Eindhoven: Rob Bours

Rob Bours is born and raised in Brabant, nearby Eindhoven. Back in the days his beer experiences were about the same as mine: As I told you in my first blog post, you didn’t have a lot of variety back then. It was pilsner and Belgian beers, so not surprisingly Rob’s adventures in the world of beer began with Belgian beers as well, especially Tripels.

I interviewed him about 100 Watt specifically, but it became such a long story and it was such a fun interview that I decided to make a separate post. It’s a long one, but I figured since I’m taking a break now, I’d provide you with some extra reading material.

This is the story of Rob.

Rob’s beer life probably began one day when he cycled past De Baron and saw his friend Max sitting alone on the terrace. Rob went inside, ordered a Westmalle tripel and drew up to the table. Max looked at Rob and said: “Why are you drinking a Westmalle? De Baron has so many other interesting tripels from small breweries. You should at least try something different for once. Just try another one.” He did. And another one. And another one. Six tripels later he realised they were all much more interesting than the Westmalle. It was an epiphany! Rob decided to join De Baron’s tasting group and began the first of his first adventures. He learned there was so much more to beer than just the Westmalle. At one of the gatherings he also learned of something else, of the existence of beer festivals. Being a music man himself, he was surprised there was such a thing! Music and festival, ok, beer and festival… eeh..? He had to go and see for himself and went to Belgium. At the festival he discovered many more interesting and nice beers, so he also joined the tasting group on a trip to a festival in Den Bosch. That was a bit of a bummer, as the beers weren’t half as good as the ones in Belgium. However, the following year he came back anyway. He was still not impressed though and decided there and then he could do it better himself.  

Even though he had now visited all those festivals and already discovered so many new beers with the tasting group, he was still mostly familiar with just the Belgian beer types. Rob frequented De Bierprofessor regularly though, and one day Kees (I told you about him in the post about De Bierprofessor) had two American IPAs in his fridge. American. IPAs. You know, the bitter ones? The not at all like sweet Belgian beer ones? The other patrons of De Bierprofessor warned Rob not to try them, not to drink those bitter American beverages. They told him the beers were way over the top, so yes, of course Rob had to try them. He tried the first one (which was in a can, a curiosity in itself in those days), took a swig, and poured the rest right into the sink. The other patrons were right. Such a bitter mess. (It was probably also old and card board like, but Rob didn’t know of such things yet back then.) But a week later, he dared to try the second one anyway. That one was also bitter, very bitter, but also fruity and after Rob got used to the bitterness, he realised he began to like it. The other patrons were like: whaaaat?, but Rob recognised this beer had a lot more flavour than the Belgian tripels he was used to. He did drink a tripel afterwards, but it couldn’t live up to his expectations anymore. No, it were hops he craved for now.

As said, at the second festival he figured he could do it better and decided he wanted to go brewing. Of course he didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, so he checked out courses nearby and came across Reuzenbier in Moergestel. He called Bernard Smits, the brewer, to ask if a course was possible and under what conditions, and they ended up talking for almost two hours. Headstrong as Rob is, of course he wanted to do it his own way right from the start. He wanted to learn properly, obviously, but he didn’t want to copy others, clone other beers. He wanted his own signature from the beginning. Bernard and he chose to brew a tripel. Rob began researching all about tripels and decided he wanted to use cereals. He told Bernard and Bernard was like: ”Rob, calm down, begin at the beginning, try this basic recipe first,” but no, Rob knew what he wanted and he wanted the cereals. So, Bernard and Rob made a deal and brewed three different versions over the next three weeks. Afterwards they compared the beers, and it had to be said, the one with the cereals was the best! (and was to become the Non de jus! years later, but I’ll get back to that). Rob learned a lot from Bernard of course and stayed in close contact with him over the years. For one, Bernard taught him all about the hops and did a lot of single hop experiments. Rob also began experimenting on IPAs and American pale ales, but on imperial stouts and saisons as well. After six months of brewing together, Bernard suggested that Rob should begin his own brewery, and so Rob did.

Rob looked for a different brewery where he could borrow the equipment to brew his own beers and ended up at the 3 Horne. He was tired of the Belgian beers by then, too sweet, not enough hops, not original. He wanted his first beer to be different: a fruity blonde (that would later be the Allure). With difficulty he had found Nelson Sauvin hops in Germany, which he wanted to use for his first commercial beer. He received hop bells and used those. But when he came back weeks later there was not a trace of hoppiness in the beer. He asked Sjef, the brewer, what happened and Sjef told him the hop bells he used were already old to begin with. The end result wasn’t a bad beer at all, but it was just not what he wanted his first beer to be like. Sjef, being the nice guy that he is, offered to buy the beer for himself and gave Rob another chance to brew his fruity blonde. He even offered Rob to choose hops from his own supply, although he didn’t have Nelson Sauvin. Rob went into the storage, and was overwhelmed by all the choice. So many different hops! He looked around and saw Amarillo and Simcoe. He called Bernard: “Bernard, help! Have you ever combined Amarillo and Simcoe before?” No, he hadn’t, but it was on his wish list to try and gave Rob his blessing. And all for the best. The beer became exactly what Rob hoped for and he hasn’t changed the recipe since. Several bars in Eindhoven began selling his beers, like De Baron, where his adventures started and De Bierprofessor, who was very enthusiastic about them. Brasserie Bours was born.

Fast forward, one day, Rob heard about David giving a talk about his book at the preHistorisch Dorp. Having lived in Eindhoven for 17 years by then he figured it was the perfect opportunity to finally visit this Historic Museum. After the talk Rob approached David and the foundation of a new brewery was laid, about which you can read in my blog post about the brewery.

It was to be the first time Rob brewed in such a big brewery and the very first test brew was quite an adventure. The team had to brew throughout the night, while there wasn’t any lighting yet in the brewery, so they had to work with flashlights and such. The result was worth it though. It was a bit too bitter, but that was to be expected since it was a new installation. Rob was also used to brewing on direct heating at De 3 Horne, not to indirect heating by steam which is used in brewery 100 Watt, but after some tweaking and getting to know the brewery better, they really picked up steam. Some time later they also started brewing David’s beers at the new brewery. David let Rob promise to brew his beers exactly the same as they were, but Rob was convinced that he could make them better with the new installation. The beers were good as they were, no doubt about it, but with the better installation there was some room for improvement. The first time he did make the beers according to recipe, but then he started tweaking a bit in secret. He began with The Heeren van Eynthoven. A T58 yeast was used and a lot of sugar. Rob doesn’t like working with the T58 at all, so he changed it to a Nottingham. Combined with all the sugar it had a side effect, the alcohol percentage went up way more than expected! He sold the new batch as it was, and a lot of people seem to really like it. The alcohol percentage had to be lowered again though, so the next time he brewed the beer he reduced the amount of sugar tremendously. The alcohol percentage went down again to the 9% it should be and thus became the tripel it is to this day. The original Evoluwonder was also a tripel, but by then they already had several tripels in the assortment. So, Rob sent David a list with all kinds of possible beer types and one he invented himself. David chose… the invented one: a tripelweizen. For the test brew the yeast didn’t do what it should have done though (or more exactly, did things it shouldn’t have done), so that first batch went to the bottle distillery and will become a 46% Elektrowonder in the future. However, the second brew with a different yeast was perfect and became the new Evoluwonder.

Evoluwonder is inspired by a famous building in Eindhoven but a lot of the names of the other beers are inspired by music, Rob’s hobby, and for those beers you might see more references to the music than just the names. Have you ever just really looked at Back by hop demand and an Orchestra of Angels? Not just the names, but also the labels and the ingredients? Knowing this, have you checked the other beers and labels? And heads up; there’s also a Love Games on the way with an alcohol percentage of 4,2%. I now wonder if Rob would be interested in a Don’t believe the hop for the future, especially taking into consideration his Brewing philosophy. And talking about labels, remember how Non de jus! was Rob’s first recipe? Now look closely at that label as well.

Ah yes, the Non de jus!. It wasn’t in the 100 Watt assortment from the beginning. There were already too much tripels to begin with. But after they decided to stop with the 75 Watt there was room again for another tripel in the collection. Rob had taken a sharp turn from the tripels with all the IPA’s and hoppy beers, but after years of trying all the new, he was ready again for some old and he rediscovered the Belgian sweetness. He also rediscovered his love for brewing in the margins, taking a known recipe and making it something slightly different: the small tweaks. Ánd from there he remembered his very first beer, the Non de jus!. He found the three recipes for this tripel again. He decided to keep the cereals, but add some extra herbs and spices.

The newest beer in the assortment is the 0.4% New England IPA. This Merry Go Round (which is really nice by the way), has not been brewed at brewery 100 Watt but at a different brewery where they have more experience with low alcoholic beers and have the proper pasteurisation facilities. Rob also has a Kveik yeast and some galaxy in storage with which he wants to do something really soon, something like a double imperial New England Kveik IPA or such.

So, now, over five years in, probably all their beers are just a little bit different. They have all the major beerstyles in their assortment, and yet, they have not (Not that beerstyles are set in stone, but I wrote a whole post about that last year). Different as they are though, as you might have read in the blog about 100 Watt, Rob and his team won the title of Best Beer of the Netherlands this year with their 150 Watt! Rob is especially proud of his team and really appreciates the recognition for their work.

You might have noticed by now that Rob is quite strongheaded. It’s something you see in his brewing philosophy as well. Rob is rebellious. If something has been done very often, he doesn’t want to do that again. He always tries to look for something original or to give it his own signature, although of course a lot of own signatures are time-bound as beer trends change very quickly. What was original yesterday is everyday business today. Rob is definitely still a hophead, but he doesn’t want to participate in the hop race. At least it seems like it has become a hop race. Some cans contain up to 28 grams per litre these days, which is proudly displayed on the labels. For Rob this shouldn’t be a contest though: It’s super expensive, there is a threshold where you can no longer taste the difference anyway and too much hops can give that burning green plant taste that’s not nice at all. He also feels that as a brewer you shouldn’t be influenced too much by the more vocal beer geeks, who seem to have sparked this hop race, asking for new brews everyday and hyping ‘the newest’ or ‘most unique’ beer types. You should brew what you want and brew for quality, brew the thing you can get behind of. There will always be that vocal group of people, fans, geeks, and other who don’t like it when something becomes mainstream, but even if you keep reacting to that group, try to keep an edge, you will never please everyone, and certainly not that vocal crowd. And don’t forget the big masses who just enjoy their beers, and maybe don’t even know what an IPA is yet, and that’s just fine. You are allowed to really enjoy something without knowing everything about it and without being among the first to discover it. You see it with music as well: “iew, Within Temptation became mainstream and successful and dare I say it? commercial, now I don’t like them anymore” and the gatekeeping in the geek world: “oh, you are wearing a batman shirt, but you cannot be a ‘real fan’ if you don’t know what happened in comic 32 of 1998”. Yes. You can be a real fan. Even if you don’t know anything about it, if you like it, it’s ok. It’s enough. You are allowed to enjoy the Belgian beers and call yourself a beer geek, you don’t have to like the newest triple hop IPA or imperial pastry stout to be a beer lover. Sorry, that was me. Yes. I got it out of the way. Back to Rob. It makes Rob wonder as well though. Take those pastry stouts with all the added sugars and additives. All has been sweetened to the max, it’s over the top, while he thought craft brewers were consciously working with less sugars and so on. It makes him wonder why people began craft brewing? Wasn’t it because people were tired with these conglomerates, deciding everything for us, adding all those unnecessary sugars and additives and aromas? At least Rob wanted to make his own, more natural stuff. And that’s the second part of Rob’s brewing philosophy: the use of all natural ingredients and trying to reduce the brewery’s ecological footprint.

Rob doesn’t want to use chemical ingredients in his beer. They give off a different taste. If an aroma is not possible with natural ingredients or too expensive with natural ingredients, he won’t use it in his beer. He’d also rather be just popular in the Netherlands than having to ship his beer all over the world. In the US they can make the same beers as we make here, so shipping beers internationally seems unnecessary, besides, it tends to spoil the market both ways. Of course, some exchanges remain global by nature. The aromas of hops are dependent on the location they grow, you cannot get the same aromas from hops grown here as from hops grown in the US, try as you might. So that will probably always be an international affair. But for the rest, it is possible to lessen all transport, to use local products and to sell local.

So, back to Eindhoven. Rob’s beer adventures began in Eindhoven, and will go on in Eindhoven. He loves Eindhoven. For Rob, the beer culture in Eindhoven is top notch. It went from unexplored territory to all the things that happen now, including all the festivals, like Bier & Big and Van Moll. Eighteen years ago there were just De Baron and De Bierprofessor, now there are so many interesting venues to visit. But even with all that is happening these days, Eindhoven is still small. That doesn’t mean it’s boring, it’s cosy. And it offers possibilities you will not find in cities like Amsterdam or Utrecht. For one,  Rob still hopes for an Eindhoven collab with all the breweries in the city sometime, which is easily possible, since there aren’t that many. And yet, Eindhoven is the place to be! And when you are here, what’s stopping you from visiting 100 Watt?

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