Halftime: A Visit to Belgium and Holland

We are halfway through with what has been an amazing summer so far here at NCB. Last week I travelled around Belgium and Holland visiting some renowned breweries and tasting some great (craft) beer.

Belgian style beer is probably one of the most famous kinds of ale in the world- known for its blonde color and complex wheat-y and yeast-y characteristics. Many people who initially try this kind of beer may not like it at first as these craft beers may be unfiltered which means that there are yeast particles still present in the finished product- unlike classic lagers such as Heineken or Stella Artois. The top-fermenting and higher fermenting temperature make for a more complex beer than the lager style beer which are bottom fermented at cooler temperatures. Learn more about the beer styles here. If you aren’t used to this unfiltered style with strong hop and floral aromas, it may take a little while for your palate to adapt- as it did for me. However having studied abroad in Maastricht, a small city in the region, I was exposed to this kind of beer and I have grown to love it. Belgian style blondes really have this unique body, mouthfeel and taste that is hard to accurately reproduce.

While in Belgium, I visited Bruges which is know for being a Belgian beer hotbed. I visited the oldest pub in Bruges and had their 500th (!!) anniversery brew. Here I went on a tour of The Half Moon Brewery. This brewery was particularly interesting to visit because of how old it is. Its been owned by the Maes family since 1856. They still brew some beer in the old (renovated) brewery but because of an expanding operation, much of the brewing and packaging is done at a new plant. Regardless, it was very cool to see all of the (very) old equipment that they used to use during the brewing process such as old copper tanks, pulley systems, cooling pools and a gravity system to move the beer throughout the brewery during the brewing process. Additionally, it is always good to visit new breweries and brew pubs to soak up good ideas for our brewery!

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Next, I visited the Stella Artois brewery in Leuven. This was particularly intriguing for me to see simply because of its sheer size. Although NCB is owned partly by Carlsberg Sweden, the brewery still has that small craft beer feel and taste- its hard to say the same about Stella- a brand which is part of the massive (alcoholic) beverage conglomerate ABInBev. To see the scale that Stella brews at and distributes was truly shocking.

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On my way up to Amsterdam, I visited the Jopenkerk brewery in Haarlem. This brewery was in an old converted church. It was very cool to see how they had transformed the church and had the brewing tanks out in the open directly behind the bar. The bar was packed inside and out- although the food was not very good and signage was poor, they had the aesthetic that they were going for down. This allowed for a real brew pub atmosphere which seemed to draw a big and consistent crowd.

Next, in Amsterdam, I visited the well known and highly respected Brouwerij ’t ij. Although I did not get to go on a tour here, the bartenders were happy to let me look around the brewery a bit once I explained why I was there and what I’ve been doing here in Stockholm! This was a great place to visit because, in a lot of ways ,it is quite similar to NCB. Although it looks different and the beers are different, it is a small craft brewery that has a bar and food and a great outdoor space – which was packed! This was cool to see and great to compare to NCB while taking some notes about what we might be able to do here in Sweden…

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Next up…a post about our 4th of July Brooklyn Brewery Tap Takeover party!

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