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Thursday, 1 November 2018

Going Wild in Nijmegen

It seems an age now but it was only September when I spent six nights in Amsterdam. The main focus of the trip was the Borefts Bier Festival at Bodegraven but the extra days made it possible to do a little more travelling around.

In fact I only had one serious day out but it was a bit of a belter. I'd been to Nijmegen before but, like many places in the Netherlands, the beer scene has been transformed in recent years.

The largest city in Gelderland province, Nijmegen is about an hour and twenty minutes on the train from Amsterdam so is easily do-able for a day trip. It would probably repay an overnight stay as there is quite a bit to see - as you might expect from what is the oldest city in the Netherlands which celebrated its 2,000th birthday in 2005. 

The tourist office has a handy city tour walking guide which will take you round most of the sites ending up at the few remains of the Valkhof, a monumental castle-cum-palace built by Charlemagne and largely demolished by the city authorities in 1796 - two chapels remain.  In fact much of the city is quite new as it was badly bombed by American planes in 1944 - in error, as they thought they were over Germany at the time - so many of the 'old' buildings are in fact expert reconstructions. The cramped, and historic, housing of the Old Town survived the war but was demolished by the city council (which clearly has historic form here) in the 1960s.

Part way round the walk you'll come to the Stadsbrouwerij de Hemel , one of the oldest brewpubs in the country, having been founded in 1983. Located in a 12th Century cloister and comprising brewery, museum and cafe, it's a pleasant place to loiter for lunch and the beers are solidly well-made.  While you are there you may consider picking up bottles of the barley wine Nieuw Ligt and its barrel-aged companion Grand Cru. Later on, check out the 16th century Brouwershuys (Brewers' House) on Steen Straat.

Once that's all out of the way it's down to business. Apart from de Hemel (and anoher very small operation, I am told), Nijmegen is home to two of the most interesting breweries in the Netherlands. These are Oersoep  and  Nevel Artisan Ales - both have taps attached so a visit is well worthwhile.  The Oersoep tap, Stoom, is the longest established and has its own website here .

I've known Oersoep owners Sander Kobes and Kick van Hout (picured above) for some time and a conversation with Sander in August (at the excellent Van Moll Fest in Eindhoven) led to my invitation to visit.  

Getting there involves a trip into suburbia. Catch the no. 5 bus (in the direction of Tiberiuslann) and get off at Merwedestraat. The best place to catch the bus is probably Centraal Station although I picked it up on Nassausingel not far from the tourist information.  Once you've got off, stay on the same side of the road and walk in the same direction as the bus until you come to Dijkstraat on the right.  Go to the end, walk up the small flight of steps and across the road you'll see the large  Honigcomplex - a disused food factory. Turn right, go right round the back and keep on - you'll come to a number of independent businesses among which is Oersoep and its Stoom cafe (the actual address of the brewery is Waalbandijk 14D).

Oersoep (which translates at Primordial Soup!) was founded in 2012 and moved to its current location in early 2014. Since then the brewery has expanded considerably and Sander now heads up a brew team comprising Danny Smink, Maarten Niekus and Etienne Maris, and most of whom were busy around the brewery as I went round.

I was surprised at how large the brewery is but there's a lot going on here -they even mill their own malt (sourced from Fawcetts here in the UK and Weyerman). It's also a brewery of two halves.

The 'clean side' (pictured here)produces a whole range of styles - saisons, IPAs, stouts, kettle sours.  Everything, in fact, you'd expect to come from a  modern craft brewery - and all those I've had have been hugely enjoyable.  Recent hits for me have been Creamy Brothers (a milk stout with blackberries) and Mr Orange (a sour pale ale with blood oranges).

However it's on the 'bug side' where things get really interesting. Oersoep have been making wild beers for a while now - bottles of the superlative Brettalicious and Brettanosaurus Rex picked up at Manchester's Beemoth were real treats.  The row of 7,500 litre foudres is impressive to say the least, and these are backed up by a host of smaller wooden casks.A solera system is used to keep to large foudres topped up with new beer.

Then there's the 2000 litre coolship at the top of the brewery. This is surrounded by aged hops that are used in the spontaneously fermented beers (in the proper lambic fashion). Two 'Koelschip' beers have recently been released - Blauwe Bes, aged with blueberries, and Red Corvette, with cherries. I've been lucky enough to try both but I get the impression that numbers are limited and they are unlikely to find their way very far from the brewery.

After my tour round Oersoep, Sander took me round the corner to the other brewery in the Honigcomplex - Nevel Artisan Ales.

Founded in late 2014, Nevel started life as the Katjelam Brewing Co. Now, while 'katje' is Dutch for kitten, and 'lam', well lamb, katjelam is also Dutch for 'totally pissed'. So, with a move to more serious beers came a more serious name.

When I arrived some of the team were busy finishing off the new brewery tap (which involved sanding some serious pieces of timber) but I was able to chat to brewer Robert Maijzert. Robert explained that everything at Nevel is mixed fermentation and it certainly looked as though everything was also aged in oak casks, too - my scribbled notes suggest around 80% of the beer is in fact wood-aged. The same notes notes say there are 152 of these casks and the last two had just been filled.

The primary fermentation is in open-topped vessels and afterwards the beer is rested for two weeks before going into the casks.The aim is to be all organic and much used is made of herbs and fruit.  I didn't have the chance to try any Nevel beers on the day but I have since and can see why they have a growing reputation in the Netherlands.

After that is was back to Stoom and chat over a few beers. Most were from Oersoep but one was a pretty sensational saison from Cyclic Beer Farm which I'd never heard of but turns out to be a tiny brewery in Barcelona - if I come across anything else by these people I'll be on it like a shot. Sander also told me that another brewery is due to set up nearby which should only add to Nijmegen's beery attractions. I'll be back - as they say.


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