Henriette Waal, beer woman in a man's world.

Interview with the beer curator for Bio-me

Henriette Waal (1982), who graduated from the Eindhoven Design Academy, ‘Man and Public Space’ department, is an artist and designer - but also a beer brewer. She’s beer curator for Mediamatic’s Bio-me programme, and puts together the programme for ‘Bier Beraad’. This part of the festival focuses on yeasts, fermentation, bacterial cultures and brewing beer.


Henriette Waal -

You studied at the Eindhoven Design Academy first, now you’re a beer brewer. How did that come about?

I studied at the Design Academy, ‘Man and Public Space’. And I studied at the Sandberg Institute. Six years ago I was asked to work on a project on the edge of Tilburg, at an old water purification plant. The idea was to make it into a national park. This is where I came up with the idea of the Buitenbrouwerij (Outside Brewery), because brewing beer is a way to purify water. Apparently, there were a lot of beer brewing hobbyists living around the plant, brewing in sheds and garages. I involved them in the project and learned brewing from them, something I couldn’t do at all at the time.

I’m not a cooking person, but i find brewing beer to be a very interesting way of creating flavour, because your results don’t come until later. As a designer, I see many opportunities for innovation, and shake up the beer world a little. There’s a lot of innovation now, but six years ago they were mostly stuck reproducing existing beers.

At this point, how much room for innovation and creativity is there in brewing beer?

A huge amount. But I think it should coincide with a rise in people actually drinking those beers. That’s what I like about Mediamatic’s approach. We will be combining beer knowledge with lots of tasting. If you learn to taste well, and understand how the beer is made, you learn to appreciate it.

Especially working with yeasts. Sharing more knowledge about this, and hopefully facilitating it with a work space, will immensely affect the diversity of beers you can brew. Because yeast is very important. In beer, four things determine flavour: yeast, hops or other herbs (I often work with other herbs or herb mixtures), barley and water. And yeast is the most influential tastemaker. This room, too, is full of wild yeasts we don’t know at all yet. What I find interesting about this, is that it’s an invisible world that you can let people taste in a drink like beer.


Buitenbrouwerij from the top - A view from above Henriette van Waal her Buitenbrouwerij being used to brew beer.

So, the Buitenbrouwerij came out of your work in Tilburg. Afterwards, you kept it going on your own.

The fun thing about the project, I thought, was that it was so simple, it’s easy to talk about. The process is very easily explained, because initially the project was all about the concept, and that you could see how brewing beer works. But the beers that it produced were actually very good. We had beers made from clover, wild hops, linden-tree blossoms, nettles, yarrow, really all kinds of things. It was amazing, the flavours you could produce. That made me curious about what would come out of this in other countries. There was a lot of demand, so I travelled quite a bit. I was even invited to Germany and Belgium, two countries for whom beer is a religion. That was my way of learning about the beer brewing trade.

At first, being called a beer brewer annoyed me, because I’d think: ’no, I’m a designer’. Because I do many projects apart from the ones involving beer. But by now I’m proud of it. I get that it’s a trade that I am skilled at.

The number of small beer brewers has tripled in the past eleven years. In 2013 alone, sixty new ones. In your opinion, is this a matter of interest or do people think of it as a way to make money?

As far as that is concerned, I’m not that kind of person, I’m just an artist. I’m not someone who gets hot and bothered by the idea of owning my own brewery and getting rich and fat off my own beers. But looking at the rise of small breweries, you know they’re not all going to get rich off it. Fat, maybe. But rich, no way that’s happening. So I hope some of these people actually have a passion for beer, and want to develop a wide selection of beers. When the selection of beers grows, so will its consumers. Because when you look at Amsterdam bars, for instance, it’s still pretty sad how little the staff knows about beer, but also how little is on offer. Beer prices are moving towards those of wine. But knowledge - both on the outlet side and the brewers’ - it’s falling behind. So my thought is: invest in that a bit. I really believe that and I also think it’s exciting and it’s going to happen. Isn’t that a great thought? That in five or ten years, a whole array of much better beers will be available?


Oersoep beer - Oersoep brewery loves to experiment in order to prepare new exciting flavors for their beers.

You came to brewing from design and art. What, to you, is the connection between beer and art?

What I find interesting about beer, is that it’s a super cultural product. A lot of people have strong feelings about it. This makes it an interesting subject to use for concepts. A concept like Halbe, which is a form of protest, is something completely different than making a landscape into something you can experience through beer. The product lends itself well to storytelling. People who are purely into food tend to focus on taste or any feelings that are brought up. To me, it’s the surroundings and the context in which I place that beer. These things make that beer what it is. And yes, I’m an artist so it is art. Period.

You’re curating Bio-me. Can you tell us what to expect of the festival?

It’s simply going to be the most interesting masterclass ever given in The Netherlands on the subject of working with yeasts and bacteria. I’ve spoken to the top people in the field, here in The Netherlands. Breweries that really focus on wild yeasts and bacteria cultures. I hope someone from Belgium or Germany can come, because they work with yeast in completely different ways. It’s going to be a little nerdy, but not very. It will also be very visual, I’ll be making sure of that. And, of course, there will be lots of beer tasting. Things you can’t get at De Bierkoning (The Beer King). So I’m really trying to draw cool stuff from every aspect. I hope it leads to experimentation. People creating and catching their own cultures. Hopefully there will be more sharing of knowledge. I highly recommend everybody comes.


Bier Beraad!

Curious about what’s bubbling in your beer? Come taste, listen, learn and look at unique beer design during Bio-me. This beer design symposium goes further than a nice colour and a hip label. One of the most important elements of your beer’s taste is a living organism: yeast.

Taking part, among others, are: Kompaan, Sander Nederveen (Oedipoes Brewing), Naeckte Brouwers, Derek Walsh, Andre van der Zee.
Including a special masterclass with Sander Kobes (Oersoep Brewery)

Bier Beraad! will be the first in a series of monthly beer programmes. Keep an eye on the website for more information.