KeyKeg’s emergent beer festival memorably reinvents established models

(Originally published 3 Oct 2018)

Den Helder evokes different ideas in different people.

It’s a port city to the Dutch, the Royal Netherlands Navy’s operational centre. Most tourists visit Den Helder en route to Texel, the nearby wildlife and leisure pursuit island. Although many delay their journey to explore the city’s 19th century maritime history and industrial chic.

Book lovers read about eponymous “sands” near Den Helder in Erskine Childers’ 1903 spy novel, The Riddle of the Sands. And Den Helder is home to around 50,000 people.

Beer, cider, wine and sake lovers across the world know Den Helder too. The city’s international link to pubs, bars, cafés and restaurants displayed on drinks dispense systems they use. Den Helder is home to KeyKeg® and UniKeg®, the unique and innovative one-way, sustainable kegs.

Theater De Kampanje

Den Helder’s tourist heart is Willemsoord former naval dockyard. Its history includes Napoleon’s early designs, World War II allied bombing devastation, the area’s gentrification and a modern maritime museum.

Retaining its industrial and seafaring character, Theater De Kampanje sits between historic ships and nautical monuments as another success story. This former maritime building’s adaptive reuse gives Willemsoord a multi-use theatre, conference centre and event facility. It won a 2016 Arie Keppler Prize for exemplary achievements in social and environmental architecture and authentic, sympathetic urban design.

Theater De Kampanje holds the KeyKeg International Beer Festival in its light, airy and stylish main hall. 25 top international KeyKeg-using brewers participating at two days of excellent beer, music and workshops with around 2,000 visitors. It recognises omissions at other beer festivals and includes cider and cocktails too, providing a broad selection and satisfying the public.

The visitors

As Den Helder is 70 km north of Amsterdam, visitors are mostly locals mingling with a handful of beer enthusiasts. The demographic’s unique, discerning ambiance refreshes traditional beer festival models. Tasting new and uncommon beers produced by first-time brewery visitors to the Netherlands is a joy. The KeyKeg International Beer Festival oozes relaxation.

Brewers notice fewer hardcore beer fanatics and expertly utilise the opportunity to seek frank, unbiased beer critiques. It is invigorating to hear the opinion of diverse people whose interest is something other than pursuing artisanal craft beer.

The breweries

One-third of participating breweries is home-grown talent from across the Netherlands. Local brewery Stadsbrouwerij Helderse Jongens presents its beer with Den Helder pride in the adjacent (and permanent) KeyKegcafé. Most Dutch participants brew in North Holland, with only Den Haag’s Kompaan Bier and Nijmegen’s Oersoep travelling from other provinces.

Alkmaar is home to Brouwerij Egmond’s Sancti Adalberti brand and Brouwerij Leeghwater‘s impressive Beemster Boezem, Ruys and Opperbock. Historic Jopen‘s talented and adept professionalism reflects medieval Haarlem.  And then there’s Amsterdam, home to visitors’ favourites Brouwerij Troost and Morebeer Brewing. The former’s Club Tropicana tastes like sunshine and the latter’s Fourth Secret Eagle (Curry Strong Ale) raises a few eyebrows.

Belgium and Germany

Neighbouring Belgium and Germany impress visitors with beer from Damme’s Viven, Hamburg’s Von Freude and Bavaria’s Ayinger Privatbrauerei. All three demonstrate a focus on remembering their national brewing culture and history in classic and contemporary beer styles.

Denmark and Scotland

Denmark’s Mikkeller and Scotland’s Brewdog are popular, well-known breweries pushing the beer production boundaries and impressing visitors.


Unfortunately arriving late from Paris are BAPBAP‘s anticipated beers, escalating interest and increasing their desirability. The wait is worthwhile. Impressive quality and taste proclaiming that French craft beer should never be underestimated.


Slovenia’s Reservoir Dogs makes its debut appearance in the Netherlands and attracts much attention. Slovenian beer proves popular and the brewery’s intriguing artwork tells many stories. Each beer’s imagery produced by an individual artist who constructs modern or traditional ideas through design.


Italian beer always impresses. Birrificio del Forte, Mister B Brewery and CANEDIGUERRA prove the point. CANEDIGUERRA is established at major beer events, yet Birrificio del Forte and Mister B Brewery are beginning to make an impact. All three producing high-calibre beer and many unique, rare or experimental beer styles.


Budapest’s MONYO Brewing Co. is evidence of a potential craft beer explosion in Hungary and its former Eastern Bloc neighbours. It is overdue. The quality and talent are astounding.


Norway’s Ægir Bryggeri bears Ægir’s proud name — the Norse Gods’ brewer of choice — and keeps legends alive with heavenly beer. The fjords’ Viking spirit influences Ægir Bryggeri’s award-winning beers. The Nordic Vibe Barrel Aged Wheat Wine collaboration with MONYO Brewing Co, for example, is among the event highlights.


Spain and other lands or autonomous communities on the Iberian Peninsula claim the craft beer crown, and often rightly so. Representing Spain is Guadalajara’s Cervezas Arriaca and València’s Cerveza Tyris, both producing astonishing beer popular with Den Helder’s drinkers.


UnREAL ALES from the self-proclaimed #PrincesOfPocklington, the UK’s Bone Machine Brew. Co. display their motivations and cultural reference-points prominently. The Finnish-British brewery producing beers such as the Garden of Death, Dream Machine, Green Machine and Diocane. Elsewhere, London’s Fourpure Brewing Co. demonstrates why it’s gaining an international “Bermondsey Beer Mile” reputation for quality beer and dependability.


Not mentioned so far is a favourite country of beer aficionados and casual craft drinkers alike. Excellent USA craft beer from North Carolina is represented by Dutch-American beer importers, All Kinds of Beers. Aviator Brewing Company, Fortnight Brewing Company, Lonerider, Olde Hickory Brewery and Sugar Creek Brewing — all kinds of beers to savour.

Other than beer

Besides beer, KeyKeg-dispensed, pre-prepared cocktails prove popular at the Molotov cocktail bar. And Utrecht’s Het Ciderhuis demonstrates why authentic, original UK cider is far superior to mass-produced, artificial alternatives.


In only two years the KeyKeg International Beer Festival has already gained a formidable reputation as an established beer festival. The location, intimacy and range of high-calibre breweries creates a distinct event with a unique, balanced ambience unlike any other.

Long may its success and individuality continue.

Please also see: Revolutionary KeyKeg International Beer Festival daring to be unique