Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Day in the Orange Land

Almost immediately upon arriving to settle in with Urbain, after two days of backbreaking brewery work, I was whisked off to a whole other country. I think it was called “Holland,” or “The Nether-regions.” De Molen, a brewery and restaurant near a collection of cities called Gouda, Utrecht, and Amsterdam, did not hold a festival of cheese, treaties, and THC, but they did host a nice beer festival with one of the world’s greatest lineups of suds. OK, I lied, there were a few cheese platters. And perhaps some THC, who knows.

Yours truly behind the bar

This Borefts Beer Festival brought together Belgian, Dutch, Swedish, and Danish brewers; Struise and Alvinne represented Belgium. De Molen and Emelisse had home-court advantage, Närke Kulturbryggeri batted for Sweden, and Mikkeller carried Denmark’s flag. Glenn and Davy drove me in the Alvinne beerwagon and two additional helpers squeezed in as well; Stephan to my left and Mark to my right. Urbain took his mobile apartment separately.

Davy points to something. Höge's on your left.

Brewers started serving at noon, when only the real hop-heads showed up to pace themselves through the day. A good Dutch representation mingled around the booths, joined by a handful of Brits and a couple Americans. Everyone spoke English with a little cajoling. The atmosphere was relaxed, the day was clear, and De Molen had a food service in action, so folks were fat and happy. I asked for some cheese and they gave me enough to feed an army – and it was good, too! Cheese comes cheap in those parts.

The Mikkeller crew (Greg Gaughan's photo)

Urbain, Glenn and Davy worked their brewmastery on the floor for a while, but when I was relieved from my pouring duties I was able to mingle among the crowd and show off my American accent. Soon, though, I stumbled upon the Närke table. Höge (I think his name was) fit the perfect mold of what I thought a Scandinavian brewer should be. He was short, stocky, sported a wide gray beard and round glasses, and wore a leather cap and vest. All black clothes. His demeanor was far from intimidating, though, and I soon got into a discussion about our mutual disdain for all the heavy beers that are put into huge bottles. He’s pushing for small bottles for his dark, thick concoctions, so we can drink for the taste and not for the buzz! I was able to sample Tanngnjost & Tanngrisnir, a bock beer brewed with juniper clippings and smoked malts. It has quite a history, Höge said it was brewed in better times (before Christianity), and his interpretation was magnificent. Certainly spicy and a bit puckering, it possessed a great malty backbone that blended with the juniper superbly. It was named after Thor’s two goats, and I think the man would’ve been proud. Maybe he would’ve given Höge an honorary degree in godliness, knighted him with the hammer. Other highlights were Närke’s Kaggen Stormaktsporter (both 2007 and 2008), this year’s best beer in the world, Mikkeller’s 黑/Black (I’ve heard one sip in the morning is enough to keep you going until lunch, at least), and Struise’s Dirty Horse. Dirty Horse is a kriek-like beer that Urbain first brewed in 1983. He built a makeshift coolship out of timbers and a tarp and let the wild things do their work, later aging the brew on whole cherries. This particular batch had been aged for four years; it took six hours to disappear.

De Molen's brewroom

And that was about it. The Struise/Alvinne crew had a pleasant sleep at a bed and breakfast and drove the two hours back to the homeland.

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