AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands — Like New Orleans, Amsterdam is struggling with harder and more frequent rain storms that overwhelm drains, flood streets and seep under doors.
Joris Hoebe used to see Amsterdam’s increasing rainfall only as a problem. Now it’s an opportunity.
“It’s potential beer falling from the sky,” he said.
Hoebe is the founder of Rainbeer, an organization that coordinates with Dutch breweries to turn excess rain into beer. Five small breweries across the country are now crafting beers from rain. There’s a bitter blonde from Amsterdam, a salty sour from Groningen in the north, and an ale called the ‘Cold Sniffle’ that’s produced at a small town on the coast.
The Dutch have long been the masters of water. Much of their country is reclaimed from the sea, and the world’s largest levee and sea gate system keeps the sea from taking it back. Increasing rainfall poses a new challenge.
“Rain is normal for us; it’s a wet country,” Hoebe said on a dark, rainy evening in Amsterdam. “But now we get too much.”
Precipitation has increased by more than 20% in both the Netherlands and the American South over the past century, and the rain now tends to fall in concentrated bursts that overwhelm old drainage systems. The Dutch are making wide-reaching changes. They’re removing levees and buildings to give rain-swollen rivers more room to flood and they’re encouraging more rain-absorbing infrastructure like green roofs and water plazas.
Turning rain into beer won’t solve urban flooding. But it is a good way to get people thinking about excess water, Hoebe said.
It’s also a bit of “civil disobedience,” he added.
Technically, rain beer isn’t legal in the Netherlands. Dutch health officials haven’t given beer made with rain the official OK. That could take many months or years. In the meantime, the beer is for sale at bars and in bottles.
“This beer -- it’s like a crowbar to open the discussion,” Hoebe said.
If health officials try to shut down rain beer production, Hoebe said the brewers have many allies in government who will push back.
Each participating brewery boils its rain water and passes it through an intensive filtration system. It might be cleaner than tap water, Hoebe said.
Thieu Hegger, owner of Brouwerij de Hemel in Nijmegen, near the German border, collects his rain from the roof of a medieval monastery. It flows into a pipe that goes down to the basement, through a filter and into his brewing tanks.
Upstairs, people in a crowded tasting room drained glass after glass.
“I hope they first think ‘nice beer,’” Hegger said. “I’m a brewer; I want people to appreciate my work.”
Then maybe it serves as a conversation starter about climate change and solutions to rain flooding.
“We don’t think about this until it becomes a problem, and then we think, ‘Why are the drains not big enough?’ Hegger said. “But our reaction should be: ‘What can we do to prevent this … (because) with climate change it’s only going to be more intensive rain showers?
"By thinking about it with a beer … that’s something I want to achieve.”