The Jopen Haarlem Brewery is particularly interesting, and not simply for the fact that it is located in Holland, a place we infrequently look to for our international beers. They are exceptionally noteworthy for the type of beers they produce, which are faithful reproductions of medieval recipes. Back in the heyday of Dutch Brewing—the Middle Ages—hops were not used to flavor and bitter beer. A blend of herbs and spices, called "gruit", was instead used to offset the sweeter flavors produced by malts and grains. Exotic herbs and spices such as yarrow, wild rosemary and sweet gale were typical ingredients used for the unique brews produced in the region. These ancient beers tended to be highly intoxicating, were reputed to stimulate the mind, induce euphoria, and served as aphrodisiacs.
While several breweries in the world still try their hand at brewing gruit beer, many recipes are based on careful guessing. The Jopen Haarlem Brewery, however, actually helped resurrect the style by employing archived recipes that were recorded in Haarlem's public municipal texts. These distinctive recipes, dating from 1407 and 1501, were so important to the regional economy that they were preserved as a matter of public record by the town's archivist. By the year 1400, brewing was the most important commercial activity of the city. By the late Middle Ages, Haarlem beer was exported throughout the world—with popular export destination cities peppered from Russia to France.
Over 100 Netherlands brewers were in operation during this period, a point that must have struck a nerve when the last of them closed up shop in 1916. During the city's 750th anniversary, in 1995, a group of enthusiastic Haarlemmers took up the challenge of bringing beer back to the region by brewing the centuries old style. Perhaps it was the pride of drinking a beer brewed by their forefathers, or maybe it was the excitement of microbrewing distinctive beers and having the option of drinking something other than the ever present pilsner, or just the fact that their beers were darned tasty, but their efforts have been met with much praise.
Jopen is based just about 10 miles west of Amsterdam, but they don't yet have their own brewery, so we can't exactly encourage a visit. (Their beers are currently brewed via contracts with local breweries). However, their beers are fairly well distributed in the region, so if you're ever out there, keep your eyes open for any of the distinctive Jopen beers.
For more information, visit Jopen's website at http://www.jopen.nl/