Congratulations of the fourth anniversary, Kaapse Brouwers

Rotterdam is where the Netherlands meets the world.  Schiphol airport may be the country’s most visible international gateway, but for over 130-years or more passengers and goods have been arriving and departing on ships from Rotterdam, still one of the largest and busiest ports in the world.  Rotterdam’s port may have grown exponentially during the past 50-years, but history is still evident in certain important areas of the harbour.

The Kop van Zuid, for example, is an area of gentrification that sits on the south side of the Nieuwe Maas (a distributary of the Rhine), surrounding the historic Rijnhaven harbour, which was built at the end of the 19th-century.

Overlooking the Rijnhaven, one of the last former warehouses that remain has been given a new lease of life and is now the home of the Fenix Food Factory, a combination of food hall, artisan food market, cider bar and craft beer bar/brewery.

As befitting a building with heritage and provenance, the décor in the Fenix Food Factory follows the de rigueur fashion for industrial chicness — the old meeting the new.  The utilitarian concrete, exposed pipes and external ductwork only serve to add heaps of authenticity and a relaxing atmosphere to the ad-hoc collection of distressed tables, sofas, armchairs and other disparate furniture at which a variety of great food and drink can be enjoyed.

There is a large, extensive terrace area overlooking the water, too, from where the jewel-in-the-crown across the Rijnhaven can be admired.  Directly opposite the Fenix Food Factory is the Wilhelminapier, the departure point for countless passengers leaving for the New World aboard the Holland America Line during its first 100-years — until the famous shipping and passenger line moved its HQ to Seattle.

The Holland America Line’s original 1901 office building remains, thankfully, and it is towards this world-famous Art Nouveau edifice (now the Hotel New York) that all eyes drinking beer and cider on the terrace face.  In a gesture of reconnection with its former home, the Wilhelminapier is once again used by the Holland America Line, and it is awe-inspiring to be sitting on the terrace, drinking a beer or cider, dwarfed by the humongous cruise ships, such as the flagship MS Rotterdam, coming and going opposite.

The Fenix Food Factory itself is a hotchpotch of businesses, all of which seem to merge into a single vision of taste, relaxation and enjoyment — it’s a great mix that works well.  A bakery, a bookseller, a cheesemaker, a coffee roaster, a pâté maker, a greengrocer, a Moroccan tapas bar, a food kitchen in which different chefs can operate each week, and a maker of that Dutch classic, stroopwafels.  Then there are the drinks.  Not only is Fenix Food Factory the home of the first dedicated cider store in the Netherlands, but it is also the home of Kaapse Brouwers, a rapidly emerging leader in the Dutch craft beer scene that has just celebrated its Fruit and Flowers Anniversary (or its Linen/Silk Anniversary if you’re in the USA).

Kaapse Brouwers celebrates its anniversary each year with a small, international Beer Festival, and 2018 saw participants from Norway, Spain, Catalonia, Italy, the UK, neighbouring Belgium and right here in the Netherlands.  Happy fourth anniversary.

Despite its varied and numerous businesses, the Fenix Food Factory is not huge; managing to fit ten visiting breweries into its limited capacity and leaving adequate floor-space for visitors is a challenge that was easily accomplished.  However, trying to find each brewery amid the various businesses, dining families, casual visitors and hardcore drinkers is initially baffling, but each can be visited during one complete circuit of the building’s interior.

Only one brewery was relegated outside, and it was Nanobrasserie de l’Ermitage from Brussels who drew the short-straw.  Not that they seemed bothered, despite the continual overcast weather and threat of rain.  Nacim and all the team seemed pretty happy and buoyant for the entire day, delighting in serving their great beers and chatting with visitors.  Beers from Nanobrasserie de l’Ermitage will be imminently available in Japan, so we wish much success with that.

Also hailing from Brussels is the eponymous Brussels Beer Project, who spend the day serving their already well-known beers from a bar that sits between breweries from Italy and the UK.

North London’s Pressure Drop Brewing delight in being here and confirming the brewery’s name is neither related to a symptom of inadequate draught beer systems, nor is it related to a song by The Clash or any other artist who’s covered the reggae classic.  The name, of course, relates to the original 1969 version of the song, recorded by Toots and the Maytals.

To many visitors it is CRAK Brewery from Padova in Italy who are the star attraction.  Making their first appearance in the Netherlands, Claudio and the team quash with a heavy boot the mistaken notion that Italy doesn’t have a worthy beer-scene.  Italy, famed for its great sense of fashion, taste and engineering, is naturally the perfect country to provide the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) with one of its most recent official beer style additions — the Italian Grape Ale.  Anything made from grapes is inherently seasonal, and mid-Spring is out-of-season.  However, CRAK has a Sour Italian Grape Ale available that has been maturing for a few seasons — delightful.  Evidence indeed of a determination to do things well, to brew awesome beers, to ‘crack’ and break away from anything that is not meeting expectations.  CRAK Brewery is one to watch.

Catalonia’s Cerveses La Pirata are always welcome, at home and abroad.  Evidence seen on Social Media suggests La Pirata is perhaps one of the hardest working breweries in Europe at the moment, constantly travelling to make collaborative brews elsewhere across the continent or inviting fellow-brewers to its base near Barcelona for the sake of beer, brewing and collaboration.  Knowledge sharing and learning seemingly pays dividends for the quality of a brewery’s beer, and La Pirata’s beer served by Panos and Ale today is testament to that.

Many beer festival attendees in western Europe are familiar with Norway’s Austmann, which today sits between the greengrocers and the cider store, serving their unique beers-with-a-twist to anticipant drinkers.  Drinking Austmann beers whilst perusing the neighbouring fruit and vegetables is a unique experience.

Despite its London-centric focus, it’s great to see the Kernel Brewery making the journey to the Netherlands.  An appearance by the Kernel Brewery is something of a rarity, as evident by the large number of people queuing to partake of southeast London’s finest craft beers.  In its ninth year of operation, the Kernel Brewery is something of an old-master amongst the young upstarts of craft beer.  Its longevity is a result of not only great beers, but also a dedicated and determined customer-first focus; the attentiveness and emphasis on keeping all visitors happy is ably demonstrated by Chun and the Kernel Brewery team today.  The attention given to customers must be applauded.

Spain’s Laugar Brewery appear somewhat at home in the Netherlands, since they’re very frequent visitors — thankfully — and always extremely popular.  Today is no different.  With six distinct beers from their large brewing portfolio, there’s something for everybody.  Serge and Oscar continue to keep the visitors entertained with their charm, wit and excellent beers, in spite of a few minor technical hitches that result in one slow-pouring tap.  A popular notion is that ‘Good things come to those who wait’, and visitors to Laugar Brewery are happy to wait patiently because they know its worth it.

Somewhat hidden-away in the centre of the Fenix Food Factory is Norway’s LERVIG, a little out of sight at times.  However, once fans and drinkers locate the brewery, some of the day’s longest queues can be seen here.  Despite the fact that LERVIG’s beers are certainly some of the most recognisable and well-known beers of the day, thanks to their fairly widespread availability and frequent attendance at various beer festivals, many people are still interested and keen to taste something Scandinavian — along with beery delights from fellow Norwegian brewery, Austmann.

Brouwerij de Molen is, of course, familiar to the majority of beer-drinkers in the Netherlands and many overseas visitors, too, primarily because of its annual Borefts Bier Festival, a feast of global beer extravagance that is extremely popular and fast becoming one of the highlights of the European beer-festival season.  Brouwerij de Molen is based not too far from Rotterdam, so it is no surprise that Kaapse Brouwers holds the Borefts Bier Festival after-show party here at the Fenix Food Factory, a chance for everybody to unwind with a relaxing beer after several days of dedicated drinking in the pursuit of unique, international beers.  Today, Brouwerij de Molen brings a selection of its finest spring-beers, all of which are popular.

Hosts Kaapse Brouwers are fortunate enough to have their own permanent taproom, which is constantly busy throughout the day.  The range of Kaapse Brouwers’ beers is quite extensive, so it is no surprise that many visitors wander into the taproom to try one or more of the many delights on offer — there’s something for everybody.  It’s not huge space, but there is a huge number of beers, and there’s even a bottle-shop, too.  It is worth making a journey to the Fenix Food Factory simply to visit the Kaapse Brouwers’ taproom; it could perhaps be a beer festival all on its own, even when there are no international guests tempting the spoilt-for-choice drinker with a continent-ful of beers.

Besides the international beers, there are several activities to keep people amused between drinks.  Whether it’s the Silent Disco, held in a sealed side-road that is almost a Secret Silent Disco, or the not-so-silent DJ.  Games are available, too, and there is always the most popular activity of the day: sitting outside, drinking beer.

Today is a good omen for Kaapse Brouwers’ Wood Anniversary next year, and then onwards and upwards to its Silver one.