Interview with Rick Nelson, Oedipus Brewing

Why a dutch brewer is visiting a Swiss beer festival, a beer just has to be called Salty Dick and other deep insights into what’s currently happening in the flat land. This and more you can find out in our interview with Rick Nelson of Oedipus Brewing.

You are opening your brewery, so tell us about it.

The taproom will be open at the end of June. In May we went operational. We have five hectoliter kits and ten hectoliter fermenting capacity. So we’ll always be double brewing, like two days in a row or two times a day.

Where did you brew before?

We were contract brewers. We started at De Molen, later we brewed at Brouwerij Anders in Belgium. They are specializing in contracting. Plus we brewed at other places in Holland.

When you say “we”, who are we?

I am Rick, but Oedipus is four friends: Sander, who is now more the brew master, Paul and Alex, who are more into sales and distribution. The recipes we make together and I do events. We go to a lot of events, not just beer events, but also music and art related, especially in Amsterdam. So I organize that plus I do PR, marketing and the new tasting room.

You also travel. I was very jealous when I saw that you got to visit the Cascade Brewery.

That was an amazing trip and a privilege to go there and enjoy the craft beer in Portland, Oregon and to tap our beer there. That was amazing.

How did that come about? You grabbed a few kegs, hopped on a plane?

It was a very long program that started out with the municipality of Portland and Utrecht. They became twin cities or something and looked for what the two cities have in common. They saw bikes but also breweries. So Cascade and Rooie Dop got involved and they selected a group of breweries from the Netherlands to visit Portland.

Last we’ve seen you was on your last day working at the Beer Temple where it was said that you start a brewery. So basically you eventually said: I don’t want to be behind the bar, I want to be in front of the bar drinking my own beer?

(laughs) I like the way you’re thinking.
Oedipus is very much rooted in the Beer Temple. Not only I, but also Sander and Paul worked there. By working there we met so many people at the bar, mainly expats, foreigners and travelers that knew about craft beer and homebrewing. They all convinced us that it doesn’t have to be that expensive or difficult, you can just brew at home. Looking back, all those hours working at the Beer Temple were important as they gave us the confidence that it is possible to do it yourself.
So three and half years ago, maybe four, we started homebrewing. 25 liters in the kitchen. We put together our equipment via stuff we saw on YouTube, like using a cool box as a mashing tun, doing all the tubing ourselves.
We saw what the possibilities were and we were ambitions, but we also just wanted to see how it would go. The development went really fast. We started to brew a lot of beer and a lot of different beers. And people started to like them. So eventually the first contract brew came along summer 2012 and it sold really fast and by October 2013 it started to become clear that I had to work for the brewery full time. And eventually all the guys started working for the brewery full time as well.

What was the first beer you’ve brewed commercially?

Mannenliefde, a 6% saison with lemongrass, Szechuan peppers, and hopped with Sorachi Ace.

Where was the first beer sold?

We do a lot of events and festivals. We sold out all our beer in one weekend at Magneet Festival which is like the Burning Man from Amsterdam. It took place in a deserted location with sand and we also brought our small brewing kit there. Beforehand Menno from De Molen wished us good luck. We responded “we’ll be back” – “Well, first try to sell this beer”. So Monday morning we called him “We are sold out, when can we brew again?” (laughs).

You mentioned expats. Is the Dutch beer scene driven by expats?

Most of the expats that I talked to were not brewing in Holland but they all had brewing experience from home. From them I heard that it’s very normal to brew in the States. Everybody knows somebody that brews. But in the Netherlands it’s still rather unique if you homebrew.

How would you describe the Dutch beer scene?

It is really booming. Not only considering Dutch craft brewers, but also if you look at what people are drinking: People are more and more used to drinking IPAs. Many of them from abroad, like BrewDog or Anchor. Brooklyn just got introduced. But for example, in Amsterdam, there’s so many bars that you wouldn’t consider a craft beer bar, but they serve a lot of good beers.
Thus people get to know what good beer can be. We’ve already saw that happening in the Beer Temple three years ago, but it really is catching on in other bars too. More and more people are aware of what an IPA is. Also Stouts are becoming slowly popular.

It is a great sign when “normal” bars start to expand on the beer selection. It is a sign that “normal” people are also ordering and drinking other beers than lagers. It grows of the more nerdy circles, which I guess were the guests at Beer Temple?

(laughs) People from all over the world come to the Beer Temple. It’s not like it’s full of locals, however, there’s more and more of them.
Also Albert Heijn, the big super market chain, they started with a craft beer selection now. We are available there too. We were a bit skeptical, but it’s going really well. We are selling Mama and Mannenliefde, a Pale Ale and a Saison.

Are these your “flagship” beers?

I wouldn’t call them that, but they are our oldest beers and maybe the most approachable. I think it’s good to get these two more famous and if people like those two beers, they will hopefully try the other ones as well.
Like we didn’t yet brew any commercial Imperial Stout yet, or a Double IPA. We want people first to be introduced to the easy styles. Then slowly we will introduce them to new stuff.

But you produce these in bigger volume?

Yes. Mannenliefde is the biggest and I think it will stay like that for a while. Thai Thai Tripel is actually catching up very fast and so is the Gaia IPA.

Before you mentioned that you create recipes. How do you do that?

We do it all together, but Sander and me, we are into beer drinking for so long, like maniacs, buying every bottle, which was instrumental for our education.
So we come up with recipes by drinking other people’s beer and understanding how they are made. Sander has a lot of knowledge on how to incorporate ingredients into a recipe. So we all talk about different ideas in a playful way, we brainstorm, we look at our other beers and how it would fit into our range. Like right now we have a lot of light beers, so we’ll start do brew a bit stronger beers.

What are you going to brew next?

In the pipeline there’s a Rhubarb Wheat Ale which we’ve already brewed a few times as a homebrewer. Now it will be the first time we brew a commercial batch. We have already brewed sour beers before, like a gose called Salty Dick.

Why? That’s nothing I want to put into my mouth.

(laughs) A lot of people ask why. It came about innocently. Maybe we should change it. Nah, we’re not going to do that.

So what’s the meaning of the name?

About a year ago, friends did a crowd funding for their sunglasses brand called: Dick Moby. They are using sustainable materials like plastic from the oceans. So they asked us to brew a beer that was either salty or reminiscent of summer. So yes, we did Salty Dick.

You could have called it a Salty Moby!

(laughs) You need to dare people a little.

We ask two questions in all of our interviews, one being: Which of your beers would you have served original beer hunter Michael Jackson?

Wow, that’s like asking: Which of your children do you like most? There are a couple where it would be interesting to get his response from: Mannenliefde, because I think it’s a really good Saison. Although we put some extra ingredients in there: Lemongrass, Szechuan pepper and Sorachi Ace hops. I think it is a very nicely balanced beer so I’d be curious to hear what he thinks of it.
And maybe Slomo, because it’s such a nice table Saison. It’s 3.5% and I really like it.

It’s interesting that many pick low ABV beers.

Yes, because it’s more challenging to brew a good low ABV beer. I don’t want to say it’s easy though to brew a great mega Imperial Stout.

But you can mask the errors with the massive flavors.

Exactly. Heavy and strong can be impressive to someone. But with a light beer, it is more difficult to have that balance and impress with good flavors.

You mentioned brewing for friends, but do you brew with friends. Do you do collaborations?

Yes, of course. We’ve done collaborations with De Prael, one with Oersoep: I think they are the best in Holland now, particularly for sour and wild stuff, but they are the brewery that makes the most unique stuff. Last January we did a collabo with Buxton and Rooie Dop, plus we did one with Upright in Portland.
And we’re going to do a collaboration with Stillwater. It’s still secret, but you can mention it.

How do you connect with other breweries?

It’s a small network in the Netherlands. We are a group of friends actually. We meet and say “ah, we should brew together again”.

How did you end up at the Zürich Bier Festival?

We met Joachim Seewer of Herr Ritzi maybe half a year ago. We were doing a tasting at Terra Madre in Torino, he was in the audience and he liked the beers. We stayed in touch. He came up to Holland to grab a pallet of beers and told us about the festival. So after getting your email, I decided to come here and check out the Swiss beer culture.

What do you know about the Swiss beer culture?

I was here about four years ago in Lausanne and I tried BFM and Trois Dames. They were really nice. Yesterday we did a severe bar crawl. I was really impressed with Storm & Anchor. I also had some 523 that I liked. And late at night the Tropicale IPA by Trois Dames.

Which brings us to our last question: Five beers you suggest to people to drink before they die.

Something from Anchorage, like their Galaxy or their Tripel The Tide And Its Taker. I think it is amazing what they brew.
Fantôme Saison. Definitely.
Something from Oedipus, of course. The Salty Dick! (laughs) In case you’ve never had it, it comes out again at the end of May.
And an Imperial Stout: I always liked Ten Fiddy by Oskar Blues. Or maybe Yeti from Great Divide. Both are great stouts.
Then a good sour, let’s say Cantillon 2002 Oude Gueuze. That is an amazing beer too.
And Orval, always my go-to beer!

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