Rotterdam is a beautiful city – no joking – and just got better with the opening of two brew pubs: THOMS Stadsbrouwerij and De Gele Kanarie (The Yellow Canary). As you may know I am a firm believer of this concept: in this day and age, local, accessible and small-scale businesses are a big thing with consumers in general, and beer lovers in particular, They stand for minimized carbon footprint, whereas experience is maximised. As it turns out, one of these new Rotterdam brew pubs is also one of the answers Heineken has to the challenges of the beer revolution: beer bar De Gele Kanarie has a brewery in the basement named Hooiberg Brewery. So, what’s brewing?

The Yellow Canary in a glass

De Gele Kanarie
Just outside the city centre owners Ron de Jong en Dave Heijnen (no strangers: their bars Bokaal and Weena are beery hotspots in Rotterdam) opened the place some months ago. ‘Yellow canary’ is a Rotterdam expression for a glass of lager, and this bar has a clear connection with Heineken. Almost all beers on tap come from Heineken-owned breweries like  Paulaner, Brand, Affligem and Lagunitas. The choice on bottles is more varied, but the big surprise houses in the basement: a 500 liter brewkit and some six fermentation and lager tanks, named Hooiberg Brewery. Here the De Gele Kanarie team brews a beer with the same name, a hoppy blond, available on draft.

The brewery in the basement

Hooiberg Brewery
So, why is this one of Heineken’s answers to the challenges of the beer revolution? The concept seems to be a pilot to evolve into a chain of comparable brew pubs elsewehere. Heineken’s connection is unmistakable:

  • The name Hooiberg Brewery is one massive wink to the brewery with which Heineken’s story started, the Hooijberg brouwerij in Amsterdam, now known as Die Port van Cleve on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal.
  • In the brewery, visible via a glass floor in the the bar, one reads: “Hooiberg Brewery is making barowners’ dreams come true”
  • The brewers of De Gele Kanarie are being trained and assisted by brewers from Heineken’s nearby Zoeterwoude brewery – and some of them are big names.
  • Kegs clearly marked with a Heineken sticker

    De Gele Kanarie racks kegs of 19.5 liter, clearly marked with stickers printed by  Heineken.

Mind you: Heineken doesn’t own or run the bar, it acts as facilitator. Co-owner Ron De Jong paints a picture of this being the start of the opportunity for entrepreneurs across Europe to start a brew pub with the support of the world’s second largest brewery group.

Craft Acceleration
So, why would Heineken be involved here? According to external communications manager Paul Weber “the Dutch beer world has seen a beautiful revolution in the past decade”. More breweries, new flavors, brands and experiences. “It is Heinekens mission to make this beer landscape more known and wider, not only for the craft beer drinker, but for every beer drinker. Therefore ‘Craft Acceleration’ (working title) was started: owned by Heineken, but a separate entity focussed on locally produced craft beer.” Craft Acceleration: you won’t find much about it on the internet, but seems a similar operation as Beerwulf: a seperate entity, fully owned by Heineken.

Paul, whom I send a laundry list of questions on De Gele Kanarie, replied with a ‘general reply’ – the above was cited from it. He gave more details: “We help entrepreneurs with buying and installing a brewery, conceiving and brewing new, tasty recipes and with the sales and distribution of their beers. <…> The entrepreneur is responsible for the brewing process and quality of the beer. Together we will and make the brand successful. Thus we make not only our dream come true, but also that of the entrepreneurs who have a unique concept and a unique brand.” More on Craft Acceleration, and the relationship Heineken eventually has with these entrepreneurs with such a concept, can be found below this blog.

Why would Heineken do this?
Heineken is helping bar owners’ dreams come true. But why, and why in this form? Well: the concept fits all of today’s needs: a locally focussed brew pub. More importantly: it seems to me to be an excellent experimental garden, because you can bet on it Heineken is keeping many eyes on what’s happening. I couldn’t imagine them to hardly hide their name being attached to it without having any direct control on quality, and perhaps even recipes – although the ‘general reply’ claims otherwise.

The tap shields speak for themselves

Let’s suppose the yellow canary becomes a success – the beer I mean – with beer lovers, would it then be possible the recipe to be scaled up and brewed by Heineken itself? Now there is a beautiful experimental garden! For now drinkers seem to appreciate the beer: 277 reviews on Untappd score it 3,25 out of five. Not a huge score, but significantly higher than Heineken Lager which scores 2,92 out of over 400.000 ratings.

I kind of like the whole idea, at least it strikes me as a more interesting answer to the challenges of the beer revolution than simply buying up small, independent and successful breweries. I wouldn’t be surprised at all as the Hooiberg Brewery concept is indeed rolled out on a larger scale across Europe, or even the world. Also, it is a rather nifty way to further investigate the beer revolution from the inside without running too much risk – if any.

Doubts

Fermentation and lager tanks of Hooiberg Brewery

I kind of like the idea, however bold as it is at the same time. Very bold actually, because however noble the idea to help entrepreneurs making their dreams come true may be – Heineken is involved. And in this day and age, where local, accessible and small scale entrepreneurship is embraced by consumers in general and beer lovers in particular, this involvement can act as a red cloth on a bull. More and more beer drinkers do no longer want to drink beers produced by global beer giants – simply because they are beer giants. They much rather embrace small and independent breweries, not just because they creatively brew tasty beers – but because of a deeply rooted emotion. So, the big question is how beer drinkers will respond to this connection Heineken has with these new brew pub concepts. To be continued!

More on Craft Acceleration: the entrepreneur is responsible
“The entrepreneur is responsible for installing the brewery, hiring a brewer, and brewing and packaging of the beer. Craft Acceleration can assist with this. <…> We will not take the position of entrepreneur but support in fields of our expertise such as offering our knowledge and experience, hard and software to be leased, training brewers, buying and supplying raw material or even support on marketing, sales and distribution of the beer. The entrepreneur will always be end responsible for the brand, his business, and will be “the face behind the brand”.

The entrepreneur is responsible for concept and design of logos, websites, house style, labels and what have you – all of course within the boundaries of rules and legislation. The ‘Craft Acceleration’ may assist, but leaves the entrepreneur free to develop as he pleases, unless the brewer needs support or guidance.”

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Dutch brewers is a diverse community, varying from one man operations to huge multinational companies. Respondents are all possible forms and shapes and the outcome of the survey is representative, given the 27% response rate. It means the results give a clear picture of how Dutch breweries view the subject of quality. In earlier pieces I gave some numbers and data on the current landscape and on the Hygiene code and raw material treatment. Today: how do breweries control quality, and how do they view it?

Quality of end product
Beer reaching a consumer needs to be of good quality, there is no debate about that. Hence it surprises – if not shocks – to see over a third of breweries do not ever do any sensory tests on their product: not prior to, nor after, bringing it to market.

Does your brewery perform sensory tests on its beers?

It doesn’t really surprise me then when a third state to not keep any samples of packaged product at hand to do sensory tests on beer that has gone into the market.

But that is truly shocking, particularly given the fact that only one-third of respondents have never ever had to reject a batch of finished beer and have it be destroyed.

Did you ever reject and/ or destroy a batch of beer for quality reasons?

So many things can go wrong when brewing beer that a sound system of quality control is a must. Clearly many Dutch breweries can make massive improvements here.

Measuring brings knowledge
In America it is common for a brewery to have its own laboratory and QC staff. These labs can always perform at least the most basic measurements, if not way more. Also, many breweries employ specially trained quality control staff. The Brewers Association has prioritized ‘quality’ and even employs two Quality Ambassadors, assisting its members with advice and action.

Does your brewery have a laboratory for (basic) measurements?

Having a laboratory is all but common practice in the Netherlands. Two-third of respondents do not have an own lab. A mere 12% say they have a lab that can do more than the most basic measurements and checks.

Does your brewery have a laboratory for more detailed quality control measurements?

Having a lab is one thing, having staff to properly operate it is another. Only 30% say they have especially trained staff employed – ridiculously few. Why this is so ridiculous will become apparent soon.

Does your brewery employ especially trained quality control staff?

I can understand a very small brewery not having its own lab, or especially trained staff – as long as someone is doing the quality control. And here is perhaps the most shocking and ridiculous learning of this survey: 60% of breweries state to NOT use an external lab for even the most basic tests and quality control.

Does your brewery use an external laboratory for quality control tests?

Even if we correct this for respondents who state they have their own lab, it means at least 20% of all Dutch breweries do not do any quality control at all. This is an optimistic conclusion: it seems very justifiable to state that a least third of all Dutch breweries do never ever do any quality control on their (finished) product.

The ancient rule of ‘measurement brings knowledge’ seems, boldly put, to be blissfully ignored by many Dutch breweries. It is shocking when you realize this means they not only break the law but really show a terrifying disdain for their product and their customers.

Tantalising
The most tantalising result of the survey is that 63% of respondents say they do enough on the subject of quality control at large.

Do you think your brewery does enough in terms of quality control at large?

Tantalising, because at the same time 76% says their peers do NOT do enough on the subject of quality control at large.

Do you think Dutch breweries do enough in terms of quality control at large?

Conclusion
Their is a lot to be won in the Dutch beer landscape. I am sure every brewer is passionate about her or his product. Particularly therefore it is shocking to see a large part of these passionate people fall so short on quality – even at the most basic level. Of course the soup is not savored as hot as it’s served: over 95% of Dutch beer comes from breweries meeting the highest standards, like Heineken, Bavaria, Jopen, Oedipus, Grolsch or Noordt – to name a few. And beer will never pose a serious and direct threat to anyone’s health, hygiene code or not – beer cannot make you sick. But we have to fear for the majority of beer produced in small and independent breweries not meeting the most basic quality requirements. Also when looking at basic (sensory) testing many fall short badly. It also raises questions on a brewery’s ability to identify and recall a particular batch of beer if a serious incident occurs.

So, we have a lot to win in the Netherlands beer community. Let’s go out there and and start doing that: winning!

 

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Dutch brewers is a diverse community, varying from one man operations to huge multinational companies. Respondents are all possible forms and shapes and the outcome of the survey as representative, given the 27% response rate. It means the results give a clear picture of how Dutch breweries view the subject of quality. In an earlier piece I gave some numbers and data on the current landscape, today we focus on the Hygiene code and raw material treatment. Tomorrow: how do breweries control quality, and how do they view it?

Divers beer landscape
Producing and selling food stuffs is closely regulated in the Netherlands. As a basis serves a certified HACCP food safety system(Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points). Putting this together is a complicated, expensive and time consuming process. Many industries thus have a Hygiene Code in place that serves the same purpose.

Are you familiar with the hygiene code for breweries?

Dutch breweries may use the ‘Hygiene Code for Breweries’ which was put together at the initiative of Small Brewers Collective, currently known as CRAFT, in 2014. Just so you know: this hygiene code also applies to contract and gypsy breweries and is not voluntarily.

Does your brewery meet the requirements of the hygiene code for breweries?

107 Respondents state to know this Code, and to adhere to it. Whether or not this answer is correct remains to be seen, particularly given some other questions – and the answers to those. Some breweries actually have their own HACCP or similar certification. This applies only to global players and those who focus on organic beers – they are the proverbial black swans.

Did you implement the hygiene code yourselve?

Doubt starts setting in when we look at the answers on whether or not the breweries have had help when implementing the Hygiene Code. Almost three-quarters did it on their own, not seeking advice or help, and relying completely on their own competence.

Did you seek advice on, or get help by, the code implementation?

Quality of raw material
A brewer is heavily dependent on raw materials and its suppliers. A fundamental part of a HACCP-plan, and thus the Hygiene Code, is a thorough check on incoming material and a concise administration on it. At the brewery’s gate a lot of issues may already be spotted, preventing problems further down the line, possibly resulting in bad product. Yet a mere one-third checks all incoming raw material, with 40% doing that randomly and 28% of breweries not performing any incoming raw material check whatsoever. Already this answer proves the shocking fact two-third of Dutch breweries do not adhere to the Hygiene Code.

Does your brewery perform checks on incoming raw material?

How important these incoming material checks are is shown below. One-third of respondents has refused and returned incoming raw materials.

Did you ever refuse a shipment of raw material?

Reasons for it are as predictable as they are astonishing: raw material comes past due date, arrives in packaging that is either damaged or has clearly been opened and resealed. This applies to both malts, hops and yeast. Sometimes malt is supplied with visible traces of mice. Incoming raw material checks are, clearly, all but an unnecessary luxury.

Conclusion
Many breweries state to take quality seriously, and say they are familiar with – and adhering to – current legislation. Particularly the latter seems unlikely, given the answers on raw material checks. So, at the front end of production, it seems some improvements can and need to be made. How is the situation at the bottom end, with finished product? Will breweries perform better on the basic rules?

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Dutch brewers is a diverse community, varying from one man operations to huge multinational companies. Respondents are all possible forms and shapes and the outcome of the survey as representative, given the 27% response rate. It means the results give a clear picture of how Dutch breweries view the subject of quality.

Remarkably the majority own their own hardware – only 34% can be classified as gypsy brewers. This is very remarkable since gypsy brewers make up more than 50% of the total Dutch brewing community. To clarify: my defintion of a gypsy brewery is that of a company profiling itself as a brewery or beer producing entity, selling beer under its own name and for its own risk, yet producing in hardware owned by someone else. This can be an existing brewery with overcapacity, or a production facility build with the sole purpose to cater to gypsy brewers. Some respondents started out as gypsy brewers and now own their own hardware yet, incidentally and often when lacking owned capacity, contract out with a third party. Almost 13 percent fall into that category.

Does your brewery own its brewing equipment?

Over three-quarters of respondents is very small and have three employees at most. 107 out of 139 respondents fall into this category. Nine breweries have 26 employees or more – 6,5% in all. Since we deem the outcome as representative for the Dutch brewing community, one could argue the vast majority of breweries is so small one could question calling them professional. This becomes even more clear when we look at their production levels.

How many FTE does your brewery employ?

A remarkable outcome too is the fact the vast majority produces less than 250 hectoliter per year. A hectoliter is 100 liter, so just over half of Dutch breweries produces less than 25.000 liter of beer per annum. This may sound as much, but the average bar on the corner sells more per year. It is the equivalent of 3,150 cases of beer per year. Sizeable as it is, one cannot live off this and when compared to bigger players like De Leckere (10,000 HL) or Texelse Brouwerij (35,000 HL) they are drops in the bucket. And of course, there’s Heineken with 220.000.000 hectoliter per year.

What’s your brewery’s annual production (2017)?

Equally interesting as the staff count is the question on how beer is packaged. Almost all package in bottle (98%) of draught (85%). 6,5% also package in cans:

Do you package your beer, and if so, how?

Not everyone can package on site. 3,5% of respondents say they package somewhere else than where the beer is produced. Speculating (since it was not specifically asked) I can only assume this reflects brewers using an remote canning facility.

Do you package beer on-site or elsewhere?

Additional interesting data is on tasting rooms. The brewpub, still incredibly underweighed as a business model, is the driving force behind growth in the States. In the Netherlands it remains largely untested. A third of respondents say they have a tasting room serving only home-brewed beers, a quarter also serves beer brewed by others. A fifth serves food too, yet almost half (46%) has no tasting room at all. It makes sense when looking at average staff count, truly small companies dominating the landscape, yet is almost unbelievable. The opportunities for this business model is huge, and it totally fits today’s demand for ‘small, authentic and tangable enterprise – it’s a no-brainer, really.

Does your brewery operate a tasting room?

Conclusion
‘The’ Dutch brewer is largely a very small-scale entrepreneur, producing a very modest amount of beer. This beer is certainly intended to be sold, as almost all package their beer. Almost half are so small they don’t operate a tasting room – the reason may also be they are contracting out. It would go too far calling this majority hobbyists, but this requires a lot of self-restraint. How these businesses and entrepreneurs will develop over the next years remains to be seen. Story and quality will be decisive factors, so much is for sure. We can’t say much about their stories – so let’s focus on their quality.

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On My Life With Beer I have been writing about the quality of Dutch beer quite some times now. Quality is here defined as the basic, objectively measurable quality of beer produced by Dutch breweries, and has nothing to do with anyone’s personal taste preference. The incredible growth of the amount of Dutch breweries is something to rejoice in, and at the same time a reason to closely monitor what exactly these hyper-enthusiast brewers put on the market. Too often I have been sampling brews that were bursting with faults, issues that could have been avoided if only the brewer mastered the basic techniques of brewing and had paid more attention to hygiene – in short, knew better what he was doing.

For Brouw! Magazine, the recently launched magazine aimed at professional, as well as hobby and home brewers in Belgium and the Netherlands, I did a survey earlier this year with Dutch breweries about this subject, a summarizing article was published (in Dutch) in the most recent issue. Now a broader piece will be published here with additional data and graphs.

Just to clarify: the survey was taken via e-mail with the – then – 553 registered Dutch beer producing companies, as per the database of the Foundation of Dutch Beer Heritage. Not all mailadressess were (still) in use, but 518 breweries received the survey and 141 responded. This response figure of 27% makes we can view the outcome as representative. Respondents were one man operations as well as global top-three players, and everything in between.

The online article will come in three piece:

  • numbers and facts (June 13)
  • Code of Hygiene and raw materials (June 14)
  • Brewery’s view on, and measurements of, quality (June 15)

Furthermore: I do hope the outcome of this survey will help brewers be more aware of the importance of clean and safe working and production environments, as well as quality as such and quality control. Not only will this benefit themselves and their staff but certainly it will benefit ‘our’ beer too. Beer drinkers deserve well made beer, it is as simple as that. Of course I am open to any response or remarks.

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Finally – fine dining, paired with beautiful beers, can now also be done in Amsterdam. Copenhagen, San Francisco, Brussel and New York have been having it for years. Amsterdam did have a few places taking beer seriously: Lieve (now Spingaren) and Restaurant Dwars, where chef Jo Vaessen worked with local ingredients and dito beers. Perhaps they were ahead of time, like the cancelled Beer and Gastronomy Award. That can make a comeback: Bar ALT is more than a serious contender.

The menu of Bar ALT

Bar ALT places the bar high: fine dining with matching beer. On tap it boasts 21 brews, mostly by small and independent Dutch breweries. The bottle selection adds up to around seventy – mainly international. For those persisting in not drinking beer, a fine selection of ‘natural wines’ – call it craft wine, if you wish. The menu now lists nine dishes, to be ordered in a six-course menu, costing € 65. Every added dish is another € 10, the beer match comes at € 6 a glass. Both a beer and wine pairing comes at € 8. Glassware is bespoke and suits all needs and drinks.

Bar ALT is a joined venture of the guys behind Restaurant Jacobsz and Two Chefs Brewing. This brewery was founded in 2012 opgericht by Sanne Slijper and Martijn Disseldorp: they met behind the stove and were planning to combine their love for great food with their love of great beer for quite a while. Most of the draft beers is Two Chefs. The kitchen is headed by Chef Thomas Kooijman and Jacobsz’ Rick Swinkels, resulting in clever made dishes which are beautifully styled. See examples in some the pictures here and at the bottom of this page. I dined at Bar ALT, hoping for the best, expecting possible challenges.

Bring it on!

Reason is, it easily goes wrong when pairing food and beer – regardless of the culinary level. Personally I believe beer, as wine, should be an accompaniment for the dish and not more than that. Who wants beer to take the lead better seeks out a decent bar. Local newspaper Het Parool quoted the chef saying he’d adept a dish to a beer if needed. It made me want to scream ‘no, don’t!’ – food comes first, and if the match is wrong, change the beer. So, the combination of  high bar and potential trouble made me both extremely curious and a little weary.

I was not disappointed. Nicely decorated, well-chosen music and fitting decibels, comfortable chairs and couch. Sure, one could complain the tables are a bit too high – but one can always complain. There are high tables too, particularly for larger groups. Staff is crisp, knowledgeable and oozing expertise without becoming threatening. Very un Amsterdam, if you get my point. Since I had high hopes and no further obligations I asked for the full Monty: all nine dishes with a beer pairing, if you please.

Grilled octopus

I will not bore you reading the entire menu (see somewhere down this page), but some combinations deserve a special mention. For example the BBQ’ed octopus, paired with Rodenbach Vintage 2014 – well-nigh perfection. The first dish did not convince me: mackerel with fermented chili, wild rice and peanuts came with a saison and did not match. Partly because the saison was not a saison, showing a lot of malt sweetness. The fish was just begging for a wit beer.

Dish six, however – beetroot with smoked bacon, beurre blanc and vinaigrette of vintage sherry vinegar paired with Oersoep Très Cabras – was a moment of totala happiness. Heaven’s gate opened itself, briefly. Other great combinations were Uitje Brewing Company Mosaic Mammoth with lamb, eggplant, dukkah and thymus – one would think this combination was destined to go nowhere, but think again – awesome. Beef with green asparagus, melted bone marrow and hazelnut came with Jopen Witte Rook (‘White Smoke’): heavenly and earthy united in total bliss.

Lamb, laquered eggplant and thymus

What upperhand has beer over wine? The carbon dioxide gas cleanses the mouth with every sip, preparing for another sensation. The total flavor complexity of beer is roughly seven times larger that wine. Bitter comes in many versions: sparked by malt, hops and sometimes spices – where wine only derives it from tannins. Sour ales get their complexity from the microflora in the vessels they mature in, and sometimes from fruits or added lactic acid. Wheat may contribute it, totally different sours. Bar ALT’s beer menu is a careful selection of sours, with a lot of saisons – a beer style extremely well suited to pair with food because of its dry and earthy character. Rare bottles, often from unique and limited brews, complete the eclectic beer selection.

What truly speaks for Bar ALT is them investing in a fulltime beer guard: purchasing, selecting and curating the selection is done by sommelier Wiard Siccama, who’s also around to explain about the combination and the beers themselves. The fun he has drips off his face and I could see him push you out of your chair so he can have a go at it himself. I’d welcome him to it!

Desert with two pairings

All in all I believe Amsterdam has welcomed a new jewel in the crown. Yes, interpret that as a wholeheartedly meant advice to go there and indulge yourself – even if you’re not particularly into beer at the dinner table. When I visited, a mother-daughter couple sat beside me, savouring the dishes and having them paired to wines. The Omnipollo Raspberry Meringue Ice Cream Pie I had with desert changed their mind: they finished their sweets already but shared a bottle of it between them. And loved it. It was the final push to make a great evening into a perfect one.

Starter on a bed of malt

Lobster – almost finished

Asparagus and stuff. Good stuff!

Beetroot until eternity

Beef, green asparagus and molten bone marrow

Blue cheese infused with Cantillon Grand Cru

Beer menu – part 1

Beer menu – part 2

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