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Monday, 28 December 2015

Dutch Beer of the Week


As it's the festive season let's have a look at a Christmas themed beer. As you can see the jolly chap on the label hasn't really got into the Christmas spirit but I think he'd be smiling after a glass of this.

I've already talked about Brouwerij Rodenburg and, in my opinion, it's certainly one of the stars of the Dutch beer scene. The owner-brewer is Yorkshireman Steve Gammage who has been in the Netherlands for about 30 years and his beers are increasingly confident and successful.

So, on to Scrooge. Tim Skelton's Beer in the Netherlands describes this as "a seriously full-on dark Christmas ale that is a classic in the making".  He's not wrong.  There's a complex grain bill including Pils, Carapils, Diastatic malt,  Cara Red, Whiskey and Peated malts (or so the label tells us).  These contribute to the spicy nose which is also slightly medicinal like thick old-fashioned cough syrup. Beyond that there are very complex flavour notes in there  - wafts of spice, peat, smoke and rich Christmas cake jockey for attention in a very appealing way. 

This could be a cloying malt-fest but it's not because the cavalry arrives in the form of a crisply bitter finish. The hops are Green Bullet, Phoenix and First Gold and bring rather more to this beer than the label's claimed three bitterness units would suggest (given both the hop grist and the notably bitter finish I suspect this must be a misprint). Indeed the thought occurred to me that if I was brewing in a railway arch in London I might be tempted to call this a "Christmas IPA".   

I'm back in the Netherlands in three weeks time (for this) and I'll certainly be looking out for a couple of these to bring home. 

Monday, 21 December 2015

Dutch Beer of the Week

Elsener Bierbrouwerij Pochpoater White IPA

It's been a while but we're now back up and running here at JC's Beer Blog with a new Dutch Beer of the Week (and yes, I know the last one was on 26 October...).

Right then, White IPA.  It's another variant on everyone's favourite beer style and one that I've rather enjoyed so far. It's shorthand for beers that combine serious hopping (usually of the American variety) with the spiciness and grain bill of a Belgian (or Dutch) witbier, and they can be hugely enjoyable and refreshing. There are a lot of them around as Ratebeer demonstrates.

So, on to this little number.  I know very little about the brewery. It's based in Elsen, which is in the east of the Netherlands (in Overijssel province) and it started up in 2014. The website just leads to a Facebook page but it's clear from there (and Ratebeer) that a considerable number of modern-sounding beers have been produced. In essence this was just a random purchase of an interesting-sounding beer in a style I like.

The label tells me that it's a witbier in the American style with a distinct hop profile. There's wheat malt in there so that's good but I see it's just 30 bitterness units and 5% ABV - both at the bottom end of what I might expect for a beer of this description. Pouring, it's a hazy pale lemon with no head to speak of. There's a sweet spiciness on the nose, with hints of orange peel perhaps, and this lingers all the way down the glass (and gets a bit cloying by the end to be honest) - however the ingredients don't indicate there's any spice or other addition to the beer so I'm assuming the esters are yeast-based.  As a drink it's quite light-bodied and while it's refreshing enough the "distinct hop profile" (or the "duidelijk hopprofiel" as the label has it) seems to be largely missing in action. It's perhaps a bit too much "white" and not enough "IPA" and certainly needs a bit more of everything I think.

I'm certainly not writing off this brewery on the basis of just the one beer as it seems to be quite an interesting set-up with lots of ideas.  It's just a shame that this one, on the basis of this bottle, didn't quite work.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Dutch Beer of the Week


Most beer enthusiasts visiting Amsterdam will have paid a visit to 't Ij. It's housed in an old bath house next to a windmill which is something of  a local landmark. It's certainly a good point of reference if you are heading there by bus (no. 22) or tram (nos. 10 and 14). On a fine day it's also a pleasant walk from Centraal Station and sitting outside on the terrace, beer in hand, is one of life's pleasures.

I first visited the 't Ij Proeflokaal back in 1994 (the first time I visited Amsterdam in fact) and it's been interesting to see it evolve over the years. Back then it was what might be described as "shabby chic" and was also on the small side with an overflow in the basement. The brewery could be glimpsed through some doors behind the bar as I recall. Today it's expanded to fill more of the bath house premises and is smart and modern.
The full 't Ij core range is available on tap alongside one or two specials - there was a black IPA on tap last time I dropped by (and was enjoyed with a plate of ossenworst, for me another essential ingredient of a visit here). If you've not yet been do make an effort - the Proeflokaal is open every day from 2.00 pm until 8.00 pm. 

The brewery is also something of a survivor. It was one of the early pioneers of the Dutch beer renaissance and opened way back in 1985. The core range has remained the same - a vaguely Belgian influenced range of beers running from Natte at 6.5% to the powerful 9% Columbus, along with an even more vaguely Czech-influenced Plzen. In the early years it has to be said the quality bounced around a bit too much but happily these issues seem to have been confined to the past. Indeed the't Ij beers have been on something of a roll in recent years.

Actually the core range hasn't remained entirely unchanged as the original beers have been joined by a rather fine IPA (7%), the hoppy and sessionable Flink (4.7%) and a range of specials and collaborations (a recurring special is the exceptional Ciel Bleu IPA - but it if you see it).  Most of this has coincided with the expansion of the brewery - and in particular when they opened a second brewery nearby in 2013. One notable collaboration was with the UK's Thornbridge Brewery to produce a tremendous American Wheat Ale which just bursts with hop character - and then we have this little beauty.  

Well, not so little, as it's a bit of a beast at 10%. It was brewed in collaboration with Marz Brewing of Chicago, and is named after the area where the brewery is based there. I have to admit that "barley" and "wine" are two words I always like to see on a bottle of beer and when I first came across this about a year ago I couldn't resist.  I was immediately impressed. Upfront is does all those barley wine things I like - booze, depth, fruity richness - and underneath was a firm supporting bitterness (the hop grist includes Amarillo, Nugget, Centennial and Chinook and they all played their part) which added balance and made this hugely drinkable.

Fast forward to September 2015 and Gollem in Amsterdam. It was on the board but not in the fridge so I had a bottle from the cellar as a nightcap. Beers like this usually present better at cellar rather than fridge temperature in my experience and this, combined with some age on the beer, was terrifically good (so much so the first nightcap was followed by a second...). The hops are still there but play a  more restrained role while the booziness has mellowed and matured. It's all just come together. I'm not sure how much more this would improve with further age - it's probably at its peak now so buy it on sight is my recommendation. 

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Not the Borefts Bier Festival

Borefts After Festival

It's been quiet here of late. One of the reasons is that I've been off on my travels but hopefully what passes for normal service will now be restored. Two nights in Lille were followed by five in Amsterdam and these included visits to the Borefts Bier Festival and the excellent After Festival held at the Fenix Food Factory in Rotterdam.

I'm lucky enough to have visited every Borefts Festival and it's been interesting to watch it grow and evolve over the years. Martijn over at The Dutch Beer Pages has already written about this year's event so I don't propose adding much here. The beers were the usual collection of the excellent, the mad, the bad and the dangerous to know of course, but I managed to steer clear of most of the clunkers. 

Apart from De Molen, the Netherlands was represented by Kees Bubberman's Brouwerij Kees! and Oedipus Brewing neither of whom let the side down.  I rarely go with a plan of action but here I was determined to try all of the Kees beers that's I'd not yet had, and that was quite a few.  The festival special was a Black Oyster Saison (just how craft can you get?) which was very good indeed.Other standouts from a wide range were Indian Summer Doppelbock, Oatmeal Breakfast Stout and a glorious American Barley Wine.

The hardworking team at Oedipus always have some treats in store and Borefts was no exception. I enjoyed reacquainting myself with Himbeer, a raspberry Berliner Wiesse, and was very taken by two brand new offerings.  Kinderyoga was an excellently balanced Imperial Stout which I could drink a lot of but the star of the show had to be Hosanna, a double IPA. Fresh, hoppy and doing just about everything you'd want a double IPA to do, this was just great. One of my party thought it was the best beer there.

An innovation last year was the Borefts After Festival in Rotterdam which proved to be an excellent antidote to the frantic activity in Bodegraven.  It's hosted by Kaapse Brouwers who have a brewery, bar and shop in the Fenix Food Factory. This is a converted warehouse on Veerlaan and at the back you can sit outside looking over Rijnhaven and the Nieuwe Maas back to the city centre. What's not to like about that?

Inside, apart from Kaapse Bouwers, there is a cider seller, butcher, cheese shop, coffee roaster, bakery and all sort of goodies as you can see if you follow this link. It attracts families who come for Sunday brunch and you can hire a tray and go round each stall building up your meal. The Kaapse Brouwers bar features live jazz on Sundays too.  Somehow they manage to fit a beer festival into all of this as well (in fact it's not all inside - this year some of the brewers' bars were outside as was a DJ and a handful of food stalls).
There were nine breweries present and seven of these were Dutch - Kaapse Brouwers of course plus: Oedipus (somehow still standing and good to go after two days at Borefts), Ramses, Van Moll, Raven Bone Hill, Oersoep, and Het Uiltje. In short, a cross section of Dutch craft brewing's premier league. They were joined by La Quince from Madrid and Pohjala from Tallinn.
After Borefts my beery mojo had slightly deserted me so I was slightly more restrained than I had been over the previous two days. I had to start with the wonderful Brettalicious from Oersoep. This full bodied, brett-infused and highly drinkable saison never, ever disappoints and set me up for the rest of the afternoon. Oedipus's Hosanna had to be revisited of course and Bea, a rye black IPA from hosts Kaapse Brouwers, was hoppy, black, dry and a fine example of the genre. Rames has always been one of my favourite Dutch brewers and the single hop Koele Kikker didn't disappoint, and nor did the seasonal Lambok which was on cask too! Van Moll's Fruity Loops, a blonde beer with dried red fruit, was pleasant enough but was certainly not the best Van Moll beer I've had.  The same goes for Raven Bone Hill's Cock of the Rock, described as an "Inca purple ale" and in reality an American pale ale. 
And finally - La Quince. I've not had a lot of Spanish craft beer but what I have tried has been seriously good. That track record was maintained here.  Both Double Baden, a big double IPA and Vanillla Black Velvet was a luscious imperial stout (and was even enjoyed by one of my stout hating friends).

I enjoyed the After Festival so much that next year I might just spend one day at the "main event" so I can enjoy this one all the more. We'll see.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Dutch Beer of the Week

Brouwerij Rodenburg Bronckhorster Saison Nouvelle

More like "Beer of the Fortnight" I'm afraid as it's been a busy time here at JC's Beer Blog. Anyway, down to business.

I've been a fan of Rodenburg beers almost since they started back in 2010. I see from my programme for the 2011 Bokbier Festival that I raved about the Dubbelbock ("Fab!!" read my extensive tasting notes). The brewer and owner is Steve Gammage, a Yorkshireman living in exile in the Netherlands for over 30 years now, and his beers are invariably some of the best in the country in my experience. The odd "Bronckhorster" name refers to the locality in which the brewery is situated by the way.

The brewery website doesn't really do justice to the beer range and apart from the one we're about to have a look at I would pick out Hoptimist (a 9% double IPA) and Scrooge (a Christmas beer at 8%) as real star turns out of what is an exceptionally fine selection. 

So, Saison Nouvelle. Saisons were of course very much on trend until recently (then every brewer - at least in the UK - that wanted to polish its "craft credentials" jumped on the sour bandwagon). It's a much used and abused style - too many brewers seem to think that just because they've made something with a saison yeast then, hey presto!, it's a saison. If only.

What I want in a saison are three things - some spice notes from the yeast, a decent hop character, and most importantly, a good dry finish. This certainly delivers on two. It's a honey-amber in colour with some hints of spice and hop drifting up as you pour. There's a gentle sweet fruitiness (perhaps a hint of marmalade - that's about as considered as it gets from me) and then the hops come along to play. Nothing too big and bold but assertive enough to take over and run through until the bitter and, yes, dry finish. A touch more spiciness would turn what is by any standards a very good beer into a classic I think. 

After making my notes I had a look at RateBeer (as you do) and the reviewers there seem to be all over the place with this one - some of the reviews make me wonder if I drank the same beer.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Dutch Beer of the Week


This is billed as an "American DIPA", or double IPA. At 8% there are some who might complain that it's too weak for that "style".  Who cares as long as it's a good beer?  And as we shall see, this is a bit of a star turn.

First a bit about "Little Bear"  (go on, who thought "beer" meant, well, beer?). It's based in Lemmer in the north western province of Friesland, an independently minded part of the Netherlands which has its own official language, Frysk, and flag. The national beer revival has been slow to catch on here although among the province's 14 breweries and "brouwerij huurders" it does boast one of the longest lived of the new wave Dutch brewers.  De Friese Bierbrouwerij was founded way back in 1985 and is still going strong (their Dubbel Tarwe Bier was one of the first new wave Dutch beers that made me sit up and take notice).

Kleine Beer started in 2014 and the people behind it are Bernd Beesma and Marcel Top. They have a small pilot kit and once a recipe has been perfected it's brewed elsewhere - so far all of the beers seem to have been made at another Friesland newcomer, Admiraal BierBrouwerij Aldtsjerk.  The core range comprises three beers: a blond (De Beer Uit Lemmer), a dubbel (LE-4) and this little beauty.

The label is very informative and tells us that the malt grist comprises Pale Ale, Pils and Pale Crystal malts. So we get a medium copper-amber beer. Now some of these very big IPAs have an almost condensed tropical fruit aroma which I must say I'm liking less and less these days. Luckily there's none of that here - instead there's a whiff of bitter and resinous hops which is a hint of what's to come. The hops are Cascade and Chinook and together these create a notable and lasting bitterness just nicely underpinned by the malt which gives that slight balancing sweetness in the background.  You can taste almost every one of the 80 EBUs here. The finish is bitter and moreish. I'll be buying more of this when I'm next in the Netherlands.

On a food matching note this pairs well with Babyback Ribs. I only know this because the label tells me that as well. There's a recipe on the website!

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Dutch Beer of the Week

Oldskool Brewery Simcoe Hopfen Weisse

After last week's look at a rather old school beer here's a beer from Oldskool Brewery. It's a hopfen weiss which is to say a south German-style wheat beer loaded with hops. That might be something of a generalisation but you get the picture.  Now I'm not a huge fan of the usual Bavarian weissbier - I really don't get along too well with the banana-clove-bubblegum stuff. Give me a dunkel or a helles any day of the week. However a hopfen weiss is a rather different animal. That big hit of hops really does it for me. I first encountered the style at a Schneider night at Common Bar in Manchester and was pretty much blown away. More recently Manchester's Cloudwater Brewery has produced some pretty stunning examples.

Oldskool Brewery is another Dutch "brouwerij huurder" - a brewer without a brewery. Nothing wrong with that - some of the best beers in the Netherlands have (and do) come from brewers who don't have their own kit.  Oldskool is based in Eindhoven (the home of Philips) and is the project of Dennis Kort who develops his beers at home and then gets them made at a commercial brewery. He's been doing this since 2013 and has had his beer made at Rodenburg, Maximus and, mostly, De Hemel in Nijmegen, which is where this one comes from.

There have been a number of "single hop" hopfen weissen from Oldskool and I tried the Mosaic version after the beer festival in Delft. In fact this isn't "single hop" as the grist includes Spalt Select and Hersbrucker alongside the Simcoe, which of course plays the starring role. It's 8.2% and a copper-amber colour - a bit bock like in fact. This is an initial impression that doesn't go away as you drink.  There's some sweetness and while the hops don't dominate they certainly add to the overall balance with a hint of tropical fruit and a decent bitterness at the end. It's quite full bodied too.  So, while there wasn't the huge hop hit I was half expecting it was overall a satisfying and enjoyable beer. I'll certainly be trying more of these.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Dutch Beer of the Week

Stadsbrouwerij De Pelgrim Mayflower Tripel

De Pelgrim has been around since the early days of the Dutch beer revival having been founded back in 1996.  It's based in the attractive Rotterdam suburb of Delfshaven which is the place where the Pilgrim Fathers gathered before leaving for America in 1620.  The Pilgrim Father's church is still there and the Mayflower's passenger list is on the wall.  As you may expect it's something of a tourist hot spot for American visitors to the Netherlands,

The brewery and its tap are next door to the church and occupy one building with the brewery on one side and the cafe-cum-restaurant to the other. Last time I was there (which was a few years back now) we sat outside on the very pleasant terrace.  It's all well worth getting the Rotterdam Metro to Delfshaven to while away a couple of hours or so.

On to the beer. The Pelgrim range has always struck me as solid and well made but not necessarily the most go-to beers in the Netherlands. I do see from the website though that they have been winning awards for their autumnal and winter beers so obviously waves are being made.

A few years back they got a new brewer and it was about this time I tried something from them at Tilburg beer festival and which made me sit up and take notice. I was told it was an "Amarillo Tripel" and it was pretty damn good I must say.  So I picked this up hoping for something along those lines and to be honest I was a little disappointed. There was very little on the nose and the beer itself while nicely clean was essentially quite a sweet affair with the occasional hint of barley sugar. The finish was also short and sweet. I was hoping for something spicier and hoppier. All in all a perfectly good mid-gold tripel but nothing to get excited about.

However having said all of that I'm still a bit confused about this beer. RateBeer tells me that Amarillo Tripel (at 7.8%) has been "retired" and has separate reviews for Mayflower Tripel (at 7.2%).  The bottle in front of me declares its strength at 7.8% while the brewery website (as you may see) lists Mayflower Tripel at 7.3% and also tells me that Amarillo hops are added at the lagering stage (so it's dry hopped then I guess).  Clearly some tinkering has been going on here and to be honest I'm not sure it's all been to the best effect. I think a return visit to Delfshaven is in order to see what the beer's like on site.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Dutch Beer of the Week

HillDevils American Black Horse IPA

Right, this is a black IPA so let's just talk about that for a moment. I know there are some writers out there who kind of roll their eyes at the term "black IPA". How can an India Pale Ale be black?  Well if we're going to be picky I suppose it is a contradiction in terms. But - it is also useful shorthand to describe beers which combine a dark malt presence with a hop forward character and I for one have no problem with that. Rather this than the clunky "cascadian dark ale" favoured by some.

It's also a style of beer that's easy to get wrong.  There needs to be a fine balance between that malt and hop character I think. Too much hop and the dark malts are almost an unnecessary accessory. To much dark malt character and you have something more akin to a hoppy stout.  When it's done right though I find these extremely appealing beers.

So, HillDevils. They are based at Wouwse Plantage which is in the far south of the Netherlands in North Brabant - indeed they are very close to the Belgian border.  The people behind this are Theo and Marleen van Eekelen and they've been producing their beers since 2013. I don't think they are full time brewers, and indeed they are "brouwerij huurders" or brewery hirers insofar as they don't have their own kit at the moment. The labels tell me their beers are currently being made at Dorpsbrouwerij de Pimpelmeesch in fact.

Although they've been around for a couple of years I didn't come across them until the 1st Dutch Craft Beer Festival at Enschede in May. I normally flit around from bar to bar at beer festivals but enjoyed their beers so much I hung around and tried the range. It was really my sort of stuff - IPAs, Black IPAs and Double IPAs - some aged on oak chips as well. Lovely beers.

Lovely people too. I got talking with Theo and totally unprompted he said he'd send me some beers. Sure enough a couple of months later a box arrives with five bottles (4 x 33cl and 1 x 75cl plus a glass, some beer mats and stickers). This was one of the beers he sent me so here's where I insert the pious disclaimer about it not affecting my opinion of the beer etc, etc, etc. So, having got that out of the way let's get on to the beer.

The label tells you everything you need to know.The malt grist is pale ale, amber, chocolate and smoked malt while the hops are Chinook, Simcoe, Magnum and Amarillo with Columbus used for dry hopping,  With 68 EBC and a nice round 100 EBU it comes in at 6.5%. 

There's a touch of roast in the nose along with a hint of liquorice sweetness and underlying resiny hops. As you drink there's an immediate big hop hit with roast coming through and then the merest hint of smoke. The finish is beautifully long and bitter.  I'm very pleased I have a second bottle of this and will be aiming to get more on my next trip to the Netherlands. Top class.

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


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.