Come for the beer, stay for the bitterballen


“In 2015, this area wasn’t that nice,” Kompaan co-founder Jeroen van Ditmarsch tells us. “People said ‘you’re crazy, no one will come’, and they were right, in the beginning…”

Standing in the brightly lit bar, only one large sliding door away from the brewery that produces everything poured on the numerous nearby taps, it’s hard to believe this whole operation started with two kompaans (meaning best friends) who quit their “good jobs” to start out on a journey inspired by their love of barbeques and beer. But their ‘build-it-and-they-will-come’ approach quickly paid off, as Jeroen recalls: “suddenly there was a lot of construction going on, a lot of new places opening up, new homes being built around. But what can we say, a brewer, artists, and then an area becomes hip”. Rich jokes that all this industrial corner of The Hague needs now is a coffee roaster, and Jeroen confirms that there’s one around the corner, meaning all the boxes are ticked. 

But there were many stages to the Kompaan journey before it reached the point of having its own brewery and taproom. Jeroen and Jasper were gastronomes before they were brewers, but as fans of barbeque in particular, beer was a logical next step. Jeroen tells us that “it first started with a joke, where we said ‘how cool would it be if we brewed our own beer?’ So we said let's give it a try - from there it was a hobby with a plan. When we opened the first bottle and it fizzed, we were like ‘Ahhh!’- it had CO2 and alcohol, but that was it - it tasted terrible.” 

From there, the two kompaans started brewing more regularly, and practiced making new beers and as well as reproducing ones that had gone well, until they could confidently contract brew- and get their beers on the market. 

I ask if Kompaan had a vision for what kind of beers they wanted to brew from the outset, and if what Jeroen and Jasper were drinking at the time they first set out on this journey had any influence on what Kompaan is today. “Here in Holland we’re quite influenced with the Belgian and German beers,” Jeroen tells us. “When we go out, those are the beers we drink, but most of these Belgian beers especially are really high in alcohol. So we thought, why is it always this high to have nice flavours? Of course, you have the generic beer brands, and the lagers and stuff, but you also have this 5%, and we thought that was quite nice. So our goal became to make a low ABV beer with high flavour”.

The Kompaan team is now around 30 people in total, between brewery (including sales and marketing) and “de horeca”, an umbrella term for all facets of the service and catering industry. The brewery we stand in, equipped with an in-house lab and warehouse for stock and barrel projects, is currently Kompaan’s only brewing facility, though it has just gotten the keys to a new taproom site that Jeroen hopes will be the first of many. “I think it's really nice to really show your brand in this way,” Jeroen tells us. “I guess people can really feel what your core values are; it's different if people drink your beers in another bar, but in your own, you can bring everything together”. 

Jeroen tells us that while Kompaan is always open to partnerships with the right people, export isn’t something it's particularly concerned with. It’s happy to focus on supplying the Dutch market, meaning those of you lucky enough to taste the Levensgenieter Joyful NEIPA (meaning the Epicurean Joyful NEIPA) are getting an authentic and exclusive Dutch beer. Though I must say, my heart bleeds for the lack of constant access to the beers Kompaan are producing; along with its core line, all of which are named after the various forms of friendship regularly forged in bars and beyond, this brewery is producing some astoundingly innovative beers that speak to my own epicurean spirit. 

Along our tour, we see the team brewing a beer that centres around the lemon peels used by a nearby distillery making limoncello, and afterwards, we enjoy the limited edition Running With Scissors beer; a saison brewed using 30 lobsters which were cooked in the boil kettle and later feasted upon by the Kompaan team, and the fishmonger they sourced the lobsters from. Every Kompaan beer I taste borders on the erotic; my mouth waters even thinking about it now, countries and cultures away.

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