This blog post could have been that easy, you could have read it, raised an eyebrow, and moved on (you may have already), but of course there is more…
We arrived at the Tulip Hotel in Bodegraven at about two in the afternoon, it could have been earlier but for a detour to Dranken Geers beer warehouse in Oostakker on the outskirts of Ghent, a small sacrifice of missing a couple of hours drinking for a car full of fabulous bottles at bargain basement prices.
We checked in, went back to reception where we saw numerous folk milling around wearing various beer t shirts from breweries scattered around the globe. Asking for directions we were met with pretty much blank faces staring back at us from hotel staff, surprising really as you’d expect them to be aware why on this weekend each year all their rooms sell out. Weirdly though it was pretty much the feeling we got in most places in the town, “you’ve been/are going where”, “to what beer festival?” That’s not a negative thing by the way, very much the opposite in fact, the festival is sort of anonymous except to those in the know. In the town it’s business as usual apart from a few thousand international beer geeks wandering around the town raiding shops for cheese, sausage, breads and pastries. There’s no big show, no banners strewn around nor a sign of a crappy hot dog stands and the like, just Bodegraven, its friendly folk and beer at the windmill.
Now in its fifth year Borefts has again evolved to meet demand but has still managed to keep its friendly laid-back atmosphere, it’s only my second visit but talking to long-term veteran John Clarke a good friend of mine from the North West of England he explained how it grow from its tiny roots based at the windmill itself, to now, two large marquees (plus a new food market section) that sit either side of the road from the new brewery extension. They manage to keep the relaxed feel by keeping the whole thing open plan. There are no tickets, nor barriers. Security guards are jobless as checking tickets is not necessary so no one is holding back queues one in one out style either. Just buy your programme, pick up your official festival glass and you’re at Borefts!
Each year head brewer Menno Olivier chooses a beer theme for each brewery to try brew for the festival, this year that was something completely new to me, seeing Braggot and Gruit Ales baffled me completely and to a certain extent still does. None of my beer references are much help now I’m home, but I’ve gleaned these two descriptions from my old friend Mr Google:
Braggot (description from beer advocate) “The Braggot is quite an old drink, there is a mention in Chaucer, Canterbury Tales in the late 1300s, and there are earlier references dating even further back to the 12th century in Ireland. Braggot is simply made by blending spices and herbs with mead and beer, to produce a strong concoction with uncommon flavors. Many taverns would make this blend right at the bar though brewers would also blend them as well. There should be a balance between the honey character and malt flavor with the hop bitterness not overpowering the sweetness yet should be noticeable. Todays Braggot may or may not be spiced.”
Gruit, (from GruitAle.com) “In a not so distant past, beer was brewed with an extended and varied array of botanical ingredients. Herbs, roots and spices where used by our European ancestors in order to give their beers distinct tastes, flavours and properties. These botanicals where sometimes referred to as Gruit, hence Gruit Ale. Today however, beer is almost exclusively brewed with only one, single herb addition: Hops.
Hops, of course are wonderful for brewing. They have the combined qualities that few other plants have, being at the same time bitter, aromatic and antiseptic, all qualities greatly valued in a good beer. Would this explain why Hops have supplanted all other herbal alternatives? What’s interesting about beer history is when you ask ‘why hops?” the answer is, because of Gruit.”
It was a really enjoyable experience tasting some of these beers and the diverse range of each brewers interpretation, The Kernel‘s “Borefts Special’ (Gruit) Unhopped, unboiled sour, Toccalmatto‘s “Mediterranean Braggot”, with orange flowers, Macchia Sardinian honey, lemon zest and bergamot and De Molen‘s own “Braggot Barrel Aged”, with malts and honey barrel aged on bourbon, then cognac oak barrels with extra honey and more honey being fine examples. All very different, all equally enjoyable learning experiences.
As usual, the list of breweries in attendance was astonishingly good. From a personal perspective it was great to see new faces from other areas of Europe in particular that are not normally famed for great beer, France, Spain and to a lesser extent Italy. Some of these new boys beers were in my top ten of the weekend which is a really exciting prospect, as soon, no longer will every trip to Spain for example have to be dominated by drinking Mahou!
The full list of beers on offer is here, (or at least the last published by De Molen) I sampled far too many to mention or to describe, but I’ve tried to narrow my favourites down to two or three from each brewery below, with my top ten (from memory) listed in red:
|Brouwerij de Molen,
|Hel & Verdoemenis Wild Turkey Eisbock 18%
Hot & Spicy Naga Jolokia 10.2%
Rime of the Ancient Mariner 11%
|Barley Wine Buffalo tracé BA 12%
Creme Brulee stout 8%
Emelisse Brett Bees 10%
|Cypress Valley 6.5%
Aupa Tovarisch (Calvados edition) 11%
|Honey Quad – a Borefts special
Xiquic And The Hero Twins (w. Cigar City)
Arctic SunStone (w. Three Floyds)
|Grateful Deaf Zythos IPA brewed with Grateful Deaf 6.5%
Frans Hals Kuit 6%
|Imperial Brown Stout Glen Spey Whisky Barrel Aged 10.3%
Borefts Festival Special 4.3%
|Halcyon 2013 7.4%
Bracia Bourbon BA 10%
S:t Eriks Collaboration 10%
|4-5 different “forest” beers with ingredients from the woods
Viking IPA 7.6%
|Drinkin’ the Sun 13 1.4%
BA Green Gold ChardonnayIt’s Alive! BA Chardonnay Mango
|Mediterranean Braggot 10.5%
Russian Imperial Stout (Wild) Sagrantino Red Wine BA 12%
Bedda Matri Barley Wine Marsala wine BA 12%
|Terminal Pale Ale
|Black Albert 13%
Cuvee Delphine 13%
O.N.E. Our Nastiest Effort Barrel Aged 10%
I’ve Seen Bigger Than Yours 14%
Special Borefts Braggot Forca Victory Xtra Ekstra Edition 0.8.2
|ZZ+ American Amber Ale 5.5%
Aker American IPA 6.7%
5 Titius Aniversary IPA 7.3%
|Double IPA 8.0%
Imperial Stout 13.0%
Mademoiselle French Pale Ale 6.0%
|Double Oatmeal Stout Bourbon Barrel Aged 9.6%
Ot The Explorer Double IPA 8.7%
Utrecht Strong Ale 9.1%
It’s almost impossible to try and pick out a particular favourite, the servings are in small 15cl glasses which may seem minuscule in normal drinking terms, but in reality is ample and allows festival goers to try more beers in a day that you’d imagine possible. Yes I saw the odd stagger now and then, even the odd sway in a non-existent wind, but no rowdiness, argument or worse self-inflicted illness.
If you forced me to try and pick a top three, I’d say in no particular order, the Emilisse Buffalo Trace Barley Wine has to be there, it was like drinking an alcoholic molten cinder toffee (think Crunchie). As does the Thrornbridge S:t Eriks collab Imperial Stout with its lashings of raspberries. The final beer to make the podium would have to be either the Impy Stout or Barley Wine from Toccalmatto, both were superb but the stout which was bottled, being probably the most stunning bottles of beer I’ve seen in terms of presentation. If only I’d stopped ogling it long enough to take a bloody photograph…
To mop up the beers of course munchies are required and again Borefts organisers upped their game and provided a small area where stalls sold cheeses, burgers, cold meats, bitterballen (of course) and possibly the best sausage I have ever seen.
These beauties contained lumps of cheese that melted as they cooked slowly in the rotisserie, each sausage was then sliced and served as a massive mound of cheesy meat on a plate, bloody delicious it was too.
So that was it for another year, an absolute triumph of a beer festival and well worth the trip. If you’ve not been and fancy it next year it normally falls on the last weekend in September, stick it in your diary and start filling that piggy bank.