Do you like craft beer, visiting micro breweries and adventure? Then why not leave the safety of the tourist zones in the west of Holland and go on a brewpub crawl in the east? In this blog I will describe a tour of 4 craft beer breweries in a region called Achterhoek, in the eastern zone of the Netherlands. I’ll explain how to get from the one to the other by public transport, and give some suggestions about cultural intermezzo’s.
In this post I write about the following breweries:
- Wentersch in Winterswijk
- Brouwersnös in Groenlo
- Brouwhoes Erve Kots in Lievelde
- Stadsbrouwerij Cambrinus in Zutphen
Achterhoek? What, where? A short introduction
Achterhoek (literally: the corner at the back) is part of Gelderland province. It is situated in the far east of this province, roughly east of Arnhem and Zutphen and west of the German border. It is a largely rural area, with forests and a couple of small towns. Achterhoek attracts tourists from Holland and from Germany, mainly hikers and bikers.
Historically, Achterhoek has been branded by its location between the strongholds of the Duke of Gelre (now Gelderland province) and the bishops of Münster in present day Germany. Quite a few wars took place here. Contrary to other parts of the Netherlands, this area remained feudal till the 19th century, with just a couple of landlords possessing all the land and a poor population farming it. You may notice the big countryhouses here.
Though Achterhoek is part of the Netherlands, there is a certain cultural divide between this area and the west of the country. Very bluntly said, people in the urbanized western zone of the Netherlands sometimes look down on people in this area because of their dialect and what is perceived as their more conservative lifestyle. At the same time – maybe even because of the prejudice – people in Achterhoek feel very proud of their dialect and culture, and emphasize this in songs for example. Recently they even adopted their own flag, which I saw waving proudly at quite a few houses during my trip.
This post is about craft beer in the Achterhoek area so let’s get started!
We will start and finish our Achterhoek craft beer tour in Zutphen. Zutphen is easy to reach by train, via Deventer or via Arnhem. As the complete tour will take you a full day, you may want to spend the night in Zutphen, or in nearby Deventer or Arnhem.
Step 1: from Zutphen to Winterswijk by public transport
Catch a regional train from Zutphen railway station to Winterswijk West. Make sure that you check in with the correct train company. During the train trip you’ll see the big locks of Twente Kanaal and some of the typical Achterhoek landscapes. The train trip lasts about half an hour.
It’s a 10 minute hike from Winterswijk West railway station through a residential area to Wentersch, the local brewery. They are located in an old garage, which reminded me a bit of an Edward Hopper painting.
There are many local breweries in the Netherlands right now, and most of them are just that: the local brewery, brewing standard beers. What I liked about Wentersch is that they have taken the concept of local much more literally and use local ingredients in their beers. For example, they use local hops, grapes(!) and bog myrtle. Bog myrtle is an ancient beer ingredient, that was widely used before the introduction of hops. If you’re interested try the Wentersch Gagelbont.
Brewery Wentersch has its own brewpub right next to its brewery and shop. We had to pass through the brewery to get to the bar, which I thought was kind of cool, even though they were not in production on that particular day. We were received very friendly. If you would like a tour you should contact them in advance. They told me they don’t receive a lot of English speaking visitors, but they would be able to do the tour in English. I would guess that if you were in the brewpub they would happily answer any question you should have, because not too many people visit here. I strongly advise to have some craft beer in this excellent Achterhoek brewery.
Step 2: from Winterswijk to Groenlo
From brewery Wentersch catch bus 73 to Groenlo bus station. This bus departs from a busstop at 2 minutes walking distance from Brewery Wentersch. Note that this bus only runs once an hour, so check your schedule in advance.
After about 15 minutes get off at Groenlo bus station. From here walk through the old town of Groenlo to Brouwersnös brewpub, which is just outside of the old city walls. This is a 12 minute walk. Take the route through Groenlo town instead of around it for some local sightseeing.
The atmosphere at Brouwersnös is quite different from Wentersch. Brouwersnös is located in a historical villa that was once the house of the family Groen, brewers of the famous Grolsch beer that originates right here. It’s a brewpub/restaurant with stylish seating inside and a lovely terrace and garden overlooking the moat.
As Brouwersnös is a much busier place than Wentersch, not all the staff are very knowledgeable about their beers, I noticed. They were nice waiters and waitresses, not craft beer experts that have the time and interest to talk with you about craft beer. If you would like to know more, I guess you would have to register for a tour. They do 2 tours daily. I would advice you to book ahead via their website, and mention which language you speak.
How about the beer? Of course it is all a matter of taste. I am not very impressed by the beers of Brouwersnös, because I think they taste a bit bland. Perhaps this is because I like to drink strong tasting beers. At the same time, recently Brouwersnös won 4 prizes at the World Beer Awards in London, which is quite an achievement for such a new Achterhoek craft beer brewer. (As a side note: I do always wonder which breweries participate in this contest. This remains a bit unclear. Breweries have to pay to participate, and you never know which ones did). Still, the quality must be solid to win a prize.
Step 3: from Groenlo to Erve Kots
Once you have had enough Brouwersnös beers head back towards Groenlo bus station and catch bus 72 to Lievelde or Lichtenvoorde Groenlo railway station. This is all a bit confusing… Yes, the village is called Lievelde, and the train station Lichtenvoorde Groenlo. I don’t know why. It is to confuse us outsiders!
From here it is a 15 minute hike towards Erve Kots. If you have the energy, you could also decide to walk straight from Brouwersnös to Erve Kots. This is about 4,5 kilometers. You’ll be passing through pretty rural landscapes. See picture below.
If you’d like to skip one of the breweries of this tour I would say it should be Erve Kots. First of all because it is the most difficult to get to by public transport. And secondly because their beers are the least special. Should you skip this one, head to Lievelde or Lichtenvoorde Groenlo railway station anyway, and catch the train to Zutphen from there.
Erve Kots is an inn, an open air museum and a craft beer brewery in one. In Dutch, the name of this place is a bit funny, because it literally means Courtyard Puke. However, their beer is not to be puked :-). They do a couple of quite standard craft beers. When I was there they had 3 available. Nothing special to be honest. I guess that part of the attraction of this place is the combination of the Achterhoek open air museum and the historical craft beer brewery.
There is a possibility to do a brewery tour which they call a beer experience. You may want to book this in advance. Unfortunately their website is completely in Dutch. A short instruction: there is an option “direct reserveren” on their homepage, and in the menu below you’ll find “Erve Kots – Bier experience“. If you select that you can pick a date, a time and leave your personal details.
Erve Kots serves meals, and specializes in pancakes. They also have lodging, should you have drunk a bit too much beer…
Step 4: From Erve Kots to Zutphen
If you are still going strong, head back towards Lievelde, and catch a train at the Lichtenvoorde Groenlo railway station. It is a 23 minute train ride back to Zutphen.
Zutphen is seen as the gateway to Achterhoek and has its own craft beer brewery. Most Dutch breweries will fit in one categorie: hipster or old style. This one is definitely old style!
It’s an old fashioned inn at Zutphens central “square”. It has a nice terrace outside, but once you enter you’ll feel like you enter another time zone. It is a bit dark, they have an old style basement with vaulted ceilings (go to the bathroom to see it) and copper brewing kettles. The atmosphere is good here, the beers are classic. They brew Belgian style ales mostly. Apart from their own beers, they have beers from other brewers on tap too, with an emphasis on the Belgian style.
Should you be ready for dinner by the time you get here, Cambrinus serves pub style meals too. Next to that there are many restaurants in Zutphen town.
Cultural breaks in your brewpub tour
Should you feel that your day needs a bit more than brewpubs, consider one or more of the following cultural breaks.
1) Between Zutphen and Winterswijk: Museum MORE in Ruurlo castle
Ruurlo is about halfway between Zutphen and Winterswijk, and on the same train line. Ruurlo castle – close to the train station – houses a branch of Museum MORE, and specifically the paintings by Carel Willink. If you are interested in modern realism this is a cool place to visit. Even if you aren’t the castle itself is nice to see. The museum is not too big and easy to visit within an hour.
Address: Vordenseweg 2, Ruurlo
Website Museum MORE – Kasteel Ruurlo
closed on Mondays
2) Visit Groenlo town
Groenlo is a historical town known for 2 things mainly:
- Grolsch Beer which was originally brewed right here. This brewery has since moved to a huge brewery outside Enschede.
- The Siege of Grolle in 1627, a battle fought to incorporate the mainly catholic town of Groenlo (then Grolle) in the Republic of the 7 United Provinces. This battle might have been forgotten, had it not been reenacted every two years (since 2005) by hundreds of reenactors coming from all over Europe and the US. The last reenactment took place 18 to 20 October 2019.
Groenlo is a small town that used to be fortified. Now only a tiny piece of its wall is left and the moat. It’s a nice town to check out though. They have a small city museum, which focuses on the so called 80 years’ war during which the Netherlands separated themselves from the Spanish Habsburg Empire. Not sure how accessible this is to English speakers.
3) Erve Kots open air museum
If you’ve made it all the way to Erve Kots you could just as well visit their open air museum too. They have preserved some old farms here and you can get an idea of how people in this area lived in the past. Check out their Dutch website to get an idea of what you may expect.
4) Zutphen town
The former hanseatic town of Zutphen deserves a blog of its own, and I will write more about this later. It has a lovely historic city center to walk around in.