Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Dutch Beer of the Week


I've always had a soft spot for De Eem - I first encountered them many years ago at the Great British Beer Festival when I picked up a bottle of something called Rosebud. It turned out to really be a Centennial-hopped IPA and was remarkably good. It was also another milestone on my road to realising that something very interesting was starting to happen with Dutch beer.

They have been around since 2006 when the company was founded by Amersfoort-based Ruud van Moorst (he's pictured here far left doing something with lambic and yoghurt at the 2015 Carnivale Brettanomyces). For most of the time since then he's been a cuckoo brewer and although my update to Tim Skelton's excellent  Beer in the Netherlands  tells me he was about to get a brewery in the Gelderland town of Elburg I'm not sure that's actually happened yet.

What has happened though is a rebrand as you will see from the original website here and the rather slicker (but work in progress) here. Rosebud became Centennial some years back and I also have fond memories of a session on draft Warrior at Amsterdam's Gollem a  couple of years ago (the one on Ramsteeg - other Gollems are available).

Perhaps the most impressive beer was Dark Hops, tried at the Utrechste Bierbrouwers Festival a few years back and a collaboration with Amsterdam's Brouwerij Pampus (who are cuckoos themselves). This called itself a black IPA but tasted deliciously barrel-aged. It was memorably good. 

So then, Dorstig (or "Thirsty") which, at 3.5% is certainly an easy-going thirst quencher.  There's Plisner and Munich malts in the grist so its very pale copper rather than golden, and with some malt character to balance out the hops (Warrior, Saaz and Centennial). There's a slight touch of spice on the nose alongside a malt-kiln sweetness and piney hops.  These are all there as you drink but alongside is a peppery hop bitterness that lingers into the moreish finish. Eem have never let me down and this is another winner in my book.

There will probably be nothing on here next week as on Thursday I'm off to Brugs Bierfestival when I'll be wading through this lot supplied by these. Highlights to follow of course.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Dutch Beer of the Week

Brouwerij Kraan Kraanwater 7.2

Every year I make a trip to Bodegraven in the Netherlands to attend the Borefts Bierfestival hosted by Brouwerij De Molen (the brewery that arguably kick-started the Dutch craft beer revival). I've managed to attend Borefts since it started out as a fairly low-key affair attached to the annual Bokbier Festival weekend in Amsterdam. I suspect I'm just one of a small handful of Brits who have been to every Borefts and it's been interesting to see it grow and evolve into what is now craft beer central with breweries from around the globe in attendance.  This year marks its 10th anniversary so I won't be missing that.

One feature of the festival is the shop based in the windmill on Overtocht (the brewery used to be there as well but has long since outgrown it and is now located in much larger premises a couple of minutes' walk away).  It usually offers choice, rare and expensive beers from the brewers featured at that year's festival. It's normally thronged by festival attendees splashing the cash.

Those of us with an interest in Dutch beer go elsewhere though. Just down the street is the Speciaalbierwinkel (or Special Beer Shop) run by Jan Kraan. Jan specialises in Dutch beers with over 700 in stock at the last count. Rarities from across the Netherlands can be found on his shelves - he drives across the country to collect some of them. I usually get to Bodegraven in good time to allow myself at least 30 minutes browsing here. 

Among the beers are the Kraanwater beers from Jan's own Brouwerij Kraan. This is a neat play on words as kraan is also Dutch for 'tap' - hence 'tap water' (it is of course also a hostage to fortune...). The beers are produced on a small brewing kit in a back room of the shop. A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to get a quick look at the brewery (and can't find my photos...) and it seemed to be quite an improvised affair. At that time Jan had plans to move to a bigger site elsewhere in Bodegraven but this appears to have fallen though and he's still there brewing about 200 litres a fortnight.  Quite a range is produced in a variety of styles and this, Kraanwater 7.2, is a black IPA at, you guessed, 7.2%

It looks the part with a black body and tan head but I have to say it was all perhaps a little bit too light for me.  The nose has hints of malt and that's there again as you drink along with touches of dark berries, a smidgeon of dark chocolate and some cola notes too. Some roast comes through and that lingers into the light and spritzy finish. Perfectly decent I thought although a bit more oomph wouldn't go amiss. I'll be back at the Speciaalbierwinkel in September and another of Jan's beers will certainly be among my purchases.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Dutch Beer of the Week


Here's an obscurity for you.  There are around 540 breweries or beer firms currently operating in the Netherlands and while the head-turning stars are well known the Dutch beer landscape is heavily populated by concerns like this.  Small. sometimes part-time, operations with a very localised distribution. You won't find their beers on the shelves of the Amsterdam beer shops.

Wildervank is a small village south-east of Groningen and I think I picked this up in a beer shop in that city a year or so ago. So who or what is Brouwerij Wildervanker?  Obviously I first turned to Tim Skelton's Beer in the Netherlands where the update, perhaps unpromisingly, tells me this is a "hobby brewer making a wide range of beer styles with mixed results since 2014"

There has certainly been a wide range of styles at the brewery's RateBeer entry shows.  Wildervanker Brouwerij was launched in August 2014 and is the project of ex-lorry driver Jan Abbingh, and who had been home-brewing for 25 years. The rather neat little brewery appears to be located in a converted large garage as can be seen from the photographs here. Apart from his own range of beers Jan also produces a range of Borrie Craft beers which has its own Facebook page but of which I know absolutely nothing.

So what about this then? At 9% it's perhaps a little low strength for the style  and pours a very dark brown. The nose is light with touches of dried fruit, caramel sweetness and also a slight vegetable note I'm not sure should have been there.  Drinking though it's quite full-on with caramel, toffee and sweet dark malts. Swilling the beer around my mouth I also picked up an odd quinine note and a herbal sweetness that reminded me rather of Uncle Joe's Mint Balls. Above all though there was huge, warming alcohol which lingered long into the finish.

I must admit I'm still not entirely sure I liked this but if I come across another Wildervanker beer I'll certainly give it a go.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Dutch Beer of the Week

Brouwerij Demoersleutel Motorolie 10

I was unlikely to stay away from Dutch beer for long - and welcome to one of the newest stars of the Netherlands beer scene. 

The first time I came across Demoersleutel was at last years's Gents Bierfestival which featured a couple of seriously impressive big dark beers and a pretty tasty IPA. "They're a new hot Dutch brewery" I was told.  I subsequently tracked down some of the beers from these self-styled "beer engineers" (the name means 'spanner' or 'wrench') on a trip to Amsterdam and instantly became a fan.

So, who are they? It's a family concern based at the moment in Heiloo north of Amsterdam, although they have recently crowd funded a new brewery which, if my research is correct, will be based in Alkmaar. The family in question is Sjaak and Margreet Zomerdijl and their four sons Max, Pim. Rob and Tom who, I think, are now a little older than their Facebook photo might suggest - they are between 19-24 in fact.

Sjaak was involved in the Vriedenbier Brouwerij which, I suspect, is effectively no more as all of the family's energy is devoted to Demoersleutel. As you will see from the RateBeer page a large range of beers have been produced since they were launched in early 2016 - all to great acclaim. 

The Vriedenbier kit and premises have been used so far but the new brewery is now being installed and the new premises will also include a barrel ageing room with up to 300 whisky. bourbon, rum, cognac, and armagnac casks among others.  Not only that but I see from today's announcement they are also into the sour side and so will be appearing at this year's Carnivale Brettanomyces. I must say I'm looking forward to trying their sours as when the Bierista website went to see them in May last year there were some 50 barrels of these awaiting bottling.

So, what are the beers like? My tasting notes from Ghent rave about the dark beers ("chewy and delicious") but I was a bit more circumspect about the IPA which had a vanilla note that I wasn't sure should have been there. Then I was told that they'd more or less gone back to the drawing board with the big hoppy beers as they, too, weren't totally happy with them. It looks like some have been released since so hopefully everything is now back on track.

And Motorolie ("motor oil") 10? Well, this is a big old bruiser of a Russian Imperial Stout at 12%. Lots of malts in here (including chocolate, caramalt and black malt) so it pours almost black with a dark brown head.  As you may expect the nose has the required chocolate, roast and espresso notes. The body is smooth and initially rather light - almost as if someone has dropped splash of cream into a black coffee - which then builds into a complex multi-grain finish with black coffee and bitter chocolate bouncing ahead. This really is very good.

De Moersleutel already export their beers (some has even gone to Australia) so its about time we got some here in the UK. Any takers?

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Cider of the Week

Gregg's Pit Chisel Jersey, Dabinett & White Close Pippin

When most beer bloggers/writers/ communicators write about cider they write about Tom Oliver. Why is that you may ask? Well, he is one of the best cider (and perry) makers in the country for a start. He's also a UK pioneer, perhaps the only UK pioneer, of a craft beer/craft cider crossover.

However great cider and perry doesn't start and finish with Oliver's - there are numerous equally good makers out there and, in line with this blog's new policy of branching out from Dutch beer I bring you Gregg's Pit.

James Marsden and Helen Woodman have been making cider and perry at Gregg's Pit farm on the outskirts of Much Marcle (the home of Westons) in Herefordshire since 1994. They have subsequently gained an enormous reputation for their products (and they are pictured here on the right of the photo receiving one of their many awards), I've been lucky enough to have visited several times.

They specialise in single varietals (that's to say a cider or perry made from the juice of just one variety of cider apple or perry pear) but also make some excellent named blends. They are all exceptionally elegant drinks, helped perhaps by the Gregg's Pit practice of milling the fruit and then letting the pulp stand overnight before pressing to extract the juice. This not only softens the pulp and increases juice extraction but also removes some of the tannin, this aiding a fuller and more rounded mouth feel in the end product.

This is one of the named blends (says he stating the bleedin' obvious) and uses the juice of:

Chisel Jersey - a "bittersweet" cider apple originating in Somerset. Its juice is high in tannin and sugar but low in acidity.

Dabinett - this very popular cider apple also originated in Somerset and is another "bittersweet". Quite a few cider makers use this to make a single varietal cider.

White Close Pippin - this was a new one on me. It's a pretty old and fairly rare variety (although stock is commercially available should you feel the urge to plant a tree) and it's another "bittersweet" too.

This cider is also slightly different from the crowd as it's keeved. Keeving is an old method of making naturally sweeter, sparkling and lower gravity ciders - it was widely used in the West Country here in the UK and also in northern France. It pretty much died out here (but is clearly making a bit of a comeback) but is still commonplace in the production of Franch cider and perry. The process involves the formation of a pectin gel that floats to the top of the fermenting tank and forms a sort of crust. There are lots of technical details here:


So, what's it like then? First the glass - if I try traditional cider at home I usually opt for a Belgian lambic glass - after all ciders and perries are the UK's home-grown spontaneously fermented drinks. It's the colour of  a late autumn field of ripe barley and has a full fruity nose with just a touch of "funk". It's full bodied with plenty of apple fruit and almost a  buttery richness to the texture. The medium-sweet finish brings a touch of dryness with it - wonderfully moreish.

Do look out for Gregg's Pit cider and perry - most of the outlets are in Herefordshire but there are some in London - including Claridges!

Happy New Year everyone - back next week.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Here we are again

Well hello again. It's been a while hasn't it? Returning to this blog was like prising open the door of a long locked room. Will the pigeons have found a way in and covered everything in a foot of droppings? Luckily a quick flick around with the duster and it looks good to go,

It's been a busy two years and I thought long and hard before returning here. If I re-start I really have to keep going but I have some more free time now so with a bit of luck we'll avoid the previous hiatus. I'll also be broadening the scope of this blog as well and venturing outside the Dutch beer scene from time to time.

So, with a suitably retro logo, let's get back on the road with Golden Pints 2017.  I've seen one or two of these already and there are quite a few long essays out there. These will be suitably brief.

Best UK Cask Beer
Many great cask beers have passed my lips over the last 12 months but one I keep returning to is Hawkshead Windermere Pale. It's one of those classic sub-4% beers that the UK does so well (and in the same field as Marble Pint, Track Sonoma, Fyne Ales Jarl and numerous others) and never disappoints. At the other end of the spectrum are two dark beers. In Stalybridge Station Buffet I came across as Stout by Squawk. Unlile many other of their stouts and porters this one came in at a heftier 7.4% and was stunningly good.  A heads up too to a brand new beer from a rebranded brewery. Dan's Brewery in Manchester has become Wander Beyond Brewing and among the launch beers was Cave Dweller a 11% maple imperial stout. Too sweet for some apparently but I thought it was glorious stuff.

Best UK Keg Beer
One beer stands out. By a mile. This is Chorlton Brewing's Cherry Sour. You've got to like sour beers but if you do you'll recognise Mike Marcus and his team are inspired brewers and I really don't know why Chorlton hasn't become a cult name.  This was tried at one of their all too rare brewery taps and it's a beer I could drink all day. At the time I likened it to a British Rodenbach - OK if you put them side by side they'd be quite different but it really was that good and the comparison is still valid. Mike tells me he sells most of his beer in London and Edinburgh - it's about time Manchester bars got behind this local star.

Best UK Bottle
Well, UK bottles actually. The imperial stout and old ale range from Marble in all its various iterations has been nothing less that magnificent. They have all been good and I'm not going to choose one above the other (yes, I know, what a cop-out). Also a big heads up to Marble's Pugin - one of the best, no, the best UK version of a Belgian blond bier I have come across.

Best UK Can
Back to Hawkshead again - their Key Lime Tau is a thing of joy and has become one of my all time favourite beers.

Best Cider or Perry
I've had some excellent ciders and perries this year, particularly on a trip to Hereford in November. Our party called in at the excellent Yew Tree at Peterstow which is owned by Ross-on-Wye Cider & Perry. After lunch Mike Johnston of Ross-on-Wye gave us a talk and tasting in the attached shop. We all came away with lots of good stuff but for several of us the Moorcroft & Bartestree Squash perry was the star of the show.  It's a blend of two perry pears - Moorcroft from Worcestershire and Bartestree Squash from Herefordshire. The result is deliciously fruity and balanced with just the right amount of dryness.

Best Overseas Draught Beer
I drink a fair amount in Belgium and the Netherlands and this year have had some superb beers. However one that sticks in the mind was tried here in the UK. In December Brouwerij Kees had a tap takeover at Manchester's Kosomonaut and his Barrel Aged Caramel Fudge Stout was knock-out.

Best Overseas Bottled Beers
I see in my last Golden Pints I referenced Tommie Sjef Koenen as  "one to watch". He was a home brewer then. He's professional now as Tommie Sjef Wild Ales. Having subscribed to his crowd-funding for a new, larger barrel store I now get advance notice of all the releases and try not to miss one. The beers are truly great and turn heads whenever they are tried.

Another Dutch outfit making waves (and naturally below the radar here in the UK) is Brouwerij Demoersleutel which is run by four young (check out the Facebook photo - www.facebook.com/moersleutel)  brothers from Heiloo. I first encountered their beers  at Gents Bierfestival and then picked up some bottles in Amsterdam. Their dark beers are notably impressive. Moersleutel means spanner by the way and they badge themselves as "beer engineers".

Best Pub or Bar
I spend many happy Friday nights in Stockport's Ye Old Vic (sanctimonious disclosure - I actually own a tine fraction of the pub having subscribed for shares in the community company that bought it from the previous owner). Beer quality is excellent as is the atmosphere - and it has become the haunt of numerous brewers and beery people who live in Edgeley.

In Manchester it's difficult not to call in at Cafe Beermoth but perhaps my favourite haunt is the cellar bar underneath the Beermoth shop. 

Best Beer Festival
I seem to go to more beer festivals in Belgium and the Netherlands than I do in the UK.  At home I try and never miss the Hawkshead beer festivals - two a year in March and July (usually) and great days out with superlative beer choices. Two other "never misses" are Liverpool Craft Beer Expo and Leeds International Beer Festival

However my favourite remains Gents Bierfestival. Not only is Ghent a great city to visit for history and culture but it also has perhaps one of the best beer scenes in Belgium. The annual beer festival is in mid-August an always boasts a very imaginative list - what was on offer for 2017 is here

And finally....

Best Book
Like many I have been beguiled by Peter Brown's Miracle Brew (and for the record  his The Apple Orchard was also inspirational).

Well that's it folks. Back next week.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Dutch Beer of the Week - Bonus Bottle


Happy New Year! And what better way to celebrate with an additional, and very celebratory, Dutch Beer of the Week.

I've already told you plenty about Brouwerij Rodenburg but this beer is a little bit special. For a start it's an 11% quadruple so a very big beer. On top of that it's been aged in a Martinique rum cask for extra complexity.  We'll come back to all of that but first a bit about the odd name.

6921 is in fact the postcode of Populierenlaan in Duiven, which is in the east of the Netherlands, not far from Arnhem.  Apparently 10 local beer lovers live in or near Populierenlaan and decided they wanted to make a beer of their own - Steve Gammage at Rodenburg was happy to help out and so Populus 6921 was born.  They 10 are all name checked on the label too - and it helped of course that one of the ten was Marco Phillipsen who (I think) is one of the main men at the Mitra off-licence chain. 

Back to the beer.  This comes in a corked 37.5cl bottle and immediately on popping the cork there's an enticing aroma of rum (in fact I stood for a few moments just sniffing the cork. Make of that what you will).  It's a red-brown beer with a complex aroma with malt sweetness, spice, rum (or course) and a fruity wine character all jostling for attention. They keep this up as you drink with a notable fruitiness developing (fruit's right up there with malt  in the handy tasting profile on the label).  There's some warming alcohol at the end but this certainly doesn't drink like an 11% beer.  I'd try it again but I think it's been quite a limited edition.