This is a post by regular contributor Kimberley, who runs the social media at BCS. Kimberley is currently writing up her PhD in Mediterranean Archaeology and is based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Every once and a while, she will blog at BCS about all things beer and Classical in the Low Countries or – as I’d like to call it – ‘The Nether Regions’.
Borefts Beer Festival has been organized yearly since 2009 by Brouwerij De Molen, arguably the Netherlands’ most renowned brewery. While De Molen is not a Classics-inspired brewery, nor do they serve any brews with Classical names – their famous festival deserves a spot on the BCS blog because it is… yes, a pun is coming… a Classic. In order to keep in line with the objectives of the blog, the beers I review below are Classics-inspired or at least tangentially related to #beerhistory or #archaeobeer. Before heading over to the reviews, first more about the festival.
Borefts Beer Festival 2016
Borefts 2016 was held September 23 through 24. This year’s theme was the ‘Reinheitsgebot,’ in celebration of the regulations’ 500-year-anniversary. The attending brewers were invited to brew a (keller) beer following the laws of the ‘gebot’ to serve alongside their other brews. Ca. 7000 people were expected to attend the festival over the course of two days. My friend and I visited on Saturday, the second day of the festival.
Borefts takes place on the terrain of De Molen. The majority of breweries were set up inside the brew house, while Brewdog and Cigar City served in the nearby beer café with an iconic windmill. Outside the brewery in the parking lot, rows and rows of picnic tables offered seats to the thirsty crowds. There were also some food stands, including one run by De Molen itself that served dishes featuring their beers as ingredients. We had their smoked chicken sandwich with Sambal & Verdoemnis Mayonnaise. Here, you see it pictured with Birra del Borgo’s experimental Etrusca beer, which I review below.
Borefts is a beer fest on a rather different scale than the Oedipus Kimchi Festival that I previously attended. With 3500 visitors, Borefts was sold out. It was no wonder that my Borefts brethren, Jamie, and I ran into my friend from high school and his crew (Niels & co. – thanks for letting us join you guys!). The scale of the festival was obvious once the lines started forming for the popular breweries. Omnipollo had a perpetual line (see image), while De Molen and Cascades became more crowded in the afternoon. The Belgian brewery Alvinne even sold out prior to the festival’s ending at 10 o’ clock! Another difference with Kimchi was the lack of music; fortunately, Oedipus was among the invited breweries and they brought along a sound system to bring out the party people among the beer geeks. This time I had their Polyamorie Sour Pale Ale with Mango and Swingers Gose with Grapefruit and Limezest – which brings us to the beers.
Borefts featured 19 breweries from 13 countries serving well over 200 different beers. I know what you are thinking: surely it can’t be that hard to find some Classics-inspired brews amid such a vast selection?! Wrong. Alas, it seems that the heydays of Classical beer names are over. Therefore, the beers I review take us beyond the borders of the Classical world at times but they all remain firmly within the scope of (beer) history and archaeology. Promise!
Birra del Borgo – Etrusca (experimental beer, 9.3% ABV). An experimental brew that was fermented in clay amphorae. This ‘archeobirra’ has an all-star cast. It was made in collaboration with Teo Musso of Italy’s original craft beer brewery Baladin, Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione, and his frequent archaeobeer co-conspirator Dr. Pat “beer archaeologist” McGovern! Wow. If that already doesn’t blow you away, the taste of this beer will. It is the ultimate archaeobeer because it tastes like, well… dirt! OK. Fine. Maybe not dirt, but definitely beets. The guys at the stand told me that there are no beets to be found in this interesting brew. So, I am guessing that this distinctive flavor is due to the combination of the herbs they foraged in the Italian countryside and the minerals from the amphora. In any case, while beets or dirt may not sound appealing, this beer had a strange attraction on me and I kept coming back for more. I guess you can take the archaeologist out of the dirt but you can’t take the dirt… Never mind. By the way, Etrusca is named after the Etruscans, the people who lived in what is now Tuscany in Italy from about 800 to 100 BC. The Etruscans were in contact with the ancient Greeks which whom they traded wine and the Romans who ultimately conquered and incorporated them into the Roman Republic.
Omnipollo – Perikles (Pilsner, 4.2% ABV). Although I followed Kyle’s instructions and also tried their Polimango and Fatamorgana, Perikles is the beer for review on BCS due to its unabashedly Classically-themed name. So who was Perikles you might ask? Only one of the greatest politicians in the world’s first democracy. Perikles lived ca. 495-429 BC. He helped to turn Athens into an empire and he commissioned the Parthenon, the famous temple still adorning the Acropolis to this day. Besides a politician, Perikles was also a fine general. He led Athens successfully in various battles, but sadly could not prevent the Peloponnesian War with Sparta, costing him his job as general. Anyhow, back to the brew. Perikles is brewed at De Proefbrouwerij in Belgium and was presented at Borefts as Omnipollo’s festival brew, i.e. as their take on the Reinheitsgebot. While a beer made with oats and unmalted wheat does not technically meet the ‘gebot,’ it makes for a refreshing Pils. Perikles is light, a tad sour, and slight danky with an earthy finish. No beets though!
Närke kulturbryggeri – Pors & Tvärs (Historic Nordic Gruit Ale, 6.1% ABV). With Pors & Tvärs, we leave the Classical world and enter the realm of #beerhistory. Still, this does not make this beer not worthy of a review! Pors & Tvärs is brewed with Myrica gale, also known as bog myrtle or sweet gale. Merryn Dineley of the Ancient Male and Ale blog has drawn our attention to this herb on Twitter and in this post, where she notes it was used way before hops to flavor and preserve ales. Thanks to Merryn, when I saw Myrica gale listed on the Borefts menu, I knew I had to try it for the sake of #archaeobeer and #beerhistory enthusiasts everywhere! The beer was very tasty and reminded me of gumballs, black berries, and cinnamon. This combination of flavors may be due to the fact that the beer is a gruit ale, containing a range of other herbs and spices used to flavor and preserve beer. Besides bog myrtle, historic gruit commonly contains the following list of herbs (all with illustrious English names): mugwort, yarrow, ground ivy, horehound and heather. Other adjuncts include: juniper berries, ginger, caraway seed, aniseed, nutmeg, cinnamon and – betimes – even hops.
Honorable mentions: of course, this blog cannot be concluded without me causing some jealousy to beer lovers around the world. Among the great brews I had the privilege of trying, were Framboos & Framblij and Hell & Dessert Cinnamon Vanilla Imperial Stout by our host Brouwerij De Molen, Hunahpu Mole Stout and Jai Alai IPA by Cigar City, and Vlad the Imp Aler by Cascade Brewing. Cascade deserves some extra credit for a) the best beer name, b) managing to make perfectly balanced sours that make this sour-beer hater into a sour-beer lover and c) having the nicest owner!
Til next time, with more reviews of Classics-inspired beers from the Low Countries!