Oh craft beer, where would I be without you?
Probably with a slightly healthier bank balance, but hey, I happily give that up for the joy of finding the hoppiest IPAs and most coffee-ish Russian Imperial Stouts.
Such things bring me joy.
So it was with a serious amount of expectation that I embarked upon our trip to visit relatives and friends a month ago. I wasn’t expecting much from my home nation, Scotland, but I was very pleasantly surprised (looking back, how could I not be? We were the nation that sprouted Brewdog after too long drinking metal-like Tennents!), in particular with my now-beloved Black Isle Brewing whose bar in central Inverness provided us with much hilarity, an eye-popping selection of beers, and shelter from the ever-chilly Highland rain. Le sigh: we had chosen quite the rainiest day to traipse around the streets and for me to attempt to show the boyfriend the capital of the Highlands. That being said, I would go so far as to say that the Black Isle Brewery bar is the creme de la creme of what Inverness has to offer, and I’ll happily argue with anyone who thinks otherwise!
Maybe in the future (and a couple more visits, hint hint,) I’ll write more about this great microbrewery and how they go about strutting their stuff, but right now, I have to talk about- as you probably haven’t guessed from the post title- Holland.
And no, I don’t actually mean the Netherlands. I know the difference. I’m talking about Noord & Zuid Holland, the two provinces which make up the ‘Holland’ in ‘the Netherlands’.
Yes, there’s more to this flat country filled with Nijntje (that’s Miffy to you and me), insane cyclists, and cheese than their recognisable green and red Heineken. Dutch craft beer is something I’ve been ferociously obsessed with for the past year and a half, and whilst it saddens me that I live far away and it is scarce in these parts of Germany (not to mention pricey), it does make every trip to my boyfriend’s homeland that bit sweeter, or hoppier if we’re going to go into what pleases my tastebuds.
Disclaimer: I’ve tried Dutch beers from many provinces and they usually reach for the stars, but we stayed in Holland for this trip and I know more about, and have had brilliant experiences with breweries from there so far. Who knows, maybe I’m coming for you next Overijssel!
I have a theory about craft beer: it sprouts up in countries which have generally had a less-than-stellar beer culture. Belgium is world-reknowned for it’s brewing culture (so much so that it’s now labelled UNESCO Cultural Heritage), yet it ranks low in the list of countries managing to produce radical new beers (however, I do admit I love some lambics, Brussels Beer Project, and De Struise Brouwers). The Netherlands, it’s antagonistic neighbour, however, has stepped out of the shadow of Heineken in some damned good style. I can see what’s happening in America as something similar, and the UK too, so maybe my theory has some merit.
We didn’t mean to make this trip a brewery-tour, we really didn’t, but after starting with a tour of Scotland’s newest distillery on our second day (our guide was someone I went to school with- madness!), it was never really going to go downhill, and in Holland we saw four different breweries in the space of a week. They were all different and brilliant in their own ways, and I want to give you the lowdown on them- and why you should visit- to showcase some of the best of Dutch beer (I’ll do a guide on my favourite Dutch bars soon!)
1. I swear, it wasn’t all us. We visited a friend in Amsterdam and he veered us towards his preferred date-night spot which happened to be, quelle surprise, a gorgeous (I’d go as far as to say boutique) brewery in the De Pijp neighbourhood of Amsterdam. It wasn’t really a surprise, as he’d quipped on the way there that there should be a Partij van de Bier (Party for Beer) running in the elections a couple of days later. Needless to say, I’d be jumping on that bandwagon.
He lead us to Brouwerij Troost, which with a great atmosphere and set of beers you can literally see being brewed about five metres away, instantly had my heart. Their selection of beers was definitely above average and included everything from a Lentebier to their own Cerveza (served with a lime, obviously, and bringing back memories of too many cheap Coronas at student bars!). The atmosphere was beautiful, too, with red accents complimenting the copper kettles and counteracting the risk of it feeling too rustic. Their soundtrack, too, was ace, and was never too loud to talk over, a huge bonus if you ask me.
Towards the evening it really began buzzing, and I could see why our friend would make this a hangout for impressing his seemingly endless revolving door of girls. It was warm, gezellig, but also intimate and with the promise of small parties and live music at the weekends it is the perfect hub for people young and old alike (two children were having a birthday party at the table next to us later in the evening).
Also not to forget is…their FOOD. Bitterballen galore for the two carnivores at the table (I swear my boyfriend almost started crying as he’d been deprived of this Dutch hapje, or mouthful, for too long. For me, their beeterballen (the same but stuffed with hot beetroot!) were vegan friendly and ideal. Oh, and their burgers are not to be missed. Seriously, just go and drink and eat.
The only thing I missed here was guest beers. Dutch breweries tend to be über-supportive of each other, so I was surprised to note there were only two guests. But, by reasoning, I realised we were going to be doing a lot more visiting as the week progressed, and I eased my disappointment with their Belgian Tripel. Having just expected to be in a bar that trip I was happily surprised to have discovered a brewery so low-key in contrast to its Amsterdam neighbours Oedipus and ‘t Ij and of course, to have tasted some new beers to check in!
Number 2 took place two days later after I persuaded my other half to put off our ‘historic and educational’ trip to Delft until the next day. A mental fist-pump for me there, as our goal was De Molen, a brewery we discovered in Brussels and had hysterics about in a park in Ixelles when we tasted their beers for the first time.
Typical Dutch, De Molen means ‘the Mill’ and that’s really all you have to look for if you want to visit this fantastic place. Located in Bodegraven, a tiny town whose only rail link is on the Intercity between Leiden and Utrecht. Leave the train station (don’t forget to check out with your OV-Chipcard! Too many times after too many beers this was something we couldn’t quite remember doing), and head about ten minutes towards the river. You’ll see a mill. That is their cafe and shop, and two minutes down the road is the brewery where their epic beers are produced (and which you can tour on Saturdays).
We were there on a Wednesday, though, but we got to enjoy their extensive taplist in the shadow of the mill in what seemed to be the first sunlight of the year. You can mix and match your own tasting trays, get recommendations from wonderful bartenders and eat yet more bitterballen in a chill atmosphere. The interior is also beautiful, playing to the strengths of the old mill, and it seemed to be a local landmark (although in all honesty, it is the most interesting thing about Bodegraven), as we saw ladies-who-lunch sipping on some wine and also international visitors from Germany (cue eavesdropping!), Spain and Italy. De Molen is definitely getting the international reputation it deserves!
We must have tried the entire taplist, mostly from De Molen but also including some interesting collaborations and guest beers, including some from Bulgaria. Their shop is also one worth visiting with a fab collection of their own beers, guest beers, and merchandise, and have a chat with the staff if you can- they definitely know their stuff, and most of the time at least one of the brewers is there in the flesh to regale you with tales of their history and projects.
I discovered they hail from Den Haag and so keep a bed upstairs for them to crash on if they’ve had a few too many beers to commute. They said I could live there. I’m not sure if they were joking, because I was being all too serious. WERE YOU BEING SERIOUS GUYS? WERE YOU?
Wow, I’m only halfway through! Even typing all of this is reminding me how great a time we had! Anyone fancy sponsoring me to do a full beer tour of the Netherlands? Apparently I could produce more than enough content!
Brewery number 3 was Jopen, one of the biggest Dutch microbreweries (contradiction in terminus?), and one who often plays big brother to new start-ups. Haarlem, capital of Noord Holland and about 20 minutes by train from Amsterdam plays host to this giant of beers, and they have a Jopenkerk as a grande cafe in the centre of town. However, you can visit the brewery itself if you make a trek out to the industrial neighbourhood across the river, and I guarantee the 30-minute walk is worth the effort. Their shop is elevator-sized but filled with ingenious collabs with funky labels and brilliant names. We picked up the ‘Lazy Sunday Morning’ Imperial Stout which was brewed with Guatemalan coffee and was the perfect replacement for actual coffee (I’d say better) yesterday’s sunny morning back in Germany.
You can also tour their brewery, but from their Proeflokal upstairs you can sample beers and watch them doing all their business below. They serve delicious lunches (even ‘to go’) alongside their taplist. Great beer, as expected, but the atmosphere felt a little weird. Red lighting and dark walls made me feel a little as though crowded at night it would have a nightclub vibe, and I found it quite jarring against the sun outside and the florescent lights of the brewery below, but it was nice to have a beer to quench our thirst after the walk!
Would I go back to Jopen? Yes, but I’d like to see their city-centre bar more, but if I’m in the outskirts of Haarlem anyway then why not? It was also great to become reconseilled with Jopen again, as my first experience of them (a couple of their core beer range) hadn’t been brilliant, nor nearly telling of their breadth of beers and expertise. However, I’d still take De Molen and my number four brewery over their beers unfortunately, as although brilliant, sometimes lack a distinctive character.
Finally, brewery number four and the very reason I became so enthusiastic about Dutch craft beer in the first place. Is a drum roll necessary? Maybe just some tapping the table next to some empty glasses? Well, okay then!
God I love these guys. I love their city centre bar, I love their beer, I love their owl (Owls are love), I love their beer, I love their personalities, I love their obsession with Scotland, I love the Nintendo 64 in their taproom, I love their taproom.. I love…I love…just everything.
Het Uiltje is, in essence, the start of any Dutch brewery/beer tour we do, and in reality acts as the perfect bookend. On any trip to the Netherlands we always visit some branch of our little owl, but this time was our first time at the brewery and taproom itself since it opened last year. Out in the suburbs, two streets away from big bro’ Jopen where they first started brewing is the small beauty. I almost cried when we entered and had a long silent scream in the small shop (about the beer, also their Dikke Lul 3 Bier T-Shirt), and that was before we settled down at a table in the taproom and I declared that I was going to live on that very seat forevermore. So apparently craft beer turns me into a five year old at Disneyland, or hell, any of us at Disneyland.
Their taplist was fantastic and very well priced (all 4€!) and changed midway through our visit, allowing me to taste their Rice Rice Baby Imperial IPA three days before its official launch. Still one of the happiest/hoppiest moments of joy I’ve had, THANK YOU SO MUCH GUYS!
Their taproom is how I would imagine my very own Lara-cave. Like a man-cave, but for Lara. Beer labels, whisky cask lids (from the casks they used to age their own beers!) and a good amount of light, white space, wood and windows for the minimalist in me.
They also serve bagels (which I acidentally taught my boyfriend to say as ‘bag-l’ a la Community years ago and which came back to bite me in the ass!) with savoury and sweet fillings, including one stuffed with Milky Way bars. Apparently next time, I should go back more hungry! They also have their Nintendo 64 for old-school gamers and regularly play sports (we were watching baseball) and occasionally the door opens and you can see into the brewery loading bay. The funniest and most disturbing thing about our experience was hearing bagpipe music blaring from the speakers outside during our visit. I asked our bartender, “Why bagpipes?” and she shrugged and said she supposed they needed music during the process and chose something they liked. That was the only thing that scared me, because really, who the hell actually likes bagpipe music? I like to think they just have a thing for Scotland and Scottish whiskeys though, since two days later I saw an instagram pic of one of them wearing- God forbid- a kilt. Maybe next time I’ll make my Scottishness a little more obvious!
My favourite brewery? Het Uiltje. My least favourite? Probably Jopen? But by God, I’d go back to all of them again as long as they keep being as fun and interesting as they were, and as long as their beers stay top of their game! I’m excited to broaden my horizons brew- and brewerywise, but these guys were this time. Who knows, maybe I’ll just have to make atrip elsewhere to discover some new breweries and beers sometime soon?
Thanks for bearing with me! Hopefully this was half as interesting to read as it was to write! Now I’m off to enjoy the 18 degree heat here in Thüringen. This is taps aff weather!
Let me know of your brewery experiences or your opinions, and have a beer- we’ve made it through Monday after all!