Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Dutch Beer of the Week

Baxbier Kon Minder

The great revival in Dutch beer has been slow to catch on in the three northern provinces. While the country as a whole now has now fewer than 318 breweries and beer firms only 27 are located in Friesland, Drenthe and Groningen. Possibly it’s something to do with the Protestant Calvinist tradition historically prevalent in these parts – although Groningen at least had a notable brewing tradition in the past.

It’s starting to move though. Indeed, with De Friese Bierbrouwerij  established in 1985 Friesland has one of the oldest surviving new-wave brewers in the country.  One lively centre is the university city of Groningen which has a scattering of good beer bars and a growing number of craft brewers.

One of these is Baxbier which has been in production since about April last year. When I say “in production” I mean that Sepp Jansen and Jeroen Bax currently have their beer produced elsewhere – this bottle of Kon Minder (5.1%) was brewed to their specification at Brasserie de Marsinne in Belgium* – although the plan is to get their own premises in Groningen.  

I first tried this on draft at the Nederlandse Bieren Festival in Delft and my typically perfunctory notes say “pale, light, citrus and very good”.  It was described there as an American Pale Ale and the website calls it a Citrus Pale Ale. For me though it’s an interesting hybrid.  While it’s beautifully hoppy from the use of Cascade and Citra, there’s also wheat malt in the mash and additional ingredients are orange peel and coriander seeds so there are notes of a classic witbier in there too. The end result is a beer that’s crisp and refreshing but with an added depth, or an extra dimension if you like, from the very restrained spicing.

I’ll certainly be looking out for this one again.

* While the label tells me it was brewed in Belgium, Ratebeer says it was made at Brouwerij De 7 Deugden in Amsterdam

Nederlandsen Bieren Festival

After Carnivale Brettanomyces it was time to get back to more regular beer – and where better than a beer festival?  Many Dutch beer festivals seem to be one day affairs and often seem to be held on a Sunday, too. Not only that but a fair few are open air and, given that the Dutch climate is not unlike that in the UK, getting wet is often to be expected.

On Sunday 28th June there were two I fancied – one in Tilburg, which I have been to and enjoyed in the past, and one in Delft. In theory it was possible to fit both in but after the previous few days something less hectic was called for.  I’d not been to Delft for some time so I found myself at the Nederlandsen Bieren Festival – and very enjoyable it turned out to be.

Delft itself is a very pretty little town. It’s sometimes billed as a smaller, and less frenetic, version of Amsterdam and it’s easy to see why with a network of canals lined with gabled buildings. There’s some history to the place too. Vermeer was born here and there is a clutch of historic buildings worth a look. The town is also home to a couple of Deltware factories and the Markt, with its splendid 17th Century Stadhuis, and the surrounding streets are littered with shops selling the stuff (which ranges from the stylish to the unbelievably kitsch).

Anyway, enough of the travelogue let’s get down to the beer. What attracted me to this event was not the number of brewers present but the sheer quality of those present. There were just a dozen but most of the top rank of Dutch craft brewing was represented. There are some images of the programme here to show you what I mean.


The brewery stalls were arranged in a row down Vrouwjuttenland - which is a street with buildings on one side and a canal on the other (only one man fell in and he arrived in a kayak) .As usual I flitted around at random with no real plan although I made a point of getting to the Het Uiljte stand sooner rather than later (as usual with Het Uiltje queues built up quickly and their beers were among the first to go).  The CC Porter (7.7%) was seriously good. The CC is coconut and coffee, a combination which might not work in less expert hands but here was a terrific beer with a lovely balance between the various elements. OK, you’ve got to like coconut but if you do then this will be a beer for you.

Brouwerij Kwartje was a new one for me. Based in Den Haag they only started brewing this year and if their RIS (Rye Smoked IPA – 6.5%) is anything to go by they are set to really make a mark. Perhaps a bit heavy on the smoke for me this was nevertheless a very well made beer.

Another new-ish name was Bax Bier, a 2014 start-up from Groningen. Their American Pale Ale Kon Minder (5%) impressed (more on this one in a later post) while the Hiphopper (6%) was a sensationally good IPA – clean, hoppy, bitter and extremely moreish. The hop grist includes Mosaic, Chinook, Simcoe and Ahatanum so that’s to be expected really.

While I won’t bore you with every beer I tried (including one pour away clunker) justice wouldn’t be done without mentioning VandeStreek  who can always be relied on to come up with the goods. Their Koper (6%), a rye pale ale, was full-bodied with some initial sweetness balanced by the usual dryness that rye often seems to bring to a beer. Beautifully drinkable. However for me the star turn was their fabulous Imperial Red (11%). This was launched last year and has been aged in a red wine cask (Bordeaux I think it was). My brief notes say “full bodied, rich and very drinkable”. Glorious stuff.

Two other things worth mentioning I think. First there was a cigar and beer matching stall - the benefit of holding an outside festival I guess. Perhaps of more significance was the presence of a cider stall. While it's starting from the lowest possible base there is definitely a growing interest in traditional cider and perry in the Netherlands. That's a trend to watch, I think.


After that it was just time for a beer in the rather good Klooster before a lurch back to the station. 

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Dutch Beer of the Week

Bierbrouwerij De Schans Lente 1 

De Schans has a special place in my journey through Dutch beer. I've been visiting the Netherlands since 1994 and watched its beer scene evolve and one of the Dutch beers that made me really sit up and start paying attention was De Schans Saison which first appeared around 2003. In those days it was a 7% spicy and hoppy little number which was really my go-to beer every time I visited Amsterdam.  Some friends and I once drank the Arendsnest out of it.

The brewery is in Uithoorn which is a little to the south of Amsterdam and while there's no tasting room there is a shop which sells a range of beers and spirits.  It's been in business since 1998 and today doesn't really seem to have a set of permanent beers but instead produces a wide range of brews which appear irregularly (well that's my impression anyway). Quality is usually high although for me the Saison does seem to have lost its mojo a bit in recent times.  There is in fact one semi-regular beer which is well worth seeking out. This is the revived Van Vollenhoven Extra Stout  (7%) which has been reborn, and revitalised, after Heineken killed it off. It sometimes comes in an imperial version too.  You'll often find this on sale at the rather excellent Pilsener Club in Amsterdam (it's at Begijnensteeg 4, just off Spui)

Back to the beer in hand, I picked this up at the Bierkoning at the end of June. A new(-ish) saison - and by De Schans. What's not to like? And it's not half bad. It's 6.5% and a hazy orange  with a slight boiled sweet note on the nose along with a touch of hop and spice. There's a touch of sweetness in the taste with a hint of orange and quite a decent bitterness at the end. Not a show stopper by any means but perfectly serviceable. I wouldn't make an effort to seek another one out but if it turned up on a beer list I'd probably give it a whirl.

Update - sad to say De Schans no longer brew Van Vollenhoven.  It's been a bit of a beer on wheels recently, with varying results I am told.  The latest version was brewed at Brouwerij Troost, bottled at De Prael and is reportedly back on form


Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Carnivale Brettanomyces

The Netherlands is a country whose burgeoning beer scene remains firmly under the radar of most UK beer fans. Along with an exploding number of breweries and beer firms the country is also host to two of among the geekiest beer events in Europe.


The Borefts Bier Festival hosted by Brouwerij De Molen celebrates its seventh year in 2015 and after a slow start now has a reasonable turnout from from the UK. For the record it's 25th and 26th September this year and if you've never been it really is something you should seriously think about if you want to burnish your "craft credentials". 

Rather more esoteric is Carnivale Brettanomyces ("a beer festival dedicated to brettanomyces and friends") which takes place in Amsterdam over the last weekend in June.  This year was the fourth event and was also the year it really came of age - more venues, more events, a greater international presence and some high profile speakers delivering the masterclasses. Just look at this:




















You can get a better look on the website which also has a list of those breweries attending this time around along with details of the participating venues.

Frenzied activity at Oedipus
Highlight for me?  The big collaboration brew day at Oedipus Brewing on Thursday 25th was a  treat.  While it opened to the public from about 3.00pm, I was invited down by Sander Kobes of Oersoep Brouwerij and arrived with friends at about 12.30.  It was a great chance to meet and greet both old friends and also meet up with the guys from Pope's Yard Brewery, who I'd been wanting to catch up with for some time.  Below the radar in the UK, they turned heads at the 2014 event when they presented their Keeping Porter. This was to all intents and purposes a recreation of a staled porter from
Timo Krjukoff & Geoff Latham
the late 18th / early 19th century and pretty damn stunning I have to say. They sent another version this year  Geoff Latham and Ben Childs turned out to be great guys who are passionate about what they do - and obsessive in their desire to recreate Benskins Colne Spring Ale,  one of the 
UK's great lost beers. That's something to look forward to. Be good to see their beers more widely available in the UK.

Another treat was meeting Timo Krjukoff, an unassuming 
Sweden-based Finn who is the man behind Sahtipaja. Timo told me that he brews at the weekends in his garage. Now this conjures up a certain image I think. Well forget about that.  Here's the brewery (taken from the Sahtipaja Facebook page) and as you can see this is not your average weekend garage setup.  Sahtipaja makes sahti (as you may guess) along with a range or sour beers, mainly in the Berliner Weisse style and from my limited experience these are superbly accomplished beers. I'd certainly be beating a path to the door of anyone who imported them into the UK.

Timo's straight Berliner Weisse was on the bar at Oedipus and this was impressive enough. His fruit versions were knock-out. The blueberry and white chocolate was perhaps the best beer I had all weekend (and it was a mightily strong field)  while others fell in love with the bitter blood orange (with added botanicals - the aim was to get a campari effect) or the raspberry and cinnamon Röttt met inte Sött. And of course there was the sahti which has long been on my bucket list of beers to try. For those who don't know this is a Finnish farmhouse beer made with a variety of grains, fermented with baker's yeast and filtered through juniper twigs. I suspect the Sahtipaja version is perhaps more elegant than some of the stuff made in the Finnish backwoods but even so while I enjoyed the experience I'm still not sure I actually liked the beer.  The sahti and the blueberry berliner were tried at the new Jopen Proeflokaal in Amsterdam which hosted one of the more unusual events of the weekend - but more of that shortly.

The rest of the brew day was spent sitting in the sun, chatting, sharing bottles and generally having a high old time.  The brewery opened to the public at about 3pm when the bar opened and food was served. I finally lurched off into the night at about 10 o'clock. 

The next two days were a round of masterclasses, presentations and "meet & greets" - with plenty of beer to ease it all along nicely.  I managed three of the masterclasses.  Stephen Andrews is an enthusiastic New Yorker who has relocated to Grimstad in Norway where he runs the barrel ageing operation for Nøgne Ø and gave us a run down on barrel ageing and how to do it; Ron Pattinson was entertaining (as ever) on the subject of Berliner Weisse while Tim Webb was his usual good value telling us about the role of sour beers in the global beer revolution. And it really is a revolution - Tim is working a new version of The World Atlas of Beer and told us that the number of countries with a developing beer culture has more than doubled since the first edition.


Fitting everything in was impossible but there were two other events I wanted to be at. First was the rather implausible "buttermilk-lambic-IPA live blending" at the Jopen Proelokaal. This was the inspiration of Ruud van Moorst of Bierbrouwerij De Eem whose beers I've enjoyed for some years now. He makes a very enjoyable lambic-IPA blend but this took the process one stage further. Bottles of the beer and buttermilk were poured into a pin which was then rolled up and down the street before being stillaged, tapped and served.  I was braced for something disgusting but it was surprisingly good. I did however pass on the repeat event the next day involving yoghurt and cranberries…

The other unmissable event was the homebrewers' "bretty home brew fest" at the De Prael Proeflokaal. Last year I had some seriously good beers here but this time it was more of a flying visit. What I had to try though were some of the beers from Tommie Sjef Koenen, a young amateur lambic blender and, I suspect, a future star turn. 

And that was it. Three days of intense activity. Time to relax at the Nederlandse Bieren Festival in Delft but that's for another day I think.

And the collab from day 1? That's a Flemish Red that's gone into two red wine casks, one to sour and the other to become more "funky".

Monday, 13 July 2015

Welcome

Having spent a couple of years haunting the comments on other beer blogs I thought the time had come to have ago myself. I did think long and hard about this because I'm not really sure I've much new or original to say (not that seems to be a show stopper in the blogosphere) so this is something of a self indulgence where I will be able to bore you rigid with those beery topics that interest me.

Don't expect literary writing, technical analysis or detailed tasting notes (looking at old festival programmes my notes range from the likes of "really very good" to "bleurgh" although I may try and aim a little higher than that from time to time).  Nor should you expect a torrent of posts - it'll be about one a week at best.

For the time being comment moderation is on. Starting as I mean to go on no anonymous comments will be accepted at all. Pseudonymous comments will be allowed if I know the identity of the individual behind the name.  

This might be fun. Do stick around.