Holy water in Haarlem

Jopen first came to my attention last winter, when Beau’s released koyt as part of its FeBREWary series.

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The style is native to the area near Arnhem, but was most successfully brewed around Haarlem, a community just west of Amsterdam, that produced an astonishing 13 million litres of beer in 1543, and boasted 52 breweries at one point in the 17th century (known as the Gouden Eeuw, or Golden Century, in which the Dutch were among the most powerful and influential of nations in terms of military, science, arts and trade).

At one point Haarlem’s brewers were shipping their koyt to all areas of Holland, and even into present-day Belgium, Germany, France and Russia.  Theirs was the most popular beer in Antwerp, and traded so successfully in fact, that other areas starting taxing and even banning its importation to protect their own brewers.

If you’ve heard of koyt before, you may have heard of its similarities to gruit (or gruut, gruyt). The latter is made with herbs (especially sweet gale, heather, horehound, mugwort, yarrow and/or ground ivy), in place of hops.  Some old koyt records show no mention of hops, instead focusing on the grain bill (roughly 50% oats, 30% barley, 20% wheat). Local beer historians speculate that led to confusion among newer brewers, leading them to believe hops weren’t part of the Haarlem recipe. There is nothing documented to say hops were verboten, but there is plenty of evidence to show they were taxed (the gruitgeld). Probably, say the experts, hops simply weren’t mentioned in order to protect the brewers.

As recently as the late 19th century there is evidence of this classic Dutch style being enjoyed, but as smaller brewers started to disappear, so, it seems, did koyt.

By 1916, there were no breweries remaining in Haarlem. Like elsewhere, larger, more mechanized entities came to dominate.

It wasn’t until the early 1990s that Michael Ordeman started a commercial brewery in a Haarlem garage. By the end of the decade, Jopen — which takes its name from the 112-litre barrels historically used to transport Haarlem’s beer — had purchased a church in the heart of the city, hoping to move its operations to a more inviting environment.

Between licensing issues and renovations it took ten years to complete, but the draw of their Holy water now, proves it was worth the effort.

I arrived during a rare sunstorm (as I’ve come to think of any bright period of a Dutch September), as light poured through the enormous, stained glass windows. Vaulted ceilings collected and recycled the voices of the hundreds of thirsty patrons. As far as brewpubs go, I can’t think of another I’ve seen quite so wonderfully atmospheric.

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I finished my tasting session (Untappd checked me in at seven tasters) with the koyt, which is sweeter, but less… err… interesting than I remember Beau’s.

The Vankleek Hill, Ontario brewery referred to theirs as a Dubbel Koyt, I’m sure to give customers an idea of what to expect.  Jopen’s actually tastes a lot more like a Dubbel (maybe closer to a Barley Wine) without listing it as one.

Much like Québecois Français is truer to Old French than what gets spoken in present-day France, I suspect the New World folks at Beau’s were more interested in reproducing an old recipe than modernizing one.  Whereas Beau’s strove for authenticity, Jopen has a nicer taste.

There’s a movement afoot in The Netherlands to revive the classic styles, so koyt is not unique to Jopen, but theirs is the best known.

Interestingly there is also a Poorter, which predates English Porter by several centuries, but there’s no evidence I’ve been able to find that suggests the two are similar. Very little is known about the Dutch style, so whether the two have any connection is left to speculation.

BeerCycling is now complete, and it seems my biggest issue is packing my haul.

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I’ll be home on Wednesday to share the goods.

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