Monday, November 21, 2016

Ölmönger Special: Interview with The Flying Dutchman Ronald de Waal

So, last week in the blog was a week of beers with unusually abnormal names. They all were from The Flying Dutchman Nomad Brewing Company: one saison, one amber, one stout and three hopped ales (1, 2, 3). So now we take a closer look at the brewery and the brewer.

I was one "player" in a Tweet thread that started playing with the names of the beers that The Flying Dutchman Nomad Brewing Company should brew. The brewer himself - Ronald de Waal - took nicely part in the game, as "the referee". I think we finally got something like 15 new names for his brews, most of them unfortunately uneligible for commercial use.

After the first set of the word game I asked Ronald for an interview, and got an immediate "yes". We planned to have a real face-to-face interview but couldn't get our calendars matched. So the interview was made in the clumsy way - by e-mail. But the answers are still great. For those who want to know more about The Flying Dutchman, I recommend reading Ronald's story and getting to know his brews.

The brewer at work. (© Ronald de Waal)

Who is Ronald de Waal? How did you end up in Finland and being a nomad brewer?

Interesting opening question: Who is Ronald de Waal? :) Ronald is a Dutch guy who has always been curious about life, cultures and people. I ended up in Finland because of love. I went to Spain on holiday and walked into a Finnish blonde. Before I knew what had happened, I was already moving to Finland.

I studied food technology in Holland, one part of which was brewing technology. After my graduation I got a job as a brewer in one of the first craft beer breweries in Holland. So some years later, after walking into that Finnish blonde, I gave up my job and went on an adventure trip to Finland. This was in the year 1992. Finland was in a deep recession that time and work was hard to get. Did all kind of jobs and the funniest experience was being a mermaid in Planet FunFun.

After meeting Juha Lehto who had just opened the first two Kala restaurants in Helsinki we decided that I would brew a house beer for his bars. I would brew them in Holland at my old workplace. The beer I was brewing at that time was a 10 % barley wine which was in that time the strongest and hoppiest beer in Finland. So that was my first gypsy brewing project in the year 1994. In that time not even the word gypsy brewing existed.

What do you enjoy most in being a professional brewer? Are there any downsides?

I enjoy working with passionate people and creating new ideas and products. So to work on ideas and to realize them - and after some time you really see that people are drinking your beers and enjoying them. That is such a great feeling.

The downside is maybe the pressure of having enough time for selling work.

What do you love doing when you're not brewing great beer?

Enjoying the small things in life. Like when you have your coffee and you really go into the moment of joy. Having good conversations, have quality time at home with your loved ones. Go into the forest, walk with the dogs. Love to travel with the camper van and explore nature and different cultures. Then my other passion is coming up: photography.

You've started brewing in the 1990's in Holland. You also brewed Bergzigt for Finnish audience in 1994. What has happened in the beer scene in Holland and in Finland in a little over 20 years? From your point of view, how would you describe the beer culture in Finland now?

There has happened a lot during the last 20 years I would say, especially in Finland. In Holland things have been on hold for a long time. After the Belgium beers arrived in the 80's, not much happened anymore. Only the last 4-5 years Holland has started to open up for other beer styles than only those Belgium ales.

Finland has changed really much. From a very depressed society in the early 90's with not much of a beer selection and people drinking the cheapest beers they could find, to a very vibrant beer booming culture. Finland has a very good beer selection with beers coming from all over the world. Very few countries have this kind of amazing selection. And the Finns are very open now for every beer style. Drinking habits have drastically changed from drinking as much as possible to tasting fine quality products!

You launched The Flying Dutchman project last year and the first beer came available last autumn, right? Can you describe what's "The Flying Dutchman factor" in beer?

Yes, company was launched in July last year and first beer came out in the end of September.

The Flying Dutchman factor is indirectly linked to the old ghost ship which was sailing on the seas forever, by some legends for a seven-year period after another. Traveling, exploring and bringing the stories back to land. In this brewing project I would like to share my stories and act as the Flying Dutchman, brewing in different breweries.

The Flying Dutchman ship was a ghost ship, something you can't put into a box and label it. So it is about myself. As the Flying Dutchman I can't be put into a box: A Dutch guy with a Finnish company, brewing in Belgium - can we make it more complicated? :) So I love the international way of living. Open-minded going through life. Like a wanderer.

The captain and the crew with "Bad Guy" make-up... (© Walt Disney Pictures)

After roughly one year's presence, there are ten beers in The Flying Dutchman's commercial selection. The selection includes brews for many kinds of tastes: there's something for a hophead, something for a sour lover, something for friends of mild pales and something for dark beer hedonists. But every brew has a long, unique and hard-to-remember name. What's the story behind the brews' names? And when can we taste the Chilli Stout that already has a hot name? :)

That is a long process. We are thinking of ideas that are fitting the beer. The name should tell something about the beer. And we try to do it with a smile. We reflect to real life situations. So many breweries are going for the dark and aggressive attitude. We wanted to have a different angle, lighter and happier.

Love the Chilli Stout idea and especially the name! We should play with the idea.

Your Tree-Hugging IPA and Girlfriend Stout - won't repeat the complete names here, sorry - were chosen the best in their styles from Belgium in the World Beer Awards 2016. Congratulations! However, some people might get confused because you're Dutch living in Finland and brewing in Belgium. Of course, since you have lived in Finland for two decades now, people here hopefully recognize you as a Finn-brewer. Are your brews Dutch, Finnish or Belgian, or would you like to throw away the country category?

Thank you! To keep the answer to the question very short: we prefer to keep it open and flowing. :)

Probably the most known brewers in Europe without an own brewery are the Danish Mikkel Borg Bjergsø behind Mikkeller and his "protegés" Tobias Emil Jensen and Tore Gynther behind To Øl. It's told that Mikkel just e-mails recipes to the breweries without taking part in the brewing process in any way. How does it really work between a brewery and a nomad brewer? How do you choose the breweries you work with?

There are so many different ways of brewing beer or being a nomad brewer. Which way you choose is very personal and what fits you most. Rumors are rumors and there will always be rumors how people do their job. I think it has more meaning to look what people like Mikkeller and others have been contributing to the beer culture. Without the nomad brewers we wouldn't have such extreme beers as we do have now. They pushed the limits even further and took the other brewers with.

So some nomad breweries are really doing all the brewing work themself, others do only recipe planning, for some it's a mix of both. Still I don't think this is so important. It's the same when you look to a famous Chef Cook. This famous Cook is thinking and creating idea's. Testing, preparing and trying. Then he comes out with a perfect recipe and he will guide other cooks to prepare the dish under his guidance. It's architecture work.

The breweries with which I partner are carefully selected. I have had a cooperation with De Proef brewery already since 1997. I was in that time with my former company Diamond Beer, one of their first customers. So we have a long history and I know the brewery very well. I like their flexibility to do all kind of batch sizes and their top of the art brewing equipment. The other brewery I use is also very flexible and has also the right size of batches. Both deliver top quality.

For some years there's been a discussion in the beer community about bulk beer vs. craft beer and bad beer vs. good beer. What do you think about the discussion? What is the difference between a bad beer, a good beer and an awesome beer?

I think it has not much meaning to discuss bulk vs craft beer. Every beer is brewed for different groups of consumers. Bulk beer - or let's call them the big lager beers - are skillfully brewed. To brew a clean lager and also of the same quality is difficult task. So if you are into craft beer with much flavour that is fine. If you want just fresh and easy tasting lagers, that is also fine. We need them both.

Taste is very personal. Of course you can talk about good or bad beer when the quality of beer is not as it should be, infected or contaminated beer for example. Otherwise good or bad beer is a question of someones's personal taste and preference.

By the way, what's your personal favourite beer and why? (This is the easiest question in the world for a beer lover, I know ;) ) 

Haha, yeah, easy question. :) Pfff. Impossible to say. Like you know as well, I'm sure. It depends on your mood, feeling, season, if you are in love or depressed. So every moment has another favourite beer which is just for THAT moment the best.

I know you don't want to hear this kind of answer. I can tell you something else. After tasting many different beers and going from a great Stout to a great IPA to a great Sour, there's one beer style I really like to go back to. And that is British ale. Nicely hopped and a balanced malt body - always a great pint!

... and the captain with the usual good guy look. (© Ronald de Waal)

How are your experiences with Finnish beer and breweries? Are the Finnish breweries in general bad or awful?

Finnish breweries are in general great. We have seen a big increase in breweries last couple of years. Much passion going on and very creative beers have come out. I have found several breweries which I really like and which I can really trust on quality.

If you could choose any brewery from Finland for one collaboration brew, what would the brewery be and what kind of beer would you like the brew with them?

I have a few ideas with a some breweries in Finland. So far I just haven't had the time to go deeper into this. My focus has been first to get my basic selection of beers ready. We have come out with ten new beers in just ten months now. That was a great pressure in that short time. Hope that next year we will have more time to think about those ideas in detail.

The beer style which could be brewed is very depending on the brewery where we do it. So I really can't speculate about this before we really know more where the beer will be brewed.

What can we wait from The Flying Dutchman next? Bergzigt 2.0, perhaps? I wasn't into beer in 1994 and would have been underaged then, so at least I'm waiting for the comeback.

I'm working a few new ideas. We will have some new sour beer next spring. We are doing some very interesting research work on the moment to find the right lactobacillus culture. I can tell you more about this in the beginning of next year.

Bergzigt. Many people ask after it. Every beer festival I visit in Finland, there is always somebody asking when it will come back. You never know. Maybe one day.

I have been thinking every now and then about Bergzigt. In that time it was very special. Something we hadn't seen before. Nowadays it wouldn't be that special. Our taste buds have developed so much and we have tasted so many great beers. But it could return to showcase a classic style from the "old" days. Not an extreme beer for today but brewing the beer to show that this beer made a change in the early 90's.

Could you select a song for Ronald de Waal and The Flying Dutchman Nomad Brewery? Can you tell us, why this song is your choice?

I like your questions. The song is actually easy. It's a song from the band Mr. Big and called Goin' Where the Wind Blows. This song is very special for me and represents a lot of feelings and experiences I've had in life. Every time you make a big change in your life you need to trust on the fact that the only thing you want to follow is the wind. And the wind will always bring you to the right place.

Also during the period in my life when I was traveling a lot, I felt very free and literally went where the wind was blowing. That was such a wonderful feeling. This song is just so beautiful! And funny enough it really fits to the Flying Dutchman as well.

Thanks for a nice interview, Ronald! We'll keep in touch.

Thanks for your support, Janne. I love your way of writing and the humor you use in your articles. That's what we need in life. That's what our message is about: Hoppiness is a way of life.

Ölbeat & Brewer's Choice

There are so well-grounded arguments behind Ronald's own choice that I don't bring Richard Wagner's The Flying Dutchman or even some other piece very distantly, if at all, connected to the legend available as other options. They will be available for later purposes*.      

Mr. Big: Goin' Where the Wind Blows (YouTube)

From the 1996 album Hey Man, the song was written by Jeff Martin and André Pessis.

* E.g. as the background music for the immediate shaving of all male readers' idiotic Movember fish sticks trying to act a moustache. Do it, now!