It has arrived: when I walked through the sunny historic centre of Utrecht this morning, my eye was caught by some big pub windows announcing the ‘Limited H41 Lager Explorations’. The new Heineken beer had reached my town. ‘Specially brewed with a rare yeast from Patagonia’. And all I could think of was: New Coke.
And now, let’s talk about the least known Dutch beer type: oud bruin. You won’t see it in fancy beer pubs, or at craft beer festivals. The most likely place where you’ll find it, is the highest shelves in the supermarket. It’s hard to find anyone who actually likes this ‘old brown’, a low-alcohol beverage that tastes like diet coke. A sweetened, weak, bottom-fermented 2,5 ABV dark beer. What on earth is to be said of such a depressingly plain drink?
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.
Now let’s talk about one of the most popular Dutch beers of the 19th century: princessebier. Where did this ‘princess beer’ come from, when did it disappear, and what is that funny name about? And of course, is there a recipe? There is, and not only has the renowned Anchor brewery made a one-off reconstruction, it is going to be re-brewed by a once-famous Dutch beer brand as well.
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.
Around 1891, a remarkable newcomer had appeared in the rapidly changing Dutch beer scene. That year, the brewers of the province of North Brabant wrote a request to no-one else but the pope. It read as follows: ‘Most holy Father! With deep respect the subscribers… ask for Your Fatherly blessing and permit themselves to tell Your Holiness that their business is seriously harmed by the practicing of a beer brewery by the Honourable Fathers Trappists.’ The brewers begged the pope to order the Trappists to stop brewing.