Why, Sir, you find no man, at all interested in beer, who is willing to leave Belgium. No, Sir, when a man is tired of Belgium, he is tired of beer; for there is in Belgium all that beer can afford.
— Not Quite Samuel Johnson
I loved our trip to Bruges last summer and got to drink some remarkable beers in lovely places, like t’ Brugs Beertje and Staminee De Garre. The one thing that I did notice, however, was that the amazing beer menus were almost exclusively Belgian. I had hoped that there might be some Dutch beers on offer as well, as I had become very excited about the range of innovative breweries in the Netherlands following my short visit to Amsterdam, and the fantastic In De Wildeman.
Fortunately, back in West Yorkshire, North Bar’s annual Belgian Beer Festival has expanded its remit and annexed Holland; the 2012 version, running from 22 March 2012 to 5 April 2012, is a Lowlands Bier Festival. Kate and I visited yesterday when North was quite empty, suffering slightly from the lack of a beer garden in the unexpected March sunshine. Along with a waffle, we enjoyed four really good beers: bottles of Watou Tripel and Struise/Mikkeller Elliott; and from keg De Molen Op & Top and Emelisse TIPA. So that’s really two Dutch Beers, one and a half Belgian beers and a rogue half a Dane.
I was really impressed with the beer list, which also includes delights from the likes of Boon, Cantillon, De Dolle, all the Trappists you can shake a crosier at, as well as a couple of beers from rarely-seen breweries like Brouwerij De Prael, which I’ve never seen outside Amsterdam. I’m going back and this time I’m having cheese. I recommend you do the same.
If you’re above the Low Countries, perhaps preferring your beers single-hopped, Aberdonian and canine, on 28 March 2012 from 6pm North are also hosting a BrewDog IPA Is Dead Launch Night, a sequel to last year’s. The new batch of four single-hopped IPAs are Galaxy, Motueka, Challenger and HBC.
After Schuim I moved on to my next bar, The Beer Temple, just round the corner and again quite centrally located near Dam. This US-style craft beer bar was started by the same man as Cafe ‘t Arendsnest, a bier cafe that sells exclusively Dutch beers, a remarkable 150 of them.
The Beer Temple also claims to have 30 draft beers and 100 bottles, mostly imported and with a bent towards US and US-influenced craft beer (e.g. Brewdog, Mikkeller). The draft beers are dispensed from a US-style bar, with the taps against the back wall, many with the large ornamental branded handles that you get in US bars.
There was an interesting mix of people when I went in, some American tourists or expats as well as Dutch beer geeks. In fact there were two American lads sitting next to me in black suits and animal masks (one rooster, one gorilla) as part of a plan to surprise an expat friend on her birthday. It was all going a but David Lynch, but fortunately the reassuring bar staff were happy to talk about the selection, which they seemed to have a really good knowledge of.
The range of beer was great, as you can see from the blackboard of draft beers in the photo. Imported keg beers included Great Divide, BrewDog, Flying Dog, Left Hand and Anchor: in fact it was interesting to note how well BrewDog fitted in here and I wonder how many casual craft drinkers in the US and abroad think they’re an American brewery. There’s a further longer blackboard running along the side wall of the long, narrow bar. I started with a glass of the house beer: Tempelbier, a nice, citrus-crisp bitter Dutch take on a US style IPA.
After enjoying the first drink (and cursing myself slightly for having a few beers before arriving here and thus limiting my selection) I asked what Mikkeller beers they had and was shown a selection of bottles including Devine Rebel. However I was very interested to see that they had a bottle of Mikkeller Koppi Coffee IPA and was happy to pay 6 Euros for it.
This was a remarkable beer which seemed extremely appropriate for Amsterdam, given the association between coffee shops and mind-blowing substances. I thought the coffee was really up-front in both the aroma and taste but there was a nice light hoppy fruity bitterness in there as well. The combination of citrus hop and roast coffee bitterness was a revelation. The thrilling but unusual mix of strong flavours meant that it wasn’t a quick drink, but I was happy to take my time and savour it. In retrospect I should have tried some Orval cheese from the snack menu to go with it.
I did really enjoy my short visit to Beer Temple and it made me want to try t’ Arendsnest for an equally expansive collection of Dutch beers to explore the country’s own beers better. However again that will have to be added to the list for my next trip to Amsterdam.
Unfortunately time was ticking on and I had to move on and meet my colleagues who were in a more typical Dutch brown cafe, Konigshut, after which we moved on to another, Cafe Van Daele. The beer selection in both was more limited, but I was happy to end the night in a pleasant atmosphere, drinking a bottle of Palm then having a couple of genevers as a nightcap.
After leaving The Cracked Kettle, perhaps unsurprisingly I felt it was time for a beer. I’d happily missed dinner in the hotel for the sake of this expedition so also needed to line my stomach. I had passed Schuim (“Foam”) on Spuistraat and it looked like a nice arty cafe. When I saw that Tim Skelton said it did good hamburgers in my newly-purchased Around Amsterdam In 80 Beers I decided to go for it.
The inside of Schuim is a reasonably large, high-ceilinged space with a selection of different furniture: big tables, leather armchairs, intimate tables for two with attractive lampshades hanging over them. The walls were covered in a selection of classic cinema posters and there was a DJ booth in the corner. This sunny Friday evening there a lot of customers were sitting out, smoking and chatting, so there were some free seats inside between some groups of apparently happy, relaxed drinkers.
It didn’t have a huge selection of beers when I went in (although they did have Brewdog Hardcore IPA), they have La Chouffe on tap. I got a 25cl glass, ordered a burger and sat down at one of the big tables and started properly reading up on Amsterdam’s beer bars. I enjoyed the La Chouffe, which proved very drinkable, but perhaps less interesting than the bottles I remembered.
I finished it and ordered a Blanche De Namur, a witbier that was served from tap with a slice of lemon and a pink plastic cocktail stirrer, the latter of which confused me. I’m not a huge fan of witbiers generally but this was quite pleasant and the slice of lemon either complemented the fresh lemon flavour of the beer or caused it. I didn’t have a non-lemon control beer to compare.
Whilst I was enjoying the beer, the atmosphere and the book, I was getting hungry and my burger was taking a very long time indeed. When I asked the staff they apologised and explained that a large table had ordered just before me, which they had said at the time. However I was given a free pilsner (I think it was a Leeuw in a Budels glass – nice but nothing special), and then after another 15 minutes the chef brought me out a plate of cheese, pickles and mustard and apologised for the delay. They were very polite and helpful despite the delay and I remained in a good mood as a result.
When the burger finally came it was very nice indeed: tender, tasty, moist and crumbly, just like a good homemade burger should be. I wolfed it down, dipping the chips in lots of mayonnaise to emphasise how acclimatised I was becoming.
I enjoyed Schuim and felt very happy to sit there on my own and pass the time, but by this point I was keen to move on to somewhere with a bigger selection. In particular I’d been reading about a bar just around the corner that sounded very exciting indeed: a US craft beer bar called Beer Temple, on which more next time.
I don’t know exactly why my employers decided to hold this year’s group conference in Amsterdam, but it initially seemed like an interesting experiment in dangling temptation in front of your staff. However, in the end it was unusually well-behaved and good-natured; very far from the orgy of toking and poking that those with less faith in human nature might have predicted.
The frustrating thing about being taken somewhere as fascinating and beautiful as Amsterdam on a work conference is that you inevitably get plonked in an enormohotel a number of miles away from the city centre and handed a packed schedule that makes it very hard to escape the building. Nonetheless I was determined to get into the city centre, and thanks to the tram network I managed to do so twice.
Initially armed only with a Rough Guide To Amsterdam and some personal recommendations, I got off the tram and headed towards De Bierkoning (“The Beer King”), a famous specialist beer shop centrally located near Dam that Rob from Hopzine had recommended. Unfortunately it had just closed for the evening when I arrived, but I admired the selection of De Molen bottles through the window with a faint sense of relief that I didn’t have to fret about which of over 1,000 beers I could sensibly afford and carry around with me. It looks like a great shop and I’ll definitely be back at some point.
I decided to try and find Gollem, Amsterdam’s oldest specialist beer cafe. I was looking forward to visiting this small bar with a huge selection of beers. Rather sadly, when I found it in an alleyway off Spuistraat it was also closed, but seemingly permanently. The sign in the window was in Dutch, but suggested that whilst Gollem and a second Gollem in the de Pijp area had closed, their third bar, the larger Gollem Proeflokaal (tasting room) on Overtoom, is still open. I added this to the list of places to try next time I came.
However I was very happy to see The Cracked Kettle open opposite the closed Gollem. This was another excellent specialist beer off-licence and I was pleased to see a very large selection of primarily Dutch and Belgian beers. I was spoiled for choice and began to realise quite how little I knew about Dutch beer styles. I decided not to laden myself down with an armful of bottles for the rest of the evening and opted for just one: a Brouwerij De Molen Bommen & Granaten.
It’s a 15.2% Barleywine made with champagne yeast that came in a small bottle with the top already sealed with red wax. It says that it should keep for 25 years, which is an admirably bold assertion. Subsequently reading about the beer online, I now realise that “Bommen & Granaten” means “Bombs & Grenades”, which made it probably the least airport security-friendly beer in the world. Now that I managed to get it back in Yorkshire without incident, it should be a nice souvenir of the trip until I lose patience and crack it open.
The other thing I picked up in The Cracked Kettle was Tim Skelton’s Around Amsterdam in 80 Beers. Filled with photos, it has a page each for the 80 best bars and beer shops in Amsterdam and a suggested tipple for each. It would turn out to be an invaluable guide for the rest of the trip, helping me to navigate and prioritise, taking me to a couple of brilliant (and open) beer bars. I’ll get on to those in my next post.