Brouwerij De Molen
Charlotte Cook tilts at windmills
Brouwerij De Molen
Saturday 07 May 2022
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Brouwerij De Molen, based in Bodegraven, about 30km outside of Amsterdam is a Grand Doyenne of European craft beer. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the brewery itself is as ancient as the 1697 windmill that adorns the bottles; but De Molen is still but a teenager, having been founded by head brewer Menno Olivier in 2004. The brewery produces some of the most innovative and creative beers currently available, as well as paying homage to historical brewing with its recreations of defunct recipes, allowing modern consumers to taste beers that have been out of production for decades, alongside pioneering new brews.
After starting out as a home brewer and realising he had an unusual talent for producing beer, Menno honed his craft at various breweries in the Netherlands before landing a job at Stadsbrouwerij De Pelgrim in Rotterdam. When the De Arkduif windmill became available, it presented Menno with a brilliant combination of brewery location and inspired the name, which translates into English as ‘The Mill’.
When De Molen first entered the Dutch market, the craft beer movement had yet to take hold, with the few small breweries concentrating on Belgian styles and little else. De Molen, with a focus on German, English and American styles, was the first to produce these beers domestically and, looking at the current crop of craft breweries, such as Het Uiltje and Oedipus, the influence of De Molen is clear to see.
After the brewery upsized in 2012, the production facility relocated to a new site just a few hundred meters away from De Arkduif. This allowed De Molen to set up a taproom in the windmill, serving Dutch beer in an almost inconceivably picturesque icon of the country (without straying into the kitsch), and giving fans an instagrammable site to flock to for their beer pilgrimages. The mill also hosts the Borefts beer festival, returning this September after a two-year pandemic-induced hiatus. Borefts began in 2009 and has steadily grown to be a respected and eagerly anticipated event, with breweries such as Gigantic, Cloudwater and Omnipollo pouring at previous festivals.
2022 promises to be a year where breweries are keen to both showcase their latest brews, as well as demonstrate to drinkers how they’ve changed and adapted over the pandemic. Two years is a long time in beer (each beer year equalling at least three human years, in terms of fashion and changing tastes) so to expect any brewery to have not evolved during the festival drought would be unrealistic. Borefts 2022 will certainly be one of the most interesting and eye-opening festivals to attend.
With its monochromatic labels and idiosyncratic typeface, De Molen bottles are instantly recognisable and eternally stylish. They excite a Pavlovian response from beer drinkers when seen across the bar, with fans reaching for their wallets before they even have time to process what they have ordered. The beer names are also a talking point; long before UK breweries were giving their beers cryptic and strange names, De Molen was releasing beers called “Tsarina Esra” and “Unarmed & Dangerous”. That many of the names are in Dutch, yet still not utterly inaccessible to English Speakers, is again testament to the irresistible quality of De Molen Beer. To persuade someone who doesn’t like to watch a film with subtitles to order a beer with a mouth-filling Dutch name speaks only to the quality, diversity and reputation of the windmill.
The beer offering is eclectic yet dependable, with the brewery producing a regular series of about 20 beers available throughout the year, a range that would keep most breweries of its size fully occupied, but it also releases a new one-off beer every six weeks. This is alongside an enviable barrel programme and a full calendar of collaborations with some of the best breweries on the planet. The constant availability of new beer maintains De Molen as a safe bet for drinkers who are always on the lookout for novelty without compromising on quality.
This constant level of creativity showcases the unique talent and drive of Menno; repeatedly delivering world class and unique beers is an exhausting pursuit. Glancing at the Brouwcafé tap-list on the day of writing shows a healthy combination of IPA, porter, farmhouse ale, tripel, barleywine and even a miso and caramel stout. Whilst the majority of beers on the list tend to fall on the stronger end of the spectrum, a wide range of non-alcoholic guest beers are also available.
Beyond being just a brewery, De Molen works with a local charity, the Philadelphia Foundation, providing those with learning disabilities with work at the brewery, helping to make boxes, labelling bottles and housekeeping. This is crucial, showing how the brewing industry can further its inclusivity and offer meaningful work to those with disabilities in different sectors of the beer world, allowing those we may not immediately think of as part of the community the opportunity to be involved in and enhance the workplace.
De Molen will undoubtedly continue to be a guiding light in European brewing, a metaphor more suited to a lighthouse than a windmill, but there’s no reason not to ascribe the qualities of one towering edifice to something named after another. Together we should all raise a nice glass of Dutch barleywine to the saviours of craft brewing in the Netherlands.
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