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.
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.
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 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.
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 ;).