Let me start by admitting that my relationship with the city of Rotterdam has always been, well, let’s say, slightly impaired by prejudice. However much as I do admit Rotterdam has a phenomenal skyline – particularly when enjoyed in the rear view mirror of a car driving at high speed – I have never found it in me, born and raised as I am in Amsterdam, to view the city objectively. With its great architecture, fantastic food hall, vibrant night life, smelly river, headache invoking petrochemical aroma and incomprehensibly speaking townsfolk (‘Rotterdammers’ speak not so much a dialect but suffer from a speech impediment), Rotterdam is a place you have to love to hate. To further confuse my feelings for it, Rotterdam now has one of Holland’s finest brewers within its city limits. I ran into Peter Rouwen in Nijmegen, at the Oersoep Craft Beer Festival – a place of total awesomeness.
I have a soft spot for Peter, mainly because the man knows what he’s doing and cannot be made to change his mind. The people who built his Brouwerij Noordt are now all spending time in a recovery home high up in the Alps, nerve wracked as they were by Peter’s precision and attention to detail. That in itself says nothing but he’s brewing some of the best beers around in the Netherlands as a result, and it’s not just me saying it: he opened a year and a half ago and is already forced to substantially enlarge his production capacity. Be sure to pay the man and his brewery/ taproom a visit when you are in Rotterdam, but don’t expect me to be there. His beers at festivals: that’s awesomeness enough for me.
Talking about total awesomeness, at the Oersoep Festival we mortal souls were blessed by the fact it had pleased God himself to descend from His Heavens and spend some time with us, pouring some of His brews – He brought His famed Cuvée, Cassis-Braam and Blanc, and completed His line-up with Rosé – with that typical boyish charm which confuses many passers-by, making them want to ask if His mother’s okay with Him staying out so late. Indeed, Tommie Sjef (as His chosen worldly name is) Koenen was there – talk about total awesomeness. I have said it and I will say it again: the beer this young man produces is of such unimaginable high quality it is simply astonishing. As far as I am concerned He beats established and worshipped Belgian and American ‘wild/ sour/ lambic’ brewers by miles, if not light years. We beer geeks, with not much more than our mortal coils, can simply only taste, admire and adore.
And then there’s of course His female mirror image: Do Bongers. When a thirty-first century Marco Daane writes his copy of Beer in the Netherlands she will marvel over that Golden Age in Dutch brewing, when almost simultaneously two young and utterly gifted brewers arose: Tommie Sjef and Do. Much like Tommie, the appearance totally puts you on the wrong foot. (At one moment, seconded by Sander Kobes, Do was walking around the Festival grounds handing out pear and strawberry ice creams to the needy and heat-stricken. Seriously.) A semi-intellectual looking girl who’d you think be studying the cello or harp at the Royal Conservatory (since Tommie Sjef plays guitar) or reading Cultural Anthropology, specializing in ancient Mongolian tribes, talks softly to you. With meticulously chosen words she explains the brew, lagering almost two years now in Vat 13. A collab with Jester King, their first Koelship beer was exposed to the yeasts of that day and some wicked tricks, on which I will present a separate blog soon. The beer is looking to be simply explosively spectacular.
Beer festivals today, in short, are offering a variety, quality and diversity I have doubted we’d ever reach in the Netherlands. They are places of total awesomeness and I believe they will be for years to come. By the way: do not miss your next opportunity to enjoy Total Awesomeness. Amsterdam will host the Amsterdam Beer Fair at the former Navy Base in September, boasting an incredible line-up. See you there!