Friday, March 31, 2006


A Nest for Dutch Beer Hawks

't Arendsnest- or the Eagle's Nest- is a place for craft beer hawks. Situated at no 90 of picturesque Herengracht - the Gentlemen's Canal- in Amsterdam, it tries to stock at least one beer from every Dutch brewer. Not a small task given the increase in the number of Dutch microbreweries over the last decade-at present there are more than fifty breweries in Nederland.

The owner, Peter van der Arend, has also published a book with a description and quite a few nice pictures of every brewery in Nederland. Nederlandse Bierbrouwerijen is only available in Dutch for now- it is still highly recommended- but knowing the merchant spirit of Amsterdam it would surprise me if an English version would not soon be available.

The beer café is open every day from 4 pm and is considerably less crowded than In De Wildeman, another Amsterdam must-see for the serious beer tourist. Unlike the latter 't Arendsnest stocks only Dutch beers, but the choice is no less impressive for that reason.

For 6 euro you can have a "mini proeverij" of 4 draft beers- there are 15 to choose from. Nicely served in a tasting tray with water and dry biscuit to cleanse the palate between the beers. At the Gentlemen's Canal beer tasting is indeed taken seriously! If you prefer your beer from the bottle, there are some 180 different to choose from, some of them even aged.

It is hard to leave this nest...

Friday, March 24, 2006


Big Thirst in a Small Place

The first weekend of March sees not only the annual Zythos Bierfestival, the biggest of all Belgian beer festivals. Quite a contrast, but not less loved, is the big little geuzefestival called Night of Large Thirst (Nacht van Grote Dorst), held the Friday night before the big festival.

It all started with the damage from a fire that threatened to close down the geuze café called In de Verzekering tegen de Grote Dorst (the insurance against the big thirst). In support of the restoration of this village café in Eizeringen the first little geuzefestival was organised two years ago and repeated this year. And judging from the success it would surprise me if it does repeat itself in two years time.

It is a good opportunity to visit this café and to meet beer enthusiasts from all over the world. Tents had been set up on the green spot between the café and the village church. During the rest of the year, the café is only open on Sundays and church holidays (from 10 am to 1.30 pm) and whenever there is a funeral service at the church.

Arriving there is actually a bit weird. I boarded the no 128 bus at the Brussel Noord Station (which doubles as the bus station), knowing just the name of the stop at the outskirts of Eizeringen. I did not need to worry. As soon as the bus came to the city centre it became filled up with Finns, Dutch, Americans, and probably quite a few other nationalities. 40 minutes later a group of foreigners was walking quietly on a dark village road. There was expectation in the air!

The picture shows the greatest beer on offer that evening in my opinion, the 2002 Oude Geuze from 3 Fonteinen. As can also be seen, the ground became rather muddy with geuze tasters wandering back and forth between the 9 geuze brewers and blenders that were present.

It was a sight that would make any beer lover's mouth water. Good to know that you were basically insured against leaving the village thirsty.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Seen at Zythos

Two weeks have passed since the the beeriest weekend in the Belgian calendar. Friday 3 March 2006 saw the geuze festival at the Pajottenland village of Eizeringen, followed by the Open Brew Day at the Cantillon brewery on Saturday and, of course, the main event, the two-day Zythos Bierfestival.

The latter is an annual event, organised by Belgium's beer consumer organisation Zythos, and definitely not one to be missed by any craft beer lover. 62 breweries managed to present 206 beers, available for tasting in 15 cl tasting glasses for 1 euro. As at the Essen Christmas Beer Festival you may well be too late for some novelties if you go for the Sunday session only, but you will probably still have at least 180 (my own very unofficial estimate) quality beers to choose from.

It all takes place in the Stadsfeestzal of the Oostvlaanderen town of Sint-Niklaas, just across from its train station. There are good connections to all major Belgian cities- the city named after Santa Claus is situated midway between Antwerpen and Gent. It certainly feels like Christmas Eve for a beer enthusiast to be there!

Beer enthusiastiasts from all over the world now make their annual pilgrimage to Sint Niklaas. Even legendary beer writer Michael Jackson, who have been sharing his writing gifts like a Santa Claus of the Beer World before fermentation started of this beer tourist, was there. He has just released a new edition of his great Great Beers of Belgium book, which he signed at the festival (as you can see he did not mind signing the festival leaflet either- some of us had already bought the book).

This festival certainly proved that there is plenty of writing material on the Belgian beer scene- and you will find it in its best condition in Michael Jackson's books.

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