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.

From the Archives: A Visit to Fort Everdingen, Future Home of Duits and Lauret

(Originally posted December 3, 2015)

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’.

Introduction

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.

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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.

Brewery

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.

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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.

Water

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.

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Storing

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 Rest

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.

Unique               

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.

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Untappd Top 10 City: Utrecht!

Of the many end-of-year lists there was one that especially caught my eye. Untappd released a list of the Top 10 cities with the most checkins.

I’m not going to try and find an explanation why New York, Chicago and Philadelphia are on the list and great beer towns like Portland, Seattle and San Diego are not. And why are the rest, apart from London, all Scandinavian cities? Sure, all are hotbeds of this century’s craft beer revolution and in the case of Scandinavia combined with high tech savviness. But a deeper explanation is more for the sociologists and demographers to provide us.

What caught my eye specifically are the two cities in the Netherlands that made the list. That Amsterdam is on there should not be that surprising. The city is small, smaller than you’d think with only about 750,000 people living here. It does attract people from all over the world and has a great beer scene. It has the perfect beer trifecta with great bars (e. g. Arendsnest, Beer Temple, In De Wildeman), shops (Sterck, Bierkoning) and breweries (‘t IJ, Walhalla, Oedipus and many more). Even in a year with far fewer tourists because of corona this can be explained, also with the high usage of Untappd and tech savviness in general. Our society is in many ways structured like a Scandinavian country and when they pop up in ‘best living in the world for this and this reason’ lists we often are on it as well.

The second city on the list is Utrecht, a city of little over 300,000 people. This is not as surprising as it seems. It is the fourth city in the country after Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague but the latter two cities have a small craft beer scene, nothing compared to Utrecht.

In the last decade I have often compared Utrecht to Portland on this blog, they are sister cities for a reason! When the beer revolution also enveloped the Netherlands this city and the surrounding eponymous province already had a great number of breweries. Now it can boast six breweries alone that rank among the country’s best: Van De Streek, Kromme Haring, Eleven, Oproer, Maximus and De Leckere all brew in the city and have their beers in bars and stores not only in the Netherlands but in other countries as well.

The beer bar scene is equally impressive with the legendary DeRat, België, Ledig Erf, Drie Dorstige Herten and that is just a small part of what’s available. You can have a perfect night out drinking very special beers without setting foot in any of these bars. Stores like De Bierverteller, Zuylen and Little Beer Shop offer a wide variety of great beer to buy. Most cities are lucky to have just one great store, Utrecht has many.

And because tourism does not play that big a part in checking in beers you know that the number of beer fans with good beer knowledge in the city is high.

Untappd only proved in numbers what we have known for a decade, Utrecht is the Netherlands’ #1 beer city, with Amsterdam a very close second.

*** UPDATE ***

I was just about to publish this when I saw that the big six of Utrecht brewing decided to have a 24 hour festival in the last weekend of January. For more information visit the Facebook page.

The Bars are Open Again!

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.