getting rid of World War II bombs that are still in the ground all over the country. You can still see thick earthen walls behind which they detonated explosives and parts of the bunkers have everything in place to withstand large explosions.
The fortress has a main square, a sort of courtyard which will become the main area for beer. You can see the huge dome of the fortress from here, you can walk into the store where they will sell beer and more while you are sitting outside enjoying a beer. The brewery itself will be in a large wooden shed on the square, where the tasting room will be housed as well.
This shed was built a few decades after the fort was opened so it is still quite old. Half of the shed will house the brewing equipment. Every process of brewing will take place here. The only thing that will be done somewhere else is bottling. A similar shed is located somewhere else on the premises and it isn’t in the same state as the brewery. This will need a lot of work before it can be used because it isn’t in the best of shape. The fleeting of time will do that to wood.
When we visited in early November they were still working on procuring a brewing installation. Duits & Lauret beers are balanced and delicate and it is no wonder that they keep winning awards at competitions all over the world. Right now the beer is brewed at Lochristi and Belgium and maintaining this quality means mean getting the right equipment.
If the fortress was ever used in war time, it was supposed to be self sustainable for months. Rainwater could be collected in large tanks for further use. This system is still in place and the brewery will use the rainwater for the beer. For me this is the most spectacular things I have seen during our visit.
Duits & Lauret beers, stout and bock, are perfect for aging. The fortress offers a lot of room for doing just that. A fortress like this behaves like a wine cellar with temperatures that stay the same and with no influence by outside sources. Walls more than meter thick will do that. There is plenty of room still. I have had a stout from 2013 and a bock from 2014 and the difference in taste is noticeable. It will be interesting to see what aging will do in the coming years.
Not Just Beer
Beer will be the focus of Duits & Lauret but it won’t be the only thing produced here. A cheese maker is already at work making cheese and we saw some beautiful blue cheeses ripening already. They will themselves make mustard and vinegar. A room in the fortress had the tiles still from previous use and is perfect for this.
Campground in nature
Because of its location on the banks of one of the great rivers of the Netherlands, many tourists pass by on foot, on their bikes or in their cars. Tourist routes in this area often pass the fortress or even go right over it. This is a potential source of customers that might well be the bulk of visitors to the brewery. But in order to fit in even more into the countryside a big chunk of the area will be opened as a campground. There is room for a few RV’s and bunch of tents. The many bunkers and structures have been covered with earth again, making it a terraced campground. For people with hiking shoes or a bike this is a beautiful place to stay for a few nights and explore the surrounding riverlands.
The fortress is huge and it would take ages, and a lot of money, to give every part a function for the public. Therefore this won’t be done and large parts of the fortress won’t be used yet. The most spectacular by far is the huge dome in the middle where D&L have planted their flag on. This was mostly used for housing the soldiers. You can still see the ground plans and pins for keys. Not much has been changed or damaged, but it did get new inhabitants when colonies of bats moved in. Because of laws they won’t be given newer living accommodations, but having them gives the fortress something extra, something awesome.
The Law and other obstructions
As an older structure the fort falls under Monument Care. This is in itself a great thing because you can get subsidy for certain things and there is free publicity. It also means however that changing something requires paperwork due to strict regulations. Monument Care means that the building should remain as is, as much as possible.
Another conundrum is that the Fortress is on the border of two provinces. And when I mean on the border I literally mean on the border. One half is in Utrecht, the other half in Gelderland. The brewery itself will still be in Utrecht, so we can still call them a brewery from Utrecht. But two provinces also means legislation from two different entities. And to make matters more complicated, because they are in two provinces, they automatically are in two different ‘gemeentes’, counties.
And then there’s the Fortress Green Preservation Society. Well I don’t know if there really is one, but the fortress has some flora and fauna that is varied and impressive. Some of the rooms in the main, domed, fortress part have colonies of bats and they are not to be disturbed. Fortunately the entire fort won’t be used all at once and with this much room the bats will be fine for a long time. The bats will be unseen but there is plenty of other animals walking and flying around. While walking around I saw a startled pheasant fly up from the bushes and on the way out some big waterfowl were looking for food in the moat.
Danielle Duits and Marco Lauret won’t be moving into the fortress themselves, but someone will be manning the fortress day and night. Something that is necessary when then campground opens. But to drive to work in a place so unique as this must be worth dedicating their time to the brewery. The old jobs are gone, they will now be full time brewers. One of the countries’ most successful brewers have found a home, and what a home it is. There is so much more to tell about Fort Everdingen, but I am sure this wasn’t the last time we were here.
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.
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.
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.