Once in a while a recipe surfaces in a place where you don’t expect it. Earlier this week I was asked if I had already found a historical beer recipe for every Dutch region. I haven’t got that far yet, however. Sometimes I can be a bit jealous of a country like England, where there is a vast corpus of old brewing records, in which people like Ron Pattinson can browse to their hearts’ content, and in which they can follow clear trends from decade to decade and from one place to another.
In the last article, we saw how princesse beer first surfaced in Amsterdam in 1748, and that it disappeared around 1900, outcompeted by modern bottom-fermenting beer. And now it’s back, because I found an original recipe which enabled brewers to produce it again. And… you can make it yourself.
Looking for lost beers is fun. But what do you do once you’ve found such an old recipe? Do you start brewing it again? Can you brew it again? An interesting example is a beer from Nijmegen. This nice Dutch university town by the Waal river is a good beery place to visit. It has De Hemel brewery in the town centre in what is originally a 12th century building. Young brewers like Oersoep and Katjelam are not afraid of the odd experiment. But once Nijmegen was really famous for its beer: mol. Which in Dutch means ‘mole’.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if beer was actually really healthy? Instead of damaging your liver and giving you hangovers? Oddly, in the 19th century beer was seen as a perfectly healthy drink. This was of course an age when many people drank themselves half-conscious with gin, and then beer didn’t look so bad.
To be perfectly honest, I started this quest for the lost beers of Holland mainly looking for recipes of the 18th and 19th century. Why? Two reasons: they are easier to find and to interpret, and nobody had really written about them before. So far, every new beer recipe feels like a lost treasure found after deep digging. Still, the 19th century is not exactly the heyday of Dutch beer. The Middle Ages were. For a few centuries Holland was the leading beer exporting country that taught even the British and Belgians how to brew beer with hops. But we’ll get to that.
Belgium has its lambic, faro and geuze, spontaneously fermented beers that can only be produced in the Zenne valley and the Pajottenland near Brussels. Or can they? Learn about the historical Lambic beers of Holland. With a recipe.
So now it’s time to disclose the secrets of one of those lost Dutch beers. I’ll start with a simple one: an early Dutch homebrew. After all, it aren’t always professional brewers that make beer. Every day many amateurs make their own. And this is of all ages: before the Second World War there was plenty of homemade beer in Holland too. Where? At the farm!