While bars reopen, uncertainty remains

Last week Instagram and other social media were full of happy pictures again. Bars full of people , enjoying beer flowing from taps again. A beautiful sight after weeks of yet another shutdown.

A shutdown that was decreed by the government after another surge of positive Covid tests and the rise of the omicron variant, a strain that we didn’t completely comprehend yet in mid-December. And it wasn’t only bars. All venues that weren’t essential shut down. Only shops selling food were open. For once we had the strictest rules in Europe concerning Covid.

And then came the great news that omicron wasn’t nearly as dangerous as feared and that even though hundreds of thousands of people are getting infected, the number of hospital ICU beds with Covid patients was hardly rising. The newly installed government decided on opening up most of public life again, including the bars, albeit until 10 at night at the latest.

The reopening of bars is a much needed step to keep bars open and for breweries to have more places to sell their kegs. Both have had a tough time. Sure, there was government help and even though that covered most of it, some bars and breweries are on the brink of closing with some actually folding in 2021.

Good News, but…

The reopening of the bars won’t immediately save everyone and make all owners millionaires overnight. There are at least two issues that will have a long lasting effect.

Prices

As you are probably well aware if you live anywhere on this planet, inflation is high. Resources are more expensive. This includes all the ingredients like malt and hops, but also the water and fuel needed to brew beer. If you had to start a new contract in the latter part of 2021, the price of gas has increased. To combat this, breweries are forced to ask higher prices for their beer, and bar owners in turn have to raise theirs for the consumers. So getting a good glass of beer, already pricy, will get more expensive. And not only craft breweries, big breweries like Heineken are forced to do the same.

Staff

Another problem is the lack of staff. Some bars decided to let go of their staff in the last two years. Even with government help, keeping staff was a loss because the help didn’t completely compensate the labor costs.

The omicron variant is stirring up new problems. First of all some workers decided to seek employment elsewhere. Wages are often higher doing different work, and there is a labor shortage in almost every part of the economy.

Then there is the very high possibility of testing positive with this variant. Doesn’t mean you are at home and sick as a dog, but it does mean you cannot work for a few days and if a bar doesn’t have backup, it means shutting down. Another loss of income.

Breweries

The reopening is of course good news for breweries. The corona crisis for most breweries meant selling more bottles, but fillings kegs came with a risk. Because it was hard to forecast how corona would behave it happened often that bars and brewpubs closed again. Left were thousands of kegs. So much that some breweries had to dispose of thousands of liters of kegged beer because it was going to spoil. And a tank full of beer is a lot of potential income. Some came up with ideas of filling growlers, but this was never enough to make all the money back.

So even though it is a great thing that bars and breweries are back in business, the lack of staff and higher prices might still lead to rocky return to normal, if we ever get there.

2022 is going to be interesting, to say the least.

Brouwerij Stijl: Pioneering in Almere

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.

Bierlab

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.

Circular

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.

Almere

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.

Future

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.

And In De Wildeman is open too

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.

Different menu

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.