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2006 Zutphen




Nationale Bokbierdag held annually in Zutphen



5th to 9th October

With the World Cup on during 2006 we decided to give Germany a miss this year. But where else could discerning beer drinkers go? Holland was not at the top of some of our lists (it being a renowned beer desert) but further research provided a promising start with the Nationale Bokbierdag held annually in Zutphen. As Zutphen is a small town in the east of the country, we decided to base ourselves in Utrecht. There were eleven travellers this year.


As usual with our trips to the Low Countries we travelled by Eurostar to Brussels and this time picked up the Thalys to Rotterdam. Here, we broke our journey to visit Doelencafe (Schouwburgplein 52). Meeting up with John (who had flown) at the station, the café was a short walk away. It is owned by the people who run the Stadsbrouwerij Pelgrim at Delfshaven and is a large modern bar/restaurant in the city centre. Offering eight draught beers, including of course some from Pelgrim, this watering hole provided an excellent start for our trip. After sampling five beers, with the Maredsous 6 particularly notable, we were about to leave when the manager told us he had just put on the Pelgrim Bokbier. Well, it would have been churlish to leave when he had made such an effort so our onward journey was slightly delayed.

Arriving in Utrecht we took a taxi to the Hotel Ouwi (F.c. Dondersstraat 12) and the smallest rooms we have come across in our travels. Still it was cheap and not too far from the city centre. A quick wash and brush up and we were off to explore what Utrecht had to offer.

First stop was the Café De Stad (Lange Jufferstraat 58), a brown bar and only a short distance from our hotel. (Oh that the rest of the recommended beer cafes were as close!) Of the five different draughts tried by the group the La Chouffe Triple was outstanding.
Fearing we would not get another chance, the tour leader thought it would be a good idea to find the foremost recommended beer café in Utrecht, the Ledig Erf (Totesteegbrug 3). Half an hour’s walk in the rain and we were there. With the outside covered in scaffolding and plastic it was hard to gauge what the place would be like but once inside it turned out to be extremely crowded, full of students and with a very dangerous policy on candles. Of the six draughts available we tried three, including a very tasty Budels Blonde.

Tired of standing, we moved on. Along Oude Gracht, back towards the centre, is Café Belgie (Oude Gracht 196). A small frontage belies a very long bar which fully utilises its length with twenty taps. With such a large beer list, choosing was difficult but enjoyable. The Cristoffel Blond and Steendonkwit went down well but the 11% Kasteel Triple nearly finished us off. Again, faced with a very busy bar with no seats available we headed back into the rain aiming for the hotel.

Having to pass the Café De Stad on the way, we popped in for a nightcap before finding the late night kebab shop and finally following the blue lights back to the hotel.


With our brewery tour scheduled for the afternoon, the morning was available for sightseeing. Just a pity that, with the rain, no one really fancied doing much. We did, however, manage a canal boat tour, albeit in two separate parties; the tour leader catching the 11.00 a.m. sailing with all the rest on the next departure at 12.00 a.m. The trip showed a typical Dutch city of canals bordered by tall thin houses; all kept very neat and tidy. And it was peaceful away from the cars, buses and cycle bells. Car drivers are second class citizens on their roads with priority given to bus lanes and specific cycle paths. Indeed you stand much more chance of getting run over by a cycle than a car.

We all managed to lunch at Stadskasteel Oudaen (Oude Gracht 99) but again the tour leader was left to his own devices on the ground floor whilst the rest ate upstairs. Should something be read into this?
The Oudaen is a hotel (bit too expensive for us), a bar, a restaurant and a brewery. In this central part of Utrecht street level is one storey higher than the canals. So properties bordering a canal have a ground floor with access to the street and a basement extending under the road with access to the canal.
And it was in the basement brewery that the group reformed after lunch. Our tour was conducted by the assistant brewer Ralph and started with the usual explanation of the brewing process while trying a couple of their beers. The brewery does not maintain its own yeast strain and employs pelleted hops but does use whole barley. They also add both coriander and orange peel to some of their beers. As Ralph was quite happy to point out, the beers could be brewed anywhere. Bonus points were gained for identifying the coriander and providing Ralph with the date of the forthcoming bock beer festival in Utrecht. The brewery itself was very neat and well suited to its basement location. There are three regular beers plus one seasonal beer and are only available in the Oudaen, although bottles are hand filled for sale to tourists like us. The tour finished with another couple of beers and a chance to finish off the snacks included in the tour price.

Back out in the rain we headed for the station and a train for Amersfoort. The railway and bus stations are part of the Hoog Catharijne shopping centre, a hideous 1960’s architectural mistake quite out of keeping with the rest of the city centre. Fortunately, John had negotiated this labyrinth the day before so we were soon on our way.

As Amersfoort station is some way from the centre of town and it was still raining we took a couple of eight seater taxis to our first port of call. De Drie Ringen (Kleine Spui 18) brewery and café is located canal side and looks suitably old from the outside. Inside it is a modern barn and lacks any real character. At the time of our visit the brewing plant was being refurbished and a brewery ‘somewhere north’ was carrying out production. Two beers were available, Amersfoort Blond and Amersfoort Wit. The blond was a very easy Pilsner but the Wit was the best of this style sampled so far this trip. The brewery seemed to be part of the town trail and there was a steady flow of small groups visiting.

When a coach load arrived we moved on to Biercafe de Rooie Cent (Hooglandseweg-Zuid 34A), a small bar by the railway tracks. As we arrived, Loesje had few customers and was chilling - waiting for a birthday party to kick off a little latter. Although she and her partner had only run the bar for six months it has been Amersfoort’s premier beer café for the last 18 years. With a beer list of 8 draught and 80 bottled beers together with the comfortable atmosphere you could see why. The Jopen Bok (Jopen is a measure) was particularly liked.

We had time for a quick visit to Van Zanten (Bloemendalsestraat 2), a busy café in the middle of town, before we returned to Utrecht and a rather disappointing Italian at Mr. Jack’s (Voorstraat 61). At least the rain had stopped.

The group then split up; that is to say, Dave headed back to the centre while the rest of us aimed for the hotel via the Café De Stad. While we were having the final couple of drinks, Dave returned, and we all showed why we could never be mistaken for wizards at pinball.


With quite a lot planned for the day we headed for the station before 10.00 am. The helpful ticket staff put us on to the deal of the season: two adults can travel anywhere on the network for the day, first class, for 35 Euro. Even though the group was an odd number it worked out a good deal and we set off for Oosterbeek.

It was near Oosterbeek that the Allied parachutists landed during Operation Market Garden in 1944 in an effort to capture a Rhine bridge. A short walk to the main Arnhem/Utrecht road brings you to the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ (Utrechtweg 232). The museum is located in the former Hotel Hartenstein which became an important rallying point for the Allied troops during the, ultimately, failed operation to capture and hold the bridge at Arnhem.

The museum tour proved very interesting and extremely poignant for one member of our group whose father took part in the battle. Leaving the museum we followed in the footsteps of the Airborne troops and walked through the woods to the Rhine. After a brief stop at the Saxon church, which had to be rebuilt after the war, we carried on along the river and into Arnhem and the bridge too far.

For some reason we were unable to find the café which was meant to be on the town side of the bridge and feeling a little thirsty after our 9 kilometre stroll we headed for the centre and Café ‘t Moortgat (Ruiterstraat 35). ‘T Moortgat is a very dark brown bar filled with beer memorabilia accumulated over the years (rather than the pastiche found in some bars which buy in their age). The first beer, a Gulpen Pils, barely touched the sides and we were soon trying another of the 12 draughts on offer. The Korenwolf was a lovely wit and the Brugse Zot Blond very smooth and aromatic, whilst the Vondel, tried by Frank alone, dark and strong. The locals were friendly and, learning we had missed the bridge café, pointed out the location of another bar favoured by the veterans on their remembrance visits. Unfortunately, apart from the battle memorabilia, the Uni Bar (Walstraat 89), and the Amstel Bok we tried there, was disappointing and we soon headed off for the station.

The train to Nijmegen crosses the Rhine and gives you a good impression of the area so fiercely fought for over sixty years ago. Like Arnhem, Nijmegen suffered badly during the war and has few old buildings left. Fortunately where we headed is one of the few that survived, a trip to the brewery area being described by locals as ‘going to heaven’.

Stadsbrouwerij De Hemel (Franseplaats 1) includes the brewery (of course), a restaurant, beer bar, and a chocolate bar in a 12th century cloister. On arrival, the beer bar was packed and we settled in the courtyard. They brew six beers and we started on the pilsner, Luna, followed by a mild amber beer, Godelief, both 5% and both rather tasteless. There was a little chink in the window and we managed to get onto the large table in the bar, joining Jon and Elly as they enjoyed their mystery meal. They were most welcoming and explained that the meal they were trying consisted of a large number of courses (we never did find out how many) and what came next was a mystery. You just told the staff how long you intended to stay and they staggered the courses depending upon the time available.

The wit beer, Serefin, had a little more bite but our taste buds did not really start to kick in until we tried the triple, Helse Engel. As Ina explained, the name of this 8% beer means ‘Angel of Hell’ and it certainly lived up to its title. After that we were left with the 10% Nieuw Ligt (pure glucose) and the seasonal beer, a 6.5% Bok called Moenen Rookbok. By the time we bade farewell to Jon and Elly (who were still working their way through the mystery) everyone was happy, apart perhaps from Kev whose offers of marriage had been turned down by Stephanie, Charlie, Violet and Ina. After an excellent falafel (deep fried chickpeas) we headed back to Utrecht.

There were still a few recommended beer cafés around the Oude Gracht area but the only one we managed to find, Orloff, was heaving so we gave it a miss. Just off the main drag we found the Lokaal Negan (Trans 7). More of a restaurant than a beer cafe, it at least had some seats available at the bar and we settled down for some Leffe. The tour leader found the beer a trifle sharp and suggested we try the genever. Then there were five.

Moving on we made a quick visit to De Zaak (Minrebroderstraat) where, along with the La Chouffe and Leute Bokbier we tried, you could get a Wychwood Hobgoblin. Terry disappeared. Four left. After promising to go into the next available bar, Paul was allowed to gaze longingly at the model railway shop’s window display. The next open bar turned out to be Zussen (Korte Jansstraat 23). With no notable beers available we again tried the genever. Loud and packed, the tour leader lost the rest and headed back to the hotel. Then there were three.

Miraculously, they managed to find the Florin & Firkin (Nobelstraat 2-4) but less surprisingly the three amigos can’t remember what they had. Finding F.c. Donderstraat they could not get the hotel key to work. This was not surprising really; they were at the wrong door. After Ray gave a supreme example of a bike rack, they eventually got the right door and went to bed. Hooray.


After settling our hotel bills we started out for the station a little late and minus Ray and Kev who were still in bed. Again using the 35 Euro first class tickets we got to Zutphen about midday.

The Nationale Bokbierdag takes place in the main streets of Zutphen. The roads are closed to traffic and beer and food stalls line the sides. The Mayor officially opens proceedings at 1.30 p.m. and a carnival type procession then follows and lasts about two hours. But the beer stalls start serving as soon as they are ready, which as luck would have it, was just about when we arrived. Ray and Kev arrived just as we were trying our first beer.

Initially there were few people and it was easy to move about the beer stalls. We made the most of this and managed to try the Brand, Huttenkloas, Hooghe and Grolsche Boks and the Schneider Aventinus (truly a lovely beer) before the procession started.
This kicked off (nearly literally due to one lively horse) with the local Hunt, in hunting pink and out with their dogs, followed by brewery drays and assorted carts, classic cars, military vehicles and marching bands. A wide and varied assortment which had drawn the crowds and stopped our progression up the road to other stalls. Fortunately half way up the high street the procession took a right turn while the stalls carried straight on, as did we.

Next up was Texels Bok followed by one from Hanze, which turned out to be from the Zutphen brewery, located just behind the stall. Paul and Ray decided on a visit. The Hanze-stadsbrouwerij (Houtmarkt 56B) is a small micro with the brewing vessels located in the main bar which doubles as a restaurant. Six beers are brewed but on this day only three were available; a nice light Pils, a tasty Triple and the Bok.

It was about this time that Kev was attempting to mount the town hall steps and meet the mayor and other dignitaries there only to be stopped by the security personnel. Later Kev explained that he thought the mayor had been waving and inviting him to come up only to find the invitation had been for the couple behind him. Shame.

While Paul and Ray were in the bar, Trev phoned to say that with the finish of the procession the streets had got very crowded and it was almost impossible to move between the different beer stalls. He had given up the struggle and was waiting at a bar near the station. Leaving Hanze, Paul and Ray met the throng and after trying the Gulpener Bok joined Trev near the station. Getting the rest together proved more difficult. The main group had commandeered a standing table and were moving this bodily through the crowd between stalls. But eventually even this battering ram failed to make an impression and they were stuck at one place.

Providing that you can put up with the multitudes, the Zutphen Bok day is very enjoyable. The town certainly knows how to run a beer festival. Imagine Castle Street in Farnham closed to traffic and lined with twenty brewery stalls and you get some idea.

Due to the difficulty of getting the group together we headed back to Utrecht in two parties, arranging to meet at Jan Primus (Jan van Scorelstraat 27-31).Although some way out of the centre, this bar, the first specialist beer café to open in the Netherlands, is well worth the effort of seeking it out. Light and airy with scrubbed wooden tables there is no music or slot machines, just an excellent list of 10 draught and 150 bottled beers. We settled in for the evening and enjoyed some of the best beers of the weekend. The Klein Duimpje De Blauwe Tram was an exceedingly nice Triple and the Strandgaper Blond tasty and refreshing. We would normally have only tried one Weihenstephan Heffe but the barman mistook Mick’s order for Strandgaper as 'same again' so we had two.

The bar closed at 1.00 a.m. Dave’s promise to introduce Frank to an acquaintance from the previous night met with an accident. The remaining few met with a kebab.


Planning to go for lunch in Brussels at Au Laboureur, we left earlier than scheduled. Just as well. There had been some sort of incident on the Utrecht to Rotterdam line and we had to go back via Den Haag and only reached Brussels half an hour before the Eurostar departure.

Holland turned out not to be a beer desert after all

Created on 11/19/2006 05:27 PM by drinking
Updated on 11/19/2006 09:59 PM by drinking
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