Oedipus International Beer Festival: More than beer indeed

That the people over at Oedipus were organizing a beer festival was hard to miss. They promoted it well online and used Untappd for further promotion and discounts on tickets.

Not that Oedipus needs it. The last few years has seen them from hobbyists turn into a major Dutch brewery. They are present at festivals everywhere in the country and abroad. Their bottles  can be bought in the major supermarkets now. And most importantly they have done so by maintaining their own identity and philosophy, something that can be found in their unique beers.

Their quality has resulted in an invitation to the annual Oregon Brewers Festival. Something I wrote about a few years ago. This lead to a movie, a lot of great Holland-Oregon collaboration beers and now some of these breweries made their way to this festival. Upright, The Commons and Cascade for example offered their beers. The quality of Dutch brewing is great and still improving, but the festival got a massive boost through these American breweries and likeminded European ones like Lervig, Brew by Numbers and Omnipollo.

These breweries in turn provided a beer list that made any self respecting beer lover salivate. From session IPA’s in the 3% range to Russian Stouts of 11% and over, there was something for everyone. The wide variety also meant that you could have beers in your favorite style for most of the day.

Twice a day you could go on a tour and have 5 glasses of beer within a separate theme. Barrel-Aged beers were one of the 4, sours the other. And if you liked sours boy did you have a great time. The festival brought together old world sours from Boon and new world sours from for example Cascade. Sour ales have been the darlings of the beer geeks, and this festival showed why.

oedipus1More than beer

But as advertised the festival was indeed about more than beer. The OIBF is a festival that is worth going to even if you don’t drink a drop of alcohol. For one the food was exceptional. Many festivals still have one or two stands with mediocre food but here it was a small food truck festival. Kim Chi, Burgers, Oysters, Noodles and Hot Dogs to name some of the options. The sausages were made by Brandt & Levie and if you never had their sausages before run to any good food store to get some. They do for sausage and meats what Oedipus does for beer, no-borders sausage making. The smells of good food hung over the festival and with the dwindling number of cigarette smokers this is a huge improvement.

Children could come, and though there wasn’t an entire playpen they could drink lemonade just like their parents drank beer. The public was mixed between old and young, beer aficionados and beer novices. Walking beer labels walked around for extra atmosphere and the music wasn’t bad either, though at times a little too loud.

First timers

You might guessed by now that I loved being at this festival. In fact the day after I had an overwhelming urge to return for day two. When I write this on Tuesday I still wish I was back. There is room for improvement, sure, but they got significantly more things right than wrong.

The comparisons with Borefts cannot be ignored, and they have beat them on a few points: One, it is held on Saturday and Sunday, although my guess is Borefts is a Friday, Saturday festival because of the religious nature of Bodegraven. Two it is easy to reach. Bodegraven is easy to reach from the 4 major cities, but a little harder from farther away. Amsterdam Centraal is easy to reach for most.

What remains are memories of a great festival, a festival that makes the first weekend of July worth looking forward to. With the Brettfest and Borefts Holland has a third unique and international festival, one that has plenty of room to grow and improve. I will be planning my vacation next year around the Oedipus International Beer Festival.

Historical Interlude: Amsterdam’s Sleutelbrug

amsterdam_canal_bridge_1482937_oWhen I studied at the University of Amsterdam I have crossed this bridge more times than I can remember on my way to History classes. It is one of the many bridges in Amsterdam. Fairly nondescript that got its fame more from the many junkies selling you a bike for next to nothing. A bike they probably stole from you a week before.

The bridge is called De Sleutelbrug (The Keybridge) and is on the main path from the Rokin to the University of Amsterdam. This area is full of local history. Not only is it now the university, but a large part of the complex was once a hospital. The university complex is still called the Onze Lieve Vrouw Gasthuis, Our Dear Lady Guesthouse.

It wasn’t until I was doing research for a walking tour of Amsterdam beer history that I found out that the bridge is named after a brewery that stood nearby named De Sleutel.

The history of brewery De Sleutel matches that of the rise of Amsterdam as a global economic power. Amsterdam got its first wealth by holding a monopoly on beer from Northern German cities like Hamburg where beer was made that was significantly better than what was produced locally. This trade led to more trade with the Baltic Sea. Grains and wood was imported into the city and distributed throughout Northern Europe. With the wealth from this it was possible to build ships that could sail to Asia to open up the spice trade. You need capital for this, and that was made by the trade with Northern Europe.

De Sleutel Brewery was started by Gerrit Bicker in the latter part of the 16th century. With the money he and his predecessors made, they could expand into other enterprises, especially trading companies. This made them incredibly wealthy. So wealthy in fact that they could build an entire island north of the Haarlemmerstraat, called the Bickerseiland. At its peak this island housed more than ten wharfs for the construction of ships. With economic power came political power and for a long time they were one of the most important families in the city, and by extension the country.

The brewery stood somewhere in what now is the Binnengasthuis area. Now it is an administrative part of the university, as well as having some classrooms and the food hall. Before that it was part of the hospital, and before that even it had a city carpentry shop and the brewery.

Not a single stone, wooden beam or even a plaque remembers us that there once was a brewery here. A brewery of a famous family no less. The only thing that remains is that small bridge with such a generic name that no one even things of a brewery. Which is more than for most historic breweries.

I will add more short articles Amsterdam beer history, and hopefully soon I will be able to give a tour through the city, showing the few remaining signs of beer history. I will keep you all posted.

 

Amsterdam-West:Buying Beer, Drinking Beer and Eating (with a beer)

A piece about beer in Amsterdam five years ago would be one blogpost. There just wasn’t much to visit when this decade started. Oh things have changed my friends.

Much of it was centered on downtown Amsterdam with places like De Bierkoning, ‘t Arendsnest, Brouwerij ‘t IJ and In De Wildeman. But a lot more is going on in other parts of the city. New enterprises have started, and older stores have hooked onto the craft beer hype by adapting to the new type of alcohol consumer.

When I moved to Amsterdam in 2000 Amsterdam-West (or to be more precise Oud West or Old West, adjacent to the center of the city) wasn’t much. Maybe a few good places to drink coffee or eat, but not a neighborhood you’d base your visit to Amsterdam on. Though it is still not a Jordaan or De Pijp, it is changing. Like all the other neighborhoods this part too has been through a positive renewal.

So here I want to focus on some beer places in Oud-West, and in the area from De Clerqsstraat to the Overtoom. There are more places to mention, but I chose my favorite two in each category: buying, eating, drinking.

Buying Beer

IMG_8029Avondwinkel Sterk (De Clercqstraat 7)

Let’s start here, just outside the Centrum district. Take tram 13, 14 or 17 from wherever you are, or just walk from Dam Square past the Westerkerk. Sterk bills itself as a store that is open late and yes, 1:00 at night is late. It also open year round.

Sterk now is a shop that sells stuff for expats, mostly from English speaking countries. What they especially are is a high class liquor store, with a focus on craft beer. The selection is huge, I mean really huge. I don’t think any store in Amsterdam can match what they have, apart from the Bierkoning naturally. More than half I think is beer from the Netherlands, and almost all of the local Amsterdam brewers have a spot on the shelf.

‘t Fust (Bilderdijkstraat 203)

When I first visited this little corner store it had some shelves in the corner with beer, mostly Belgian, some local things like De Prael. Well, things have changed, now the majority of the store is beer, and great beer too. Good selection of De Molens and an Emelisse White Label is always a good sign. Store might be a little crowded and messy, but you won’t be disappointed by the things you can get here.

Drinking beer while eating

Foodhallen (Bellamyplein 51)

In between drinking tasty beer and schlepping around your increasingly heavy bag of bottles you need to eat. Let me suggest the Foodhallen, a must visit for anyone digging the small scale, food truck scene. It is close to the outside Ten Catemarkt, off the Kinkerstraat.

Built in what once was the garage for the trams on this side of the city, it now is a combination of shops, businesses, manufacturing, a movie theater and a food hall. Like any good food hall there is something for everyone. For the less adventurous there are burgers and pizza. But there is more interesting food like Spanish meats, Korean kimchi, oysters, ‘bitterballen’ filled with several ragouts or cheese fondue. It is a food lovers paradise and the prices aren’t even that absurd.

We had a perfect pulled pork sandwich, quinoa sushi, a nice slice of pizza with figs and goat cheese and Vietnamese rolls. What completes a trip to the Foodhallen for you the beer lover is that there is a beer bar. It is perfectly fine to buy a bottle of beer to eat with your burger here. And what is even better, it’s not your typical big brand beer but local brews from the likes of Oedipus or Two Chefs, and probably more in the future. I was able to have an Oedipus I hadn’t had before, so things were well.

There are plenty of other great places to eat, but if you are with a large group, this is perfect.

Bar Brouw (Ten Katestraat 16)

This place might be #1 on my ‘to eat at’ list. From what I have seen and heard this restaurant is a meat lover’s paradise with great smoked meat dishes. What sets it apart is the .Unfortunately it wasn’t open during the day on weekdays, but I will plan a visit soon. Based on recommendations from others this sounds great.

Drinking Beer!

I didn’t get around to visit Gollem on the Overtoom,  but from previous experience I know that this is nice too. It seems to be still focused on mostly Belgian and some German beers, but Dutch beer is available there too. Nice and roomy.

IMG_8040The Finish: Craft & Draft (Overtoom 417)

I promised two bars here, but this place is so good it counts as two. Any visit to this part of town should end with a visit to Craft & Draft. In fact, every visit to Amsterdam should contain at least a few hours here. Craft & Draft is part of the trifecta of amazing beer bars that also includes ‘t Arendsnest and the Beer Temple in downtown. This bar opened last year and is amazing. A little bit outside of downtown but easily accessible with tram, bike or a nice walk through the Vondelpark. 40 taps with things from all over the world, but mostly Scandinavian and American. There will be something for everyone. There is also a little store where you can buy some of the things. The interior is sleek, calming and at times funny and it is roomy. Downtown café’s might be small and cozy, but it is good to have some space now and again. This is one of the places where every time you come back the beer menu will be radically different. And, there are always some great Dutch beers on tap as well.

Travel

If you are a traveler just looking for some places to eat and drink West will suffice, but doesn’t stand above other neighborhoods. It doesn’t have a brewery (yet) but a high density of stores. If you can only visit two things though go to the Food Hallen and Craft & Draft, it will make your Amsterdam trip tastier.

From Mill to Factory. Utrechts Beerbrewersfestival 2016

In a move that was bound to happen, the successful Utrecht Beerbrewersfestival moved from its old spot in downtown Utrecht to a larger location. Like the industrial age in the 19th century the windmill is now replaced by a factory. A former factory that is now an entertainment complex called De Fabrique.

The move was inevitable. The former location was great, close to the railway station yet rustic. But the number of breweries kept growing, and so did the stream of beer lovers making their way to the windmill. Last year they sold out their glasses long before the festival was finished, leaving many disappointed.

I was somewhat afraid when I heard this was their new location. Factory buildings conjure up images of concrete slabs of drabness. It was also 1,5 km (about a mile) away from the nearest railway station.

Boy was I wrong.

_DSC0896The setup was great. Some brewers had outside stalls, the rest was placed inside. There was room to sit inside or outside, a problem at the previous location. Though concrete the building has a retro feel to it, like they never really tried to make it into one perfect space, but rather a collection of previous additions. Old beams on the ceiling, defunct electricity units were still there. Useless, but it did add a certain warmth.

The number of breweries present this year was 27. But were all these new breweries also better in quality? Well, unfortunately new breweries tend to come out with beers that are anything but renewing, too many blondes and tripels. The market is already swamped with these and it doesn’t offer anything new. There is nothing wrong with his per sé, but I tend to try to more unusual styles. As I have noticed before the cream of the crop is getting better, the gap with the rest seems to be widening. Duits & Lauret and VandeStreek were conveniently placed outside, but it is no surprise that they had long lines. Rock City from Amersfoort is improving every year and they brought some nice barrel aged beers along with many other styles.

New breweries, no old styles

_DSC0899.JPG

Neobosski

If you really want to stand out as new brewery, come up with something new. A new brewery for me, and one I appreciated, was Neobossky. They have one beer, a Black IPA type with inspirated by Duits & Lauret and Emelisse. Could be worse right?

So tell me, are porters making a comeback? I had quite a few good ones in Utrecht. Oproer had a porter called Leftöver, made of you guessed it, leftovers. It’s typical that their beer made from what was laying around was better to drink than other beers. SpierBier from Mijdrecht brought a Baltic porter aged in red port barrels. One of the highlights for me and apparently also for others because they made the top 5 of most coins sold. There were other barrel aged projects that were worth trying from VandeStreek and Rock City. I didn’t even get the StapZwan porter I had last year that was amazing, and a good example of a new brewery starting with something slightly different.

Or come up with something old. De Dikke won the Most Appreciated Beer of Utrecht award with a Kuyt beer, a nice historic beerstyle that needs to be made more. It wasn’t the best beer in my view, but having the balls to make this earns a lot of bonus points. Congratulations.

Other improvements

So the new space is better. Apart from more room the food has improved too with great hotdogs and fried chicken. People walked around with Belgian fries too, a lovely touch. A pop-up Mitra store sold bottles from breweries present at the festival so you could take with you what you weren’t able to taste.

Blueprint for the future

If it is at all possible to stay at this location the festival has room to grow. I had a feeling the turnout was little less than previous years, but that could just be because they were spread out more. There now is room for even more brewers and visitors, and they only used a quarter of the available space. I will be back, I hope you will too.

P.S.

Oh, remember how I told you that I was worried about the distance from nearest railway station (Maarssen) to the festival? Not a problem, if you didn’t want to walk or weren’t able to, a shuttle brought people to and fro all day during the festival.

Heineken: Ruining small brewers for over a century

Recently I walked into a supermarket I had not been to for a while to see if there were new beers. Hurray for me! I took home bottles from Hawaiian brewery Kona, Guinness and Monteith from New Zealand. The Kona beer was fine, the Monteith not so much. It made me wonder why bottles from the other side of the world were shipped to supermarkets in Northwestern Europe where there is plenty of good beer to begin with. Then a little bird whispered to me… Heineken. Indeed, this brewery is owned by Heineken and as part of their Beers-of-the-world portfolio they pump even more of their stuff into our supermarkets. Unfortunately for the beer lover these beers are often bad, malty beers that bring absolutely nothing new. I cannot imagine anyone preferring beers like Monteith or Cruz Campo over any of the other beers for sale. Even Heineken itself is better I think.

It made me wonder why this space cannot be used for Dutch breweries, or least quality breweries. Surely if they can sell their beer here this will only be better for local business.

I am not advocating Dutch beer only. Recently the supermarket in my little village got bottles from breweries like Meantime and Goose Island. You cannot say that this is bad beer, and I for one was happy with the new offerings. Diversification is good for beer, more malty water isn’t.

I know that shipping containers from Australia and New Zealand is relatively cheap and not as much as burden on the environment as a plane, but I cannot imagine it being great either.

Heineken has breweries all over the world, driving out competitors and in some cases monopolizing local beer markets. In some cases like Congo even using rebels and armed militia to get things done (Dutch only). And let’s not forget their long history of racism and misogyny.

But let’s stick to what Heineken has done in the last 100 years to make work difficult for smaller brewers.

Some examples.

Heineken’s growth is the small brewer’s demise

Heineken started in downtown Amsterdam as De Hooiberg (the Haystack) but changed the name to Heineken and opened a brewery just outside the canals in the building that today is the Heineken Experience. The early history of Heineken is quite fascinating and is worth checking out.

mozac3afek-gekroonde-valkWith some good brewing knowledge and savvy business sense they expanded. Rapidly. To fortify its position in the Netherlands it opened new breweries and started buying other breweries. Not to expand their beer portfolio but simply to close the competition: if you can’t beat them: buy them and close them. Gone were famed breweries De Gekroonde Valk in Amsterdam or De Zwarte Ruiter in Maastricht. This led to (almost?) no stouts being made in this country anymore. No more special beer styles but only lager, only Heineken.

They became a worldwide monstrosity when Heineken made a really big splash when just three days after the end of Prohibition they landed on the shores of the US with Heineken beer; one of the most impressive stories in beer history. After the war most breweries were closed in the Netherlands, but Heineken kept growing and merging (with Amstel and Brand to name just two) to become a giant.

Cafes

Since the 60s they started to behave like banks. People wanting to open café’s often could not get a loan from a bank. Heineken provided this and often paid for the beertank in the basement. But, as you can imagine they weren’t too happy with beers outside of the Heineken family being sold here and they demanded a minimum of liters to be tapped of their beer. It was hard for a brewery outside of Heineken to get a tap. So there wasn’t much room, not many places to sell.

The contracts themselves… well, you could complain about it. They were hard to get rid of mostly and the bar was stuck to it for a very long time. In fact, the big Dutch brewers were deemed a cartel by the European Committee and were slapped with a E 274 million fine. Things are better these days and it is getting a lot easier to get local or unknown beer in a bar now, but the big breweries still block many smaller ones from entering the market. Sure, this is normal business and not something that happens in beer alone, but it makes for fewer choices for the consumer, and isn’t that really what we deserve?

Future

Does Heineken still buy smaller breweries to then close them? So far that hasn’t happened here yet. Only now have there been some small collaborations between big breweries and smaller, craft if you will, breweries. Duvel Moortgat and ‘t IJ and De Molen and Bavaria are two examples. The only ones so far but more is bound to happen in the coming years. Let’s just hope Heineken won’t resort to tactics from its history to obstruct the increasingly more knowledgeable beer drinker from what is good in the world. And supermarkets, give the small guys a shot. Heineken’s ads for James Bond probably cost more than the entire Dutch craft beer brewers earn. Let’s leave the bottles of mediocre beer in New Zealand and let that nice guy in Haarlem or Utrecht drive his van a few kilometers to your store.

Groningen Beer Festival 2016: Musings and Questions

Since I have written about this event multiple times, I decided to opt for the ‘4 things I noticed’ approach.

Session Beers

It wasn’t too long ago that the only decent beer under 4% in this country was the Emelisse 2.5. For me this was a groundbreaking beer because it showed that limits could be stretched downwards as well. The session hype that came in later years gave us even better things. Nothing is wrong anymore with a low alcohol, but incredibly tasty, beer. At the festival in Groningen there were plenty of low alcohol, let’s say under 5%, beers to sample. And this is what I did for one session

The Rodenburgh Slimme Rhakker and the VandeStreek UK Pale ale were both great pale ales. Oersoep brought another type with a great Berliner Weisse. I tried the Berliner Kindl a few years ago that completely turned me off that style for a while but it made a great comeback. In Holland Oersoep and Oedipus have made some brilliant ones. Talking about Oedipus, their Gandalf beer with cherries, brett and barrel aged was worth the extra coin.

Having these low alcohol beers will only attract more people to specialty beer. Of course the blondes, triples will remain part of what is on offer, but the tasty 10% beers will find people who previously thought beer was pilsner and nothing else. The range of percentage was around 18 by the way, ‘t Uiltje brought the amazing Old Enough To Drink, clocking in at a whopping 21%.

Groningen Beer City

At the first installment of this festival only 2 breweries from Groningen were present: Grunn and Stadsbrouwerij Kromme Jat. Well, 1,5 to be honest because Grunn cannot really be called a brewery. This year 7 breweries were eager to showcase their brews to their provincial comrades.

Grunn was sort of there as the Kruisheren brewers from Ter Apel. The Kromme Jat was back again as well. You should know by now that we here are big fans of Bax Beer. Their stand, and their group of helpers, is growing rapidly every year. In the wake of its success Groninger Craft, Rockin’ Ludina, Martinus, Corviri and Pivo started turning out some good beers. Martinus started operations late last year in a former print shop and Pivo opened just a week before the festival. Their setup and philosophy is very interesting, so check out their website (Dutch only). Hopefully I can return to them in a future post.

IMG_7868[1]A completely new brewery for me was Vechter who brought a good wit and saison. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to try their Cluyn beer, a regional historic recipe. Things are looking good with the opening of Bax’ tasting room and brewery this summer and more to follow. The Groningen Beer Festival is now also a festival by the people of Groningen, not only for.

 

IMG_7867[1]More than beer

The whole beer culture before the term craft beer was invented was about one thing and one thing only: the drinking of beer. With the growth of the culture and the rise if interest in old and social media this culture is changing too in its appearance. It now attracts people not only because of the beer.  These different sides of the culture were present. It wasn’t only the brewers pouring their beer but also distributors, specialty shops and cafés.

Some homebrewing stands were there as well. Betuwe cider had a table as well, and it nice to have a good glass of cider once in a while to mix things up. Bob van Dijk, who you might have read about in an article I wrote about him last year, was there with his Craft Beer Shirts.

This festivals remains very good with social media. With special hashtags on twitter your message could make it on a very big screen in the middle of the church.

A widening gap?

At my first beer festivals the goal was often to try beers from as many different breweries as possible. Lately I tend to try fewer beers from new breweries and stick to ones I know and love. Years of trying mediocre blondes, triples and IPA’s seem to have that effect.

Is it just me? Is this what happens after a decade and a half of trying new beers every time? Somehow I am more interested in what the really good breweries have to offer. This year I tried a lot of beers from Oersoep, Uiltje, Pampus and Oedipus, breweries that are at the top of the scene. Because of both their quality and that they make new stuff all the time I always feel that I will get something good, or at least interesting there.

Is the gap widening? Are we getting a Champions League of great Dutch breweries who are running away from the pack in leaps and bounds. Is this the beginning of a new phase? Already some smaller breweries, almost all of them contract brewers, are folding. The big breweries now are moving away from contract brewing towards a full setup: their own brewery and tasting room. Maybe the market is now really too full with established names. I would rather try a new Uiltje than a new blonde from a brewer from a town I have never heard of. I could just be me, but it’s a thought I will expand on in future posts.

The Times are a Changin’ indeed.

 

Stadsbrouwerij Eindhoven

DSC03736In the late 19th century Eindhoven was not the big city it is today. In the previous article you read about how Eindhoven had 5000 people before Phillips made it into the fifth city in the country. What Eindhoven did have was a number of breweries. In part of one of them the DAF motorcar builders started out with some throwbacks to this history in what is now the DAF Museum.

It was the search for Eindhoven’s brewing history that led to the start of the Stadsbrouwerij Eindhoven. Stadsbrouwerij means city brewery. There is nothing official about this title, but it often means that the brewery brews everything within the city limits, and that is what this brewery does.

During the historic search interested parties came together and decided to reestablish brewing in Eindhoven. They all invested in the brewery and saw their dream open in September last year.

Textiles and lightbulbs

The building they found to put the brewery in was a historic textile mill. Before the lightbulbs went on in Eindhoven it was a textile town. Some of these buildings were still standing, including the former Schellens building. Old pictures of what the inside once was still adorn the walls. The logo of the Stadsbrouwerij is the building itself.  They went all out with the total concept: a brewery and tasting room. And not one small brewing installation but a fairly big setup to start off with. The occupy just part of the building, other smaller companies are their neighbors.

DSC03743Brewer Rob Bours has enough tools to make beer. They didn’t start out with just a small brewing installation but went all out with huge vats. Rob has experience brewing with Reuzenbieren and  his own name  when he released some tasty ‘Brasserie Bours’ beers. Some of these beers, like the Euforie, are now Stadsbrouwerij Beers.

The names of the beers are also somewhat historic. They have names that everything to do with lightbulbs and are called 15 or 40 watt. Stronger stuff are beers like the 400 volt, a Russian Imperial stout. The different starts of the brewery means that there are different lines of beers. The former Bours beers and new recipes can be tasted, but there is also a range of ‘historic’ beers that hark back to the history of Eindhoven. You can get a glass of Witte Dame, a witbier, that is named after the former Philips headquarters or a Heeren van Eynthoven, named after the castle that was the beginning of the city.

Success

The story of the brewery so far is much like other breweries / brewpubs. More successful than anyone every expected. This is helped by the friendly and open space that attracts both beergeeks, but also people who go for beers on Friday after work. Youri of the Stadsbrouwerij who we talked too was also surprised by the great number of Belgians coming over. Belgium is only a short ride from Eindhoven but they can find beers, and styles, here that are not easy to get in Belgium. Belgium might be a great beer country with the beers they have, they are struggling still with the new beer scene in Europe and Eindhoven with the Stadsbrouwerij and Van Moll offer a more exciting alternative.

Future

As with all new breweries they are still starting to find their position in the local beer scene. Distribution is still mostly local and the pub is going to change slightly too with added outside space when the sun starts coming out.

Website.

 

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