Dutch cuckoo brewers HappyFace Beers first cropped up on my radar around the time I went to Tilburg for Netherlands Death Fest in 2017. They’d brewed a 6% stout especially for Dutch death metallers Sinister to mark the release of their album ‘Syncretism’ a few weeks prior. As Sinister were playing at NDF, I thought maybe there might be the chance to pick up a bottle or two from their merch stand but alas it was not meant to be. Ended up settling for a few Jupilers instead.
Since then, I’ve seen HappyFace Beers cropping up here and there at Metal Festivals, and members of Testament, Exodus, Obituary and Entombed A.D. even count themselves as fans.
I wanted to find out a bit more about HappyFace Beers so I reached out to Manfred Van Zadelhoff, who’s the man behind HappyFace Vinyl that ultimately lead to the creation of HappyFace Beers, and headbrewer Rob Zwaan, who also happens to be the tallest man in the Netherlands.
Can you tell me a little about the history of HappyFace Vinyl and what made you want to start that in the first place?
Manfred: It started 18 years ago when I was asked occasionally to help a friend who already had a mail order company at big festivals and fairs. After two years, I decided to start my own company and started using my knowledge and network in the metal scene to get the best and most unique items for my customers. HappyFace Vinyl was born!
What made you want to start a brewery and how did HappyFace Beers come about?
Rob: Well, I’d been brewing as a hobby already for a couple of years, so Manfred asked me if I could make a batch of beer that he could give to his best customers. I made a Tripel and the reactions to that were very good, so this started us thinking about doing more with it.
Can you tell me a little about the other people you work with at HappyFace Beers? How did you all come together?
Rob: I was happy as a hobby brewer but wasn’t too keen on the rest of the work that comes along with a brewery, so we decided to split tasks. So I’m mainly busy with recipes and brewing, Ed [Zwaan] (my brother) is working on festivals and transport matters, Patrick [Karssen] is doing all the financial and legal matters and Manfred is working on getting the artwork done, social media and other business matters. Nowadays, things are not that separated anymore, if somebody doesn’t have the time for a job somebody else steps in. Me and Ed for instance now regularly do the festivals together. From a practical point of view this makes sense, we draw a lot of attention since I’m also the tallest man in The Netherlands at 2,23m (over 7’3”) and my brother Ed is 2,13m (7’)…
Besides us we also have a lot of people helping us out; Rutger de Vries (from death metal band The Heritance) who creates our artwork, Bob Bagchus (from Soulburn, Asphyx and other bands) for merchandise, Martin Roest (from Egghead) working on our website and people who help out on festivals such as Lara, Arjan and of course our own ladies.
I saw that Bob Bagchus from Soulburn/Asphyx assists you guys with your merchandise. How do you know Bob and how did he come onboard?
Manfred: I played in Lunatics Without Skateboards in the same period that Bob was playing in Asphyx and we did some shows together in the early days. We kept contact and since Bob already does a lot of merchandise for other bands (including Sinister), I asked him if he could print the merchandise for HappyFace Vinyl and later for HappyFace Beers. We think it works best with people that you know you can rely on blindfolded, so we feel blessed to know a lot of people that can help us out on many different matters, it keeps things rolling smoothly.
“Death Metal and amazing beers, what more could we ask for?”
Whereabouts is HappyFace Beers based and where do you brew?
Rob: Since we all have a normal daytime job we don’t have our own brewery but we use the overcapacity of several breweries. I develop the recipes at home in 50 litre batches and when we all approve we take the recipe to a brewery were we brew our beer. We are there when our beer is brewed and bottled, so we keep a constant eye on what’s happening, maintaining the quality and consistency is an important issue for us.
At the moment we work with De Noord Hollandse Bier Brouwerij, Delftse Stadsbrouwerij De Koperen Kat and InBier. Working with several breweries makes us less vulnerable and gives us more flexibility in planning and possibilities. Obviously we need a “home address” for mail, financial and legal matters so we’ve chosen for Heemskerk were Patrick and Manfred live.
I’ve read that your aim is to brew beer in the spirit of the classic styles, can you tell me a bit more about that?
Rob: Yeah, we sometimes use the slogan “Classic beers re-invented”. We all love the classic beer styles such as the Belgian Tripels, English Stouts and German Weizen beers. Although we also enjoy all the newer styles and barrel aged beers, we have chosen to first create a core-range of classic styled beers. It’s also based on the fact that, when we were visiting a beer festival we noticed that after a couple of “weird” beers we somehow started looking around for something like a Tripel or an Abbey beer to get our feet back on the ground. The funny thing is that we now see the same at the beer festivals where we promote our beers. People start with the “exotics” and after a while we see people coming back to our bar for a “normal” beer. So we’re not the only ones….
What beers are you working on at the moment?
Rob: At the moment we are working on the recipe for a Belgian Abbey beer, a dark and somewhat sweet beer of around 7%. We have finished the recipe of a Winterbeer that will be loaded with herbs and spices at around 10% and we’re working on a Weizen beer of approximately 6%. These all will see the light of day in 2018. In the meantime, we’ve also started thinking about the future and we will do some more experimental things, probably some barrel-ageing as well, but first things first.
Can you talk through some of the special beers HappyFace has done? For instance, how did the beer with Sinister come about?
Rob: Manfred has very close connections with Sinister, so when they were releasing their latest ‘Syncretism’ album, they asked if we could do a special brew for the album release party. We made a stout and released it as HappyFace Sinister Dark which immediately sold out on the release party. Toep [Duin, Sinister drummer] then asked us if we could make it again so they could take it along with their merchandise.
The Sinister Dark is the “special bottle” edition of our HappyFace Stout, so it is the same beer but with a special designed label. For the Belgian band Bark we did the same with our HappyFace Bock that was released with a special designed label as HappyFace Bark.
The HappyFace Heritance was a one off beer for the release party of The Heritance’s album ‘Routine To Decline’. Since we were quite pleased with it, we later used this recipe as the base for HappyFace Scapegoat, but with different hops and yeast. We’ve also had the HappyFace Martyr, for the celebration of the 35th anniversary of Martyr, and we released two Lemmy Memorial beers. These memorial beers were the HappyFace Overkill (packed with spices, herbs and lagered on soaked Jack Daniels wood chips) and the HappyFace Bomber (infused with Jack Daniels).
Any plans to collaborate with anymore bands in the future?
Rob: Oh yes, we are open for that, and we get a lot of requests for this. But it depends on the time that we have available, our brewing capacity and, last but not least, we have to like the band…
If you could do a beer for any metal band who would it be and why?
Rob: Well, I love Entombed A.D. so my answer on this question is simple. Patrick will definitely choose Kiss, Ed would probably choose any band involving Mike Patton and Manfred will stick with Slayer. These choices are just for the love of their music and not for any commercial purposes or anything like that.
“Seeing people enjoying good music and our beers gives us a great feeling”
The Netherlands is well known for having an amazing Death metal scene but what is the craft beer scene like over there?
Rob: Yes, with bands like Gorefest, Altar, God Dethroned, Hail Of Bullets, Asphyx, Thanatos and Sinister we can’t complain about the level of Death Metal in the past and present of The Netherlands. Besides these older, well known bands, we also have an immense amount of bands emerging like The Heritance, Bodyfarm, Soulburn, Dauthuz, Deathhammer and Neoceasar, so we enjoy ourselves over here in our little country.
Looking at the craft beer scene we don’t have to be shy as well. Big breweries such as Uiltje, Jopen, De Molen, Emelisse, Kompaan and Van Moll are operating worldwide nowadays, but there are over 530 breweries in The Netherlands now, including over 200 breweries who work in the same way as us. If you compare that to approximately 40 to 50 breweries just 10-15 years ago we can say that the craft beer brewing has exploded in The Netherlands.
Death Metal and amazing beers, what more could we ask for?
Are than any Dutch breweries you can recommend that we should check out? Other than HappyFace of course!
Rob: Good one, we love the beers of De Molen and Uiltje because these breweries always have something new to taste; but it is very hard to pick out a few breweries, because the quality of the majority of the beers from The Netherlands is very good. So as always, it is more a matter of personal taste. If you like Stouts, try Dutch Stouts and if you like IPA’s, lots of Dutch IPA’s to choose from. Just try ‘em, it won’t kill you!
One thing I noticed is that your beers are pouring at Dynamo, Stonehenge and Into The Grave Metal Fests this year. That’s awesome! What’s the response been like to your beers when they’ve been pouring at metal festivals?
Rob: Very good! The Metal audience loves a beer while listening to their favourite bands and the craft beer scene has also entered the festival area’s. More and more you see special beer gardens on these festivals and we are very grateful to the organisers of those festivals that we get the chance to pour our beers there as well. We all love Metal, so seeing people enjoying good music and our beers gives us a great feeling. And it is a great addition to the “normal” beer festivals where we promote our beers, so yeah…we’re happy!
Are there any metal festivals you’d like to see have HappyFace Beers on tap?
Rob: Definitely Graspop! And the 70,000 Tons Of Metal cruise sounds like a good plan, but actually any other Metal festival would make us proud as well. If we can combine our love for the music with our beers, well….need we say more?
Whats the plan for HappyFace Beers for the rest of 2018?
Rob: As I said before, we have 3 new beers coming out, and we’ll do an amazing amount of small and big festivals to promote our beers. We only started last year so we have a world to win there. Although our approach is serious and professional, we are planning to enjoy the hell out of it!!
Where can people reading this go to buy your beers?
Rob: In The Netherlands we are rapidly increasing our distribution network, so ask at your local liquor store or check our website for addresses. But we also have a webshop online where people can order our beers and merchandise.
Any final things you would like to add?
Rob: We are very grateful for people that show interest in our beers, so in this case we would like to thank Headbrewers Ball for the opportunity to tell something more about us and our beers. Horns up, cheers!!