Young Beer in Old Kegs, an interview with the author

It has never occurred to us to review a book for the Dutch Beer Pages. First of all the number of books written about Dutch beer is quite low and, as you could have guessed, almost all are written in Dutch. We stumbled on a book however that did seem worth writing about. The book is called “Jong bier in oude vaten”: Young beer in old casks. Author Annette Wisman , with the help of Swedish photographer Tina Westphal, decided to write a book about 32 Dutch breweries. Even if you have no knowledge of the Dutch language you can still see it as a guide and also a photography book about Dutch beer. The pictures on almost every page are excellent and are worth looking at even if you cannot read a word of Dutch.

The book fits the still rising demand for specialty beers in the Netherlands and is more than just a description of 32 breweries. It starts out like most beer books: some history of the beer industry and a description of how beer is made. But the latter is not restricted to a few paragraphs; throughout the book you see pictures of the process. Every brewery has some picture relating to the process, a great combination. Besides this the authors have tried to get the atmosphere surrounding it into the book. And they succeeded.

We asked Annette a few questions, and fortunately for you got some great answers.

Idea

First off we asked how they came up with the idea for the book. This started out with photographer Tina Westphal who in Italy and the Netherlands had already made some photographs of breweries which led to an idea that for four or five years has been simmering in her mind: a book about breweries for a larger audience. Annette was under the impression that a book like this was already written, but after some investigation found only guides.

The goal was to put a lot of atmosphere in the book, an important aspect of the (micro) brewing culture which consists mainly of people with an enormous passion for their hobby; People who often have a story apart from brewing, something we have already seen in some of the articles we have published so far on the Dutch Beer Pages and what makes it so very interesting.

It took little over six month to do the research for the book; starting in the end of 2009, early 2010 with visiting the breweries. Since they both live in Amsterdam De Prael was the first brewery visited, figuring that if they had forgotten important things it was easy to return. The breweries in Brabant were more towards the end. We asked if their view changed during the process and it had:

In the beginning you focus mostly on the brewing process, but later you get a better sense of the different choices being made. For example the open yeasting which in the entire country only happens at five breweries. An old tradition, but the barrels are really quite hopeless because of the danger of infection. These are interesting things.”

Photography

The photography is excellent in the book and like the text shows the uniqueness and atmosphere of every brewery, whether it’s big or small. The process of brewing is shown throughout the book in the pictures so the pictures tell a story as well. This process is mentioned in the early pages in the book and if you don’t read that they might not say much because they opted to not give any subscripts to the pictures apart from De Roos, which has some really old museum pieces that were too good not do describe.

Small v Big or Small & Big

It is not only a book about the smaller breweries, they also included the large ones like Heineken and Grolsch. What we admired was that they were treated just like the smaller ones, that these brewers are just as passionate. Annette explains:

“We felt that the large breweries are also part of the Dutch brewing culture, by talking about both I thought we could show the varied landscape of Dutch beer. Even though the big and small ones often behave as each other’s enemies, there are also a lot of links. La Trappe for example is owned by Bavaria but behaves independently, and gets space to do so and is able to use the facilities at Bavaria for testing. Another link is that quite a few of the smaller brewers started out their beer careers at Heineken, like the brewer of De Pelgrim; and there are more examples of brewers working together, and maybe even influencing each other”.

Pilsner v Specialty beer

The distinction between big and small was not the only thing: “The relationship between pilsner and specialty beer is interesting as well. It’s a topic everyone has an opinion about. Pilsner is seen as product of the bigger automated breweries, specialty beer of artisanal brewers. However, the big brewers are discovering specialtybeer as a marketing ploy. The brewmaster from Heineken in Den Bosch sees bockbeer as the way to distinguish himself, whereas smaller brewers sometimes feel making a good pilsner does the same thing, because it is quite hard to make.

She also noticed another interesting battle of ideas. There are haters and lovers of heavily hopped beers: those who dislike the lingering hoppy taste and those who try anything to add more hops while keeping it drinkable at the same time. “I see in both trends a sort of quest for purity”.

Time of the Season

The book is divided into four sections, corresponding to the seasons. This was done to stress that beer is a natural product with ingredients from the country and is a hint to the making of seasonal beers. Every piece about a brewery has either a reference to a season in the text or in a picture. The authors put Heineken in the fall section because of the long tradition of the Amstelbock. De Pelgrim has a heavy chocolate stout and fits into the winter section. Alfa made it into the spring section because of their Lente (Spring) Bock and Dortmunder beers.

Every section ends with a recipe (like a rabbit stew with onion and prunes). Besides the seasons two sections describe the up-and-coming trends of biological brewing (we mentioned Gulpener in an earlier article, and they are rightfully in this section) and brewing with unusual ingredients (De Molen). The stress on the seasons adds more atmosphere to the book.

Conclusions

Annette tells us that the brewers she met are a funny bunch of people, who all think that their way of doing things is the only right one and unique in the country. “We often heard brewers say that they were the only ones who had their brewing process set up in a certain way. But they often don’t know what the others brewers do, except for some colleagues they befriended. There often are as many comparisons as differences between breweries.”  This conclusion is a very interesting one; Some brewers brew according to the Reinheitsgebot, others experiment heavily with ingredients or lagering, different equipment, different hops etc. Annette: “If something is clear, it’s that there is not a single best way of brewing, that everything has already been done at one stage in history and that claims like ‘our way is the only right historical way’ is futile. But it is this stubbornness that is also charming, because you have to be convinced of your own uniqueness.

The author’s favorite beers

Of course we had to ask what Annette’s favorite beers from the country were. She mentioned four in particular: De Molen’s Op & Top, Mommeriete’s Rookbock, Jopen Koyt and the La Trappe Oak Aged Isid’Or. Photographer Tina seems to be the real fanatical beerdrinker, traveling all over the country to the beerfestivals, to try as many different beers as possible. Annette does have our almost missionary like mindset to get people who don’t drink a lot of beer, or always the same one,  to drink some of the special beers. And as she herself puts it: “I have noticed that if you tell an interesting story to tell that helps a lot”.

And we agree, since we also try and find those interesting stories. We read a lot more of those in “Jong Bier in Oude Vaten” which was released last year with publisher Fontaine. Click ‘Bestel Hier’ to order the book or walk to any good bookstore in the country to get a great hardcover copy.

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