As I mentioned in last week’s post, it was that special time of year in Holland – the Borefts Beer Festival. Thornbridge Brewery got an invite to exhibit, and so, pallet of beer already sent, it was time to leave Matthew in charge of both breweries and set sail for the continent.
I had kindly volunteered to be the advance party with my partner Janine, and had decided to get the Hull-Rotterdam ferry (an overnight service, and very comfortable too) so I didn’t have to drive too much. Once arrived early Wednesday morning, we made straight for Kamperland, a small town in Zeeland. This was so we could pop in our friends Kees and John, at the Emelisse Brewery and Restaurant. Emelisse are one of an increasing number of Dutch microbreweries who make world-class beer. I first encountered their beer at Borefts 2009 and from then they’ve gone from strength to strength. Kees, the head brewer, kindly fed and watered us with Pilsner and Rauchbier and then showed us round his brewhouse, half of which is on display in the restaurant, and the other half underground.
As most Dutch people don’t really like beer, or prefer drinking Heineken, it was interesting to learn Kees is exporting about 50% of his beer, but this figure is declining gradually as he manages to convert the non-believers in his own country. Downstairs in the fermenting cellar, we got a taste of his new Winterbier, several barrel aging projects involving Imperial Stout in Laphroaig casks, spiced beer in Jack Daniels casks and a few other bits and bobs Kees has on the go. All of them were wonderful – even the black IPA with Brettanomyces, currently working away ready for In de Wildeman’s Dutch Brett fest next year. Emelisse are definitely one to watch out for over the coming years. It is always a pleasure to see Kees, and he was clearly looking forward to Borefts as much as we were.
After some brief respite in Zoutelande, a very pleasant holiday resort by the sea, completely lacking in ‘common people’, we drove to Bodegraven to set up our Thornbridge stand. We were the first brewery to arrive, and after a tour of the new brewery, and with a lot of help from volunteers, we soon had our casks up and vented and banners proudly displayed. Menno had even lent us some really cool decorative hops, for the icing on the cake.
This meant we could nip to Utrecht to go to Café Derat. This is a great bar, with Dutch craft beer on tap and in bottle, but also a secret lambic list for which you must pester the Cafe’s owner, Eric. Another great thing about Café Derat is that it is home to 2 nice cats called Josephine and Spot.
But you can’t come to the Netherlands without visiting Amsterdam, so we left Josephine, Spot and Eric and met up with fellow Thornbridge colleagues Rob and Caolan for a couple of drinks in Amsterdam’s finest bars, In de Wildeman and t’Arendsnest, which has 30 taps but only serves Dutch beer such as the great Jopen and SNAB, as well as plenty of De Molen of course. Unfortunately, we were to be up early, so it was off to bed before 2am for all four of us.
Come the morning we got ourselves to Brouwerij de Molen and tapped our casks. We’d brought Alliance Reserve 2007, Thornbridge/Kernel Burton Ale, our version of the Courage Russian Imperial Stout, Alchemy XVI (a dry hopped barley wine), Evenlode Brown Porter, Halcyon 2009 and Geminus. Along with De Molen, Struise and Mikkeller, we were situated in the brand new automated brewhouse (nearly as shiny and nice as ours, but not quite), 100 yards from the windmill and original brewhouse, where Emelisse, Marble, Kernel, Amager, Nøgne-Ø, Närke, Loverbeer and St. Christoffel were. We left our stand to say hello to our international brewing friends, and were greeted by a growing queue, 1 hour before opening.
Pushing our way through, we had a quick beer with the Kernel boys, who had arrived in force with the lovable Andy from Redemption brewing/young Zak Avery lookalike winner 2010 too. But soon it was back to the stand and to serve beer to thirsty punters, many of whom this year had travelled great distances, like Mexico, Canada, USA, Australia, South Africa and all over Europe to taste the beers we and the other 10 brewers had brought. These aren’t your average beer-drinkers; they want to know everything about every part of the recipe for each beer. Which, when you’re proud of you’ve brewed, is utterly fantastic. Every beer served came with a question about ingredients, mash times, and in the case of our Kernel collab beer, (adopt poor foreign accent) “zo, what iz dis ‘Burton?‘”.
Whilst the customers say it’s the brewers who make the festival, it’s also them who give the place such a great atmosphere, talking and enthusing about all the beers, all with ‘got to try this one next’ attitudes. As well as the ratebeerians, there’s distributors, bar owners, shopkeepers and plenty of other brewers of the world there with which to chew the fat. The day flew by as the crowds drank beer and socialised in the glorious sunshine, eating sausages off the barbeque and greeting old friends. Soon it was evening and we had barely been to see the other brewers’ stands, who were equally snowed under. A dash round brought us some samples of other brewers’ wares, but inevitably we had to get back to it as there were more questions to be answered. We shut the stand exhausted but happy after a long day. After a beer with the other brewers, it was all agreed we’d save ourselves for the day after and hopped off back to our B&B.
The sun shone brightly once again on day two, with some speculating that De Molen head brewer Menno had had a quiet word with God, swapping a bottle of his Rasputin for yet more summer weather. Many of the customers returned from the previous day, unable to get through the hundred-odd beers available, despite some good efforts. But now the festival got really busy with others too, and the organisers looked on as people flooded through the entrance, eager to get stuck in. It’s often said that beer should just lubricate conversation, but it did that, plus became the talking point, with so many amazing beers on offer and so many old friends to greet – a key to what makes the festival so magical.
All of our beers were big hits, especially our version of Courage Imperial Stout, but Geminus Deluxe edition Double RyePA was the true star of the show, selling out first. However, time began to run out for the hundreds of visitors, and as they drifted off, we brewers soon began to loosen up and get round to catching up properly.
It was about time we got down to some serious ‘networking’. Struise, our next door neighbours, had brought tears to people’s eyes, with 3 different versions of Pannepot, and various other stellar projects such as Black Messy 39%abv (where were Mes & Sim by the way?) and the legendary S.H.I.T. (don’t ask). Much silliness ensued as Urbain attempted to load his bar and keykegs onto a waiting van WITH UNDRUNK PANNEPOT. Luckily, my good friend and Brewing Warrior, Christoffer from Närke (a somewhat decent brewery from Sweden), was on hand to stop the wastage and prevent lots of people from being upset.
It was all back to the Windmill for a little get-together, where we all got the chance to drink the best beers available to humankind. With company like Christoffer, Nøgne-Ø’s Kjetl, the Loverbeer guys from Italy (probably Italy’s most innovative and exciting brewers at the moment), the Mikkeller crew, the lovely couple from St Christoffel and of course Menno, the night was one to remember for a long time.
This really is probably the most fun beer festival I’ve ever been to, and you’d be either mad or ‘not really into great beer’ to not be there next year. The success of the event belies the amount of organisation that goes into it. It’s very easy to get to by train and there is of course lots of accommodation nearby in the neighbouring cities. You’re guaranteed the best beers in all of Europe. And you may make some new friends.
It thus leaves me to say a huge thank you to Menno, John and Bea for inviting us and making us feel so welcome, and for all their volunteers who work bloody hard to make it happen – Mark, Cees, Stuart, Marcel, Peter, Vaisha, Colin and the rest of you, who’s names escape me (sorry) – we won’t forget how you looked after us and we would love to see you in Derbyshire so we can return the favour. Proost!