Normally my ‘O Hell It’s Monday’ blogs are about something that annoys me and needs to get off my chest, but today it’s all Heaven. I have tasted three beers that I found to be so close to perfection that I may just as well call them perfect. I have met, shook hands and talked with their maker, their blender, their creator and I am convinced I have met a true genius.
I met this genius at the 5th Kimchi Festival and just so I do not get into a beef with Rick Nelson and Team Oedipus for not mentioning this: it was a fantastic event again. Noorderlicht is an ideal location, the selection of music, foodies and brewers attracted a great crowd and even the weather was nice. Oh, and just so I do not get into a beef with Brouwerij Maximus’ Marcel Snater: his ‘Sour Crystal Meth’ and ‘Fat Cherry Kriek’ were of unparalleled beauty and I cannot wait for more. And yes, the charcuterie by Brandt & Levie was icing on the beer cake, coincidentally proving that ‘size doesn’t matter’ as far as sausages or egos go. But forget about the toes I hope I carefully avoided stepping on and return to the feet I believe we all ought to wash, then kiss and bless. These feet belong to a young man called Tommie Sjef Koenen.
It is actually a quite frightening experience, meeting a genius. You literally feel the cold fist of Reality grab your spine and give it irregular squeezes. The light changes, time seems to run differently (not really faster, or slower – just ‘differently’) and sounds, smells, other stimuli and emotions intensify. A passing-by ladybug sounds like a helicopter
and seems to stare at you, knowingly, yet with a sad expression on its face (why is its upper lip in red lipstick, the bottom one in green?). The little pebble that got into your shoe earlier, waiting in line for a Kimchi Burger, suddenly feels like a volcano about to erupt, likely resulting in a festering wound that will eventually cause your demise. The body odor of the beer geek next to you, also listening to the golden sound Tommie Sjef is producing with his mouth, seems to go through the normal cycles but then on speed: the odor is always sort of ‘there’ but acceptable and now it seems to race from unacceptable, via unbearable, hysterical and criminal to enticing, beckoning, promising and delirial – only to evolve into the smell as if a beached humpback whale has just exploded, after forming gas in its dead body for some days. I was almost overcome by the irresistible urge to hug him. And all this time Tommie Sjef had been searching for the proper word to describe the precise sourness that characterizes his ‘Cassis and Braam’, throwing out every suggestion made by the bystanders, whilst dreamily following a pair of sea gull playing with each other in the skies above us with his eyes.
He is named Tommie Sjef, phonetically so to the point that some divine intervention must have taken place in a very early stage of his life. Twenty-two years old, studying at the Arnhem Conservatory to play the guitar, he travels regularly up and down to his family home in Den Helder, where the barn is filed with barrels and stuff to put into them. Recently he brewed some batches of wort at friendly Dutch breweries which was then being transported to Den Helder to ferment, lager and be played with by Tommie Sjef. He used to travel to Belgium, buying lambic from established breweries. I would have liked to be there so I could have seen the faces of the brewers answering the door: looking in the puppy-eyes of Tommie Sjef, doubting if he had to shave already, and hearing his request to buy some lambiek so he could start blending at home. Surely they made him pay prior to fetching the beer, then calling the cops to report a runaway and clearly bonkers young Dutchman.
Now you want me to say something about his beers I tasted, his Blanc, Cuvée and Cassis-Braam? Words will prove to be totally, hopelessly and utterly ineffective to do them justice. Go try and drink his beer – I know many of you already did, but still – and look into the future of Dutch brewing and beer. We have our fair share of normally to seriously talented brewers, we have some gifted brewers and maybe a handful of highly gifted brewers – and now, we have a true genius. He is twenty-two years old, plays the guitar and you pronounce his name the way you write it: Tommie Sjef Koenen.