Can We Go Dutch – What Can We Learn from Dutch Beer Festivals

I’m not sure if there’s a word for this (Dutch-o-phile, perhaps?) but I’m a big fan of anything to do with the Netherlands.

From the ‘I saw a mouse!’ song of my childhood to my current status as fan-girl and unofficial cheerleader for Dutch breweries.

Suffice to say I am biased when I say this but…Dutch beer festivals are better than UK beer festivals.

Admittedly the sample size isn’t large enough for me to say this with any scientific certainty -although believe me, I am working on that – but there is a chilled, laid back air to festivals in the Netherlands that you rarely see in the UK.

For one thing, it appears that across the North Sea being drunk is seen almost as an unfortunate side-effect of beer rather than the raison d’etre of many British drinkers. Families (babies and small children are a common site at Dutch beer festivals) gather around stodgy picnics of sausage, bread, cheese and bananas to stave off drunkenness for as long as possible. That’s not to say every UK festival degenerates into the blood-splattered carnage I’ve witnessed at CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival and London Craft Beer Festival, or that that I’ve not seen soon-to-be regretted excesses at the PINT Bokbierfestival in Amsterdam’s Beurs van Berlage.

A few weeks ago, I decided to test my theory at Brouwerij de Molen annual Borefts festival in Bogegraven, South Holland. Trying my hardest to cast a critical eye over what I believe to be the best festival in the world serving the best beer in the world (see told you I was biased), I spotted families with prams, pet dogs sitting under tables, picnics, camaraderie and locals handing out flyers to encourage festival goers to venture out of the brewery and visit the nearby town. Admittedly, there was a smattering of rowdiness later in the day but that was decidedly low level considering most beers hovered above the 8% mark with a couple of notable big-hitters – De Molen’s 21.3% Hel & Verdoemenis Bowmore Barrel Aged IJsbock and Brouwerij Kees 26% Ijbock 2017 Oloroso BA – moving the average ABV upwards.

De Molen’s Menno Oliver told me that Borefts wasn’t typical of all Dutch festivals, he put its friendly atmosphere down to three things:

“We give people lots of space here, there’s no music and people come from all around the world – it’s more like a gathering of friends than a beer festival”.

He’s right of course, Borefts is as much about the destination as the drinking: there were 7,000 visitors from 40 countries; a map displayed by the main entrance shows visitors from across Europe and as far afield as the US and New Zealand. This makes the festival goers slightly older and certainly more intent on remembering the festival than if they’d just popped down the road for a beer blitz.

But I still maintain that there’s something about Dutch festivals that is all together more welcoming. Despite some obvious shortcomings, this summer’s Planet Oedipus (£30 a pint homebrew anyone?) is a case in point: not least because it took place at an urban farm in the suburbs of Amsterdam. Laid out like a cross between music festival and a village fete it radiated inclusivity and cool vibes. As with Borefts, the stands were manned by the breweries, if not the brewer themselves.

So what can we learn from Dutch beer festivals?

Give people the option of smaller measures;
Have more brewers and breweries serving their own beers;
Encourage people to bring their own food to help ward-off drunkenness;
Make the environment welcoming and, if possible, family-friendly;
Give people space.
In the meantime, I’m readying myself for this month’s Bockbierfestival. Pass me a small glass of 8 % beer and a chunk of gouda, I’m determined to master that confident, chilled, Dutch vibe…

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