Getting to know: Bird Brewery

Self-confessed twitchers Ralph van Bemmel and Rik van den Berg swooped onto the Dutch beer scene a couple of years ago, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and with an exuberant enthusiasm and gusto that has allowed the goldcrest (Ralph) and the bearded reedling (Rik) to firmly established Bird Brewery as a leader in its class within only a couple of years.

Bird Brewery has found its own perch within the industry, from where is sits with aplomb.

In the early days, Bird Brewery avidly presented its three core birds at beer-festivals and events with eagerness and pride, and the reward has been a growth to a current roster of seven core birds, a handful of seasonal, migrating birds, and a couple of rare specialities that an avid beer-spotter can occasionally find.

Bird Brewery is correct in its assertion that there’s nothing here resembling a headless chicken, just simple, balanced beers of the highest quality, albeit they’re a little quirky.  This is no surprise, since between them both, Ralph and Rik’s CV is impressive — a founder of BierLab (discovering speciality beers), a one-time board-member at PINT (the Dutch beer consumers’ association) and a certified beer sommelier.  The ornithologists of beer?!

Living in a country that conveniently has 12 provinces has made 2018 a busy year for Bird Brewery, since it has embarked upon its ‘Bird Collab Tour’: each month it will brew a unique and special collaboration beer with some of the leading brewers, one in each of The Netherlands 12 provinces.  The beginning of 2018 has seen the appearance of a “Gijtlijster” (black IPA) and a “Barley Bird” (barley wine).  Sadly, these will only be small-batch collaborations, available locally, so they’ll be something of a rare bird to spot.

Bird Brewery is resolute in giving its beers Dutch names, which shall prove something of a challenge for overseas drinkers who are unfamiliar with the language.  Since the name of each beer references a bird, however, I suspect that when Bird Brewery expands overseas the common English name for each of our feathered-friends shall be assumed as a nickname for the beer.

By taking this approach and using English nicknames, the core selection of Bird Brewery beers begins to sound something like the pseudonyms used by a gang wishing to avoid using their true identity — think of the Mr Whites, Mr Oranges and Mr Blondes of Reservoir Dogs!  But, in the case of Bird Brewery, the central characters undertaking the diamond heist are The Cuckoo, The Coot, The Robin, The Grebe, The Sparrow, The Chaffinch and the latest recruit to the gang, The Warbler .  It is easy to imagine the characters in the gang as dangerous undesirables with cleverly chosen names to reflect the distinct personality of each — although, the reality is they’re actually the most wonderfully tasting, approachable beers: also known as Datisandere Koekoek, Datsmaaktnaar Meerkoet, De Rumoerige Roodborst, Fuut Fieuw, Nognietnaar Huismus, Vink Heerlijk and Schuiminje Snor.

Bird Brewery’s identity is its plumage, its coherent design ideas and execution, which, thanks to designer Erik van Bemmel (Ralph’s brother), gives the brewery, bottles, marketing and merchandise a striking, bright, colourful and strangely hypnotic quality.  Sometimes it’s a veritable “Where’s Wally?” of an adventure, with Ralph and Rik as the protagonists: how many times can you spot them in the landscape, hid among the birds, the features and the landmarks.  Bird Brewery’s artwork would certainly not be out of place hanging on the walls at the Guggenheim.

Make this your ‘big year’ by trying to spot Bird Brewery at your local beer store, bar, café or festival — binoculars not needed.  Whether home is a coop, an aviary, a dovecote or a loft, there should always be a little corner of your nest reserved for Bird Brewery.