Greetings beer seekers. It was a long busy summer at Mac’s Brew Pub, and I have a lot of information for all you readers to catch up on, so I’ll get right to it. Please read responsibly!
As I mentioned in the previous newsletter, we went to Belgium and Netherlands for a couple of weeks in April. As many of you know, Belgium is widely considered the beer capitol of the world, so this was a trip that I was excited to make.
We were in Belgium for only a few days; most of our time was spent in Netherlands. However, I would say that Belgium and Netherlands are almost like one country – they share a common border and a common language (Flemish), so the beer scene is similar in both countries (though it is more important and prevalent in Belgium). I’m not wild about Belgian style beers, but since Belgium is the beer capitol, I was determined to embrace it.
All of the well-known Belgian beers that we can easily obtain here in the US were available and plentiful there (Stella Artois, Chimay, Duvel, Westmalle, Rodenbach, etc.). I was more interested in drinking the local and lesser known beers, i.e., those unavailable in the US. I had several good ones. One thing I found interesting is that each of the breweries has their own glassware. If you go to a bar and order a Chimay, it will be served in a Chimay glass; if you order a Westmalle, it will be served in a Westmalle glass, etc.
In Netherlands, the beer scene is very similar. Heineken is ubiquitous (it’s also one of the largest breweries in the world), and the other well-known Dutch beers are widely available (Amstel, Grolsch, etc.) in restaurants and pubs. I didn’t bother with any of this type of beer while we were there.
The craft beer scene in Belgium/Netherlands is quite limited but will hopefully expand. It’s not like the US, where new breweries are opening all the time, and the existing beer styles are rapidly evolving and with new styles frequently added. I think that in Europe they are very much steeped in tradition, and change is resisted. Craft beer has a very small market share and low growth trajectory. People want to drink what they’ve always drank, and are not too interested in trying something new, so the demand for craft beer is not high.
We toured Brouwerij de Hemel (Brewery of Heaven) in Nijmegen, Netherlands, and sampled their beer. It was good, though not great (Caveat: I’m spoiled by all the great breweries and beer in Orange County, Southern California, and the West Coast, so European craft beer is at least 20 years behind us). Brouwerij de Hemel is quite small (they brew on a 3-barrel system), and is only distributed in the immediate area, so you won’t find their beer very far from Nijmegen.
We also went to Jopen, a brewpub in Haarlem (near Amsterdam). This brewery is fairly large and is housed in a former brick church building (their slogan – “Crafting Devine Beer”). We ate lunch there. The food was good, and the beer was quite good – we all had a flight of three beers, and I had a pint of “Yankee Punch”, a New England style Double IPA, brewed with American hops. This was really good, and a very pleasant surprise.
On Sunday, April 7, while the rest of our group (including Sheila, Rose and Donna) were shopping in Maastricht, Don (my brother-in-law) and I found a small bar, Twee Heeren, where we were surprised to find an IPA. This was a solid IPA, but one would never confuse it with Pliny the Elder. I would love to tell you the name of the beer and the brouwerij (brewery), but the bartender spoke limited English and the label on the tap said, “BIER VAN DE MAAND”. I thought this was the name of the beer, but later learned that ”BIER VAN DE MAAND” simply translates to “BEER OF THE MONTH”, and thus I have no idea what beer this was. Good one, Mac!!
So, here is my informed opinion of the craft beer scene in Belgium and Netherlands:
- It’s in its infancy, compared to the US.
- The selections (styles) are limited.
- The brewers are not too bold – no one is pushing the envelope. For example, what they consider a hoppy IPA would barely qualify here as an American style Pale Ale.
- You would be hard pressed to find experimental beers, “one-offs” or non-traditionals (pumpkin beer – unlikely; coffee beer – forget it; pastry stout – don’t even think about it; etc.). I saw some of these styles on tap at Jopen, but no bars or restaurants had anything like them.
Having said that, I will say this:
- If you’re going to run a brewery, you have to sell your product, or you won’t be in business very long. I don’t think the market is there (yet) in Belgium/Netherlands.
- Think about the American craft beer scene 30 years ago – it was in its infancy, and no one at that time could conceive of the craft beer that is available today (e.g., the original bourbon barrel aged beer, brewed by Goose Island in 1992, Bourbon County Brand Stout, was packaged and released to the public for the first time in 2005. Before that there was no bourbon barrel aged beer.).
- I think the Belgian people consider all of their beer to be craft beer, and rightfully so. It’s really good stuff (if you like the Belgian style) and will never be confused with “Fizzy Yellow Beer.” Therefore, they don’t see the need to expand their repertoire.
- The young people of Europe imitate Americans. Unfortunately, when it comes to beer, that means Budweiser and Coors, which are popular there. That’s a shame!
- Give them some time . . . well, I should say, give them a lot of time, because entrenched cultural phenomena change slowly, and the beer culture is very entrenched there.
I’ll sign off for now, lest this newsletter gets too lengthy and you lose interest. BUT, watch for another newsletter very soon with some very exciting news about Mac’s Brew.