at Café De Beyerd
When I moved to the Netherlands in 1989, my only knowledge of Dutch beer was slickly packaged mass-produced lagers. They were household names in my native UK thanks largely to witty ad campaigns with meaningless but effective slogans about ‘reaching parts other beers cannot’.
My initial experiences of Dutch bars did little to change that view. The few local microbreweries in operation then had little exposure and were invisible in my new home town of Eindhoven. In those days, the term ‘Dutch craft’ meant clogs and Delftware tiles.
As someone who grew up in southern England, I’d been spoilt by the delights of Harveys and King and Barnes Sussex Bitters and was underwhelmed. Fortunately a new friend soon led me into the undiscovered – to me at least – world of Belgian ales. Duvel, Rochefort and others became my default drinks, and it would be many years before they were usurped.
Jopen didn’t exist back then. The company was founded in 1994 and initially had its beers brewed elsewhere, only getting its own Jopenkerk brewery – in a magnificently restored former church – in 2010. By that time, the craft beer revolution in the Netherlands was really taking off, driven by young upstarts like De Molen.
As flagship beers go, Mooie Nel – exported globally as the easier-to-pronounce North Sea IPA – is a relative latecomer.
Named after a small lake outside Jopen’s home city of Haarlem, it only appeared in 2012. But it quickly lodged itself in the hearts of beer lovers at home and abroad.
While it may not have been around as long as some other Flagships, the quality and reliability of Mooie Nel justified its status from the outset. It has won sufficient awards at international competitions to fill Jopen’s trophy cabinet to bursting, and in 2015 was named Best Beer in the Netherlands at the very first Dutch Beer Challenge.
It is easy to be seduced by Mooie Nel’s charms. Its clean edges and well-balanced blend of fruity US hops manage to be both accessible and complex in the same mouthful. It’s a beer that can be equally enjoyed by timid entry-level explorers and established hopheads.
Such has been its success that Mooie Nel has helped to propel Jopen to the forefront of Dutch craft scene, and has found its way into bars across the country and beyond.
In January 2020, I decided to savour one in a café with a history stretching back 180 years across six generations of one family. Its current beer journey began in 1967, when new landlord Piet de Jongh took over from his father-in-law and renamed the bar De Beyerd: both the name of a historic building next door and a play on a word for ‘drunk and disorderly’.
Piet made his place stand out by being among the first in the Netherlands to tempt customers away from the pilsner tsunami. He drove to Belgium and stocked up with then-unusual beers, selling them to a few brave locals who dared to try something different.
I first visited in 1990, a short time after I got my first job in the Netherlands, working for Philips in Breda. Colleagues assured me that as a beer lover it was somewhere I needed to visit, and as soon as I walked in I agreed.
Things have moved on since then. Piet passed the cellar keys to his sons Mikel and Orson in 1992. They added a restaurant, and in 2004 installed a microbrewery, which brews a house range that holds its own alongside more familiar names.
Piet died in 2019, but more than half a century after his pioneering decision, his spirit lives on. Despite the ongoing trend towards hipster bars and long beards, Mikel and Orson prefer to let the beers do the talking, serving their well-kept ales and lagers in traditional Dutch pub surrounds – many tables in the red-tiled wood-filled bar are decked with thick carpets to absorb spillages. The 150-strong menu also maintains a healthy respect for the past – the choice of Belgian classics remains as strong as ever – but with a growing selection of craft offerings.
Quality is how the once pathfinding bar manages to stay afloat in a sea of competition. As Mikel told me: “When my father started it was easy as people came here simply to taste something new. Now you have to have the best quality beers and they must stand out and be presented well. You have to be professional.”
Sure, you’ll find trendier joints appealing to a more youthful crowd. Close by in Breda, Brack is as cutting edge as they come, housed as it is in the gutted shell of an industrial complex with one entire wall missing. But De Beyerd remains a safe haven, somewhere quintessentially old Dutch but with one eye on the future.
And so long as they serve brews like Mooie Nel, I, for one, will be happy to keep going back.
Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.