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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.