Colourful and inventive, we love these guys
Saturday 07 May 2022
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The building heaves as we approach it – people stream in and out to the rhythm of a pounding beat, and either tighten shearling coats in response to the blizzard we arrive in, or loosen wool button downs that will get the chance to dry inside. It’s warm, in spite of the old warehouse’s high ceilings. Large plants and colourful string lights hang between walls that are painted with bright designs; the bar is packed, people’s chatter almost as loud as the music. The space invites moves to be made, and shapes thrown, for passion to be pursued, and desire embraced.
We’re met by Steef den Hertog, Oedipus’s head of commerce, and Jimmy Weijers, export manager. We talk about their other bar in Javaplein, about Radio Oedipus, the station operating out of that venue and that features live DJs and continuous chat about beer, art and music. We grab a beer to take on our tour of the brewery, and, starving for a sour, I pick up a schooner of Polyamorie, one of the two beers set to feature in this month’s box. It’s a gentle beer, being a blend of hop-forward IPA and a mango Berliner Weisse; “we called it Polyamorie because it speaks to a love of both sour and hoppy…you get a bit of everything,” Steef says. It’s a true “gateway sour”.
The blending and balancing of multiple partners is a common feature across various threads of Oedipus’s modus operandi, but while individuality is centrally celebrated here, so too is a loyalty to partners who have grown and changed with them. Steef speaks fondly of the brewery in Belgium that has contract brewed for Oedipus since it first started out, to help meet the volume demands of its core line; for all that new relationships have been forged in other parts of the business, their connection with the team in Belgium remains strong after ten years of growth and development together.
One such new relationship that Steef and Jimmy are open and transparent about, is with Heineken, which bought a minority share in the brewery at the start of lockdown. This partnership has allowed Oedipus to expand its distribution network, particularly when it comes to the sale of its most popular beers, Mannenliefde, Thai Thai and Strip, which it produces in larger volumes to meet the demand of both a domestic and international market.
These many and varied partnerships have allowed Oedipus to flourish in all the weird and wonderful ways that I experience and celebrate it on our tour around the facilities. Steef says that in the future, Oedipus hopes to build more of a world around its beer; it wants to keep connecting with local artists, DJs and musicians, open a farm so people can visit and connect with the land where ingredients used on site are grown, and further develop its kitchen so more exciting, high quality food can be enjoyed across any and all Oedipus venues.
But more recently and concretely Oedipus has collected yeast from Amsterdam’s zoo, loaded its barrels onto open air barges for a tour of Amsterdam’s canal network to gather yeast from the city’s waterways, and have even made some beers with wine yeasts that they’re cultivating and fermenting in-house; I found it particularly sweet that these beer/wine collabs are named after the grandmas of the families that grew the grapes used. Gigetta was particularly delicious.
Steef and Jimmy walk us down the street, through sleet, snow and sodium light to their creative studio and warehouse, where their office and in-house design team work. The artist’s studio is really something to be admired; a space so unashamedly enmeshed in the claws of creativity that one has to respect that such resources have been allocated to its whims and desires. Here can and bottle labels are designed - but to have just one for every beer wouldn’t align with Oedipus’s celebration of uniqueness, individuality, and how various moving parts relate to a complex yet cohesive whole. There are often several variations of a label made and used, so that when you buy a pack of the same beer, you’ll most likely find that each can is different. If this doesn’t convince you of the centrality of colour and creativity in the Oedipus ethos, then perhaps you’ll be assured by the fact that Steef is on the look-out for an artist who will individually paint 13,000 of the kegs resting in the warehouse next door. Just because colour is fun.
Given Oedipus’s many experiments with yeast, and their frequent collaboration with local artists and businesses, it’s no surprise that they’ve recently teamed up with their neighbours at Europizza to brew a Berliner weiss. The yeast used comes from the restaurant’s resident sourdough, and is flavoured with a syrup concocted by their chefs. The story of Europizza is as interesting as that of Oedipus; it starts with owners Teun, Nick, Dimitri, Tjalling and Rein opening a fine dining restaurant, Europa, with almost no budget, in an old artillery warehouse in Het HEM - just outside of Amsterdam. When COVID hit and the business was forced to close, they began freezing the pizzas regularly made in house, and selling them from an ice cream tray, out the front of the shuttered business, as an emergency measure. No sooner had they struck gold with this new way of operation, than the ferry to Het HEM ceased operation, so the team packed up and Europizza moved into a unit just a couple of hundred metres down the street from Oedipus.
The restaurant is elegant, and like so many places in the Netherlands, capitalises on the rustic charm of its environment’s industrial origins. The kitchen, which is open plan and can be observed from everywhere in the single story restaurant, is partially clad in old tiles, partially painted in the tasteful magnolia that coats the rest of the room, and compliments the candlelight we sit in. Everywhere is understated, minimalist - allowing for guests to focus on the restaurant’s fresh, seasonal menu and exceptional selection of wines. With veg being front and centre in most dishes, the menu is accessible to vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters alike - a refreshing change from many of the restaurants we visit on our travels. Among sides of fresh peas with mint, and carpaccio of kohlrabi with coconut cream, chimichurri and a nut crumb, we feast on pizzas topped with radicchio and walnut, fresh herbs, and even fresher, locally sourced cheese. We chew in almost silence, mouths watering, as the shadow of floating yeast particles are cast onto our plates - the warm light journeys from candle through the natural, Hungarian white that fills our glasses.
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