Brouwerij ‘t IJ: of Natte, Zatte and an early IPA

I have recently returned to the place where I once had my very first IPA. An event that might not quite make it into the history books, but feels a little historic to me nevertheless. Four years ago, I was living in Amsterdam for an internship, and I learned that one of the very important things in Dutch culture is that they take their borrel seriously. Borrel basically means: getting together after work to have a beer or three and eating fried snacks. I adapted quickly, and got to taste some really good Belgian and Dutch brews.

One of these was an IPA from the Brouwerij ‘t IJ in Amsterdam. Back then, I had never heard of an IPA before, and the hoppy taste overwhelmed me a little at first – but I grew to like it, and this IPA became something like my yardstick for all the other IPAs to come. So now, when I was back in Amsterdam and staying in an apartment close to the brewery with its brewpub, it was pretty much an obligatory visit.

The pub is located at the Funenkade in the east of Amsterdam, where the brewery was first opened in 1985. We’ve seen people drinking wine there – which I still don’t really understand, but which shows that there’s more to the pub than “just” the beer: The site itself is an old bath-house, the neighbouring building is the biggest wooden windmill of the Netherlands. and the beer garden outside offers plenty of space. It’s safe to say you can spend your whole Sunday afternoon there. (Because we did.)

Which was when I decided that I wanted to learn more about the brewery – so I’ve talked to Tim Hendriks, Operational Manager at the brewery, who shared some insights:

What was the first beer that was brewed in the remodelled bath-house?

The first beers brewed that were Zatte and Natte, a Belgian style tripel and double. The range was soon expanded with beers like Columbus, Struis and Plzen. We still feature all of these beers.

When did you open the pub and how roughly many people does it seat?

The pub was opened in 1986, originally a tiny place seating about 100 people. But over the years we got hold of the beautiful terrace in front of our door and we’ve dedicated more space in the brewery to the bar. Now on a sunny day, I think we can host about 500 people.

You are still brewing beers at the original brewery at the Funenkade where you put them directly on tap. But with growing demand you also opened a newer facility at the Zeeburgerpad in 2013, right?

Yes, we brew at two locations. The Funenkade is where the brewery was founded in 1985; we installed a completely new brew house in 2014. Here we brew our beers for the pub and occasionally we fill some kegs for bars. At the Zeeburgerpad we have our production brewery with our bottling and kegging line. We brew all of our different beers at both locations.

How many hectolitres a year do you brew (at both facilities)?

We brew a total of 20,000 hectolitres per year.

How many people work at the brewery?

We have a total of 50 people working for the brewery. About 20 work directly in and around the brewing process. Another 20 people work in our pub, and the last 10 work in distribution or the office.

When I first had your IPA in 2013, it was a new beer style for me – were you actually that early on the European IPA market, or is that just my impression?

We brewed our first IPA back in 2010, as one of the first breweries in the Netherlands. We named the beer IJPA then, we thought it was really funny, but nobody had ever heard of an IPA, and so nobody understood the play on words. Over the years we regularly brewed and fine-tuned our IPA, but even when we introduced the IPA in our standard range at the beginning of 2013, bar-owners had a hard time understanding that bitter, hop-forward beers were the way to go.

But craft beer has been booming in the Netherlands during recent years. IPAs are now being widely brewed, and appreciated by many, many drinkers. Our IPA is amongst the best-sellers in our core range.

Related to that: are there any developments on the Dutch beer market that you have been noticing?

The Dutch beer scene is extremely diverse and interesting, as we don’t really have a tradition in beer-making. For instance, Belgium and Germany have their traditional styles, with a world-wide reputation, and Belgians and Germans generally prefer to drink beer from their traditional styles. In the Netherlands, there is a broad interest in craft beer, and we draw inspiration from traditions all over the world. Belgian tripels, American IPAs, English bitter, German Kölsch, etc., etc. – and any hybrid you can think of. The Dutch market is receptive to trying a lot of different styles, allowing the brewers great freedom to experiment with flavours and styles.

I know you have a few seasonal beers. Except for those, do you always have the same beers on tap? Are there any best-sellers?

We have seven beers in our core range; these are available all the year round. Besides that, we have three seasonals and we regularly brew one-offs.

Of course there’s a couple of best-sellers in our core range. IJwit, Zatte and IPA are our most popular beers.

So the IPA really has gained popularity since I first started my relationship with Brouwerij ‘t IJ. Now, after spending some time tasting more of their beers, I can very well relate to the many fans of Zatte – and I will definitely make sure to spend some time in the shade of the big windmill during my next visit to Amsterdam.

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