Tuesday 13 May 2014

Butcher's Tears

The location couldn’t be more unlikely: an old garage in Oud Zuid a few doors down from an ambulance depot. Inside, the place is clinical; bare and tiled white like a butchers. A good time to introduce one of the butchers then (amongst his friends): the brewer at Butcher’s Tears.
Thanks in part to Sweden’s tough line on alcohol, Eric became master of his own home-brewed kitchen concoctions before setting up the proeflokaal in August 2013 with Felicia and Herbert. Their aim? To enrich Amsterdam’s beer culture with long used but long forgotten brewing traditions and recipes. Their plan? “I’m fermentation-oriented and have a romantic idea about working with old traditions, one of which is open barrel fermentation. Most breweries used pressured tanks but if you don’t, the yeast is left to work itself out which can lead to really interesting flavours”. To my ‘why aren’t others doing this?’: “Well, you run the risk of the beer being undrinkable and there’s also the risk of infection … but we’ll have a separate room to experiment in so we can keep our work sterile”.

Once the machinery is installed, the holy trinity of brewing, drinking and music (there’s room in the back for bands and film screenings) will be complete and on the same premises, making Butcher’s Tears one of only six breweries in the Netherlands to brew on site. In the meantime, the beers we drink now have been brewed by Eric at a brewery in Belgium where they rent out space. “We try to come up with something new every month but Green Cap (our first beer) is a regular. We made it in honour of Sounds of the Underground Festival and word got around even though we had no intention of becoming a phantom brewery before we opened. Actually at the time, people thought it was too bitter, too complicated”.

So where does Amsterdam place on the map? “Things are changing here. Amsterdam is really just discovering interesting beers and I think that when Brouwerij 't IJ opened they found it tough because people weren’t ready”. I point out that the change in tastes has led to a handful of new beer spots popping up and ask whether he thinks of them as competition. “Everyone’s doing their own thing. My thing is looking at old dusty books on brewing history because there’s lots of things that were done in past that’s now forgotten. A huge amount of knowledge has been replaced by trends – just look at the IPA. Everyone feels like they need to make an IPA even if no one really knows what it is.” We laugh, Eric knowingly, me sheepishly, and I ask about his inspiration for new beers. “Everywhere which is why I need to get my ideas out.”

And the name? “The Butcher was the name of a celebratory batch of beer – my 50th – that I made back in my kitchen brewing days. And so when we needed a name for the brewery, we remembered it. Nowadays it’s (Rietveld Academie graduate) Felicia that comes up with the names, designs and labels as well as the aesthetics of the place. It’s all her crazy imagination”, he nods to the drawings on the walls, dentist-chair lights and beer hall cum design cum picnic table tables. All highly stylized like the website, her work as well. The place has a cohesiveness to it and its minimalist, straight-up design is respectful of the fact you’re sitting in an old garage to drink fussy beers. There’s nothing to distract or detract from the tastes. A true proeflokaal.
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