As luck would have it, I found myself in Amsterdam recently, one of my favourite cities in Europe. So many great beer bars tucked into tiny streets, cafes along canals, wonderful restaurants and so easy to navigate on foot. Getting lost is part of the adventure. But I knew exactly where I was going when I wondered into Brouwerij De Prael, on the edge of the Red Light district. The staff there are always friendly and knowledgeable and the beers quite tasty. After a short conversation with one staff member I was welcomed by owner/brewer/social worker Fer Kok, who was gracious enough to show me his brewing operation, share a little history and grant me a video interview (in an upcoming episode of beertheshow.com). In business for 15 years, Kok not only makes great beer, but he also offers jobs and redirection for lost souls, De Prael being a very socially aware enterprise. On tap was Bitterblond (5.7%), a pale ale with a tangy hop compliment, Weizen (5.4%) a refreshing witbier, a 5.7% hoppy India Pale Ale, a big Double IPA (9%) and a fab Quadrupel (11.5%). De Prael is always one of the first places I visit when I come to Amsterdam. It is only a short walk from Amsterdam Centraal Station.
Another long time Amsterdam brewpub, in business as De Bekeerde Suster (The Confirmed Sister) for 9 years in Nieumarkt, is in a former 16th century brewery-cloister run by nuns. They brew 3 of their beers in a tiny copper brewhouse in the back of the bar. White Antonia is a delicious witbier, Barbier is a decent blonde ale and De Manke Monnik is their yummy flagship Belgian dubbel. Plus they have a number of guest taps, La Chouffe, La Trappe and Petrus among them.
The longest running concern craft beer wise is Brouwerij ‘t IJ, now into their 30th year of brewing under their old traditional windmill. Assistant brewer Allard Zwart shared his thoughts with me in an interview for an upcoming episode and while we lunched on local cheese and sausage, we enjoyed their line of great beers:
Plzen (5%) a crisp pilsner, Natte (6.5%) a creamy dubbel, Zatte (8%) a potent tripel, IJwit (6.5%) a wickedly strong witbier, Columbus Amber (9%) a hoppy kicker of a pale ale and Galaxy Session (3.8%), a flavourful lighter IPA to start. They still had a few more, including their famous IPA, a very West Coast style hop forward brew available all over town in its striking painted bottle. Apparently North America does have something to teach the Old World brewers.
Other Dutch treats:
Texels Skuumkoppe (6%)
An absolutely delightful wheat beer, a little darker like a dunkel, deep golden/amber hues, a little heavier in body, but with a warm malt base, complex palate & lovely legs left from a dense frothy head, some malt sweetness. Their White is quite tasty too, a 5% resfreshing wit style. The brewery in Oudeschild produces 10 others as well, a wide range of styles in their line.
At Noah’s Arq, a lovely old style Dutch beer bar, we found another of Amsterdam’s newer brewers, Oedipus Brewing: The Mannen Liefde (man love) is a superb saison, with lemon grass notes and hints of szechuwan peppercorns, big frothy head, grassy, herby, citric, 6% abv. Gaia (7%) is their IPA, very west coast, multiple hop varietals, aromatic, solid malt base, dry finish. Also quite good, Mama (5%) a refreshing pale ale. Oedipus have a dozen beers in their roster. Cool cafe, very knowledgeable barkeep with a Canadian company Glowgolf set up in basement below, apparently popular with the younger crowd.
Jopen Mooie Nel IPA (6.5%) Another fine example of a hop forward IPA, or the Dutch style ‘duraebel scheepsbier’, beautifully made with deep bitterness, juicy hop flavours, earthy aromas. Would stand up against any west coast IPA, this Northsea IPA. A good dozen beers in Jopen’s line up too, nice variety of styles. There is a shared brewing history in the Low Countries, many styles resurfacing as the Netherlands now has its own craft beer revolution.
Sancti Adalberti Miraculum Novum (7.5%) is an abdijbier brewed by Brouwerij Egmond, an unfiltered witte tripel, hazy gold, cloudy, fruity aromatics, full palate of complex flavours, yeasty, grassy, hop notes over sweet malt backbone.
Off to Bodegraven, NL now to the Brouwcafe de Mollen, situated under an old windmill. Down the street, the brewery is closed for the day, the brewers all off at a festival in Bamberg, Germany. But the cafe is open and one of the cafe’s owner/managers, Colin Hoeffnagel is open to our questions about de Molen‘s beers, the craft beer scene in Holland and what to have with his beers. We settle on local cheese, sausage and bitterballen to go with the day’s line up of tasty ales.
Op & Top (4.5%) a tasty bitter, smooth and dry; Hop & Liefde (4.8%) a citra hopped pale ale, long on bitterness, balanced malty architecture; Strum & Drang (5.8%) a sharp and strong Berlinerweisse, but nicely sour, wheaty, yeasty and still somehow light on the palate and amazingly flavorful; Hamer & Sikkel (5.7%) delicious, roasty porter, full bodied, smooth and creamy;
Glad I wasn’t driving as we got into these next few big hitters. Moi & Meedigenloos (10%) their imperial stout/quadruppel blend, the heaviness of roasted malt plus the sweet candi sugar rush of a Trappist, a dangerously big beer; so too Gel & Verdiemenis (10.2%) is their flagship imperial stout Hell & Damnation, an imperial stout, but with coffee and chocolate mixed onto the palate as rich nuances to a very complex brew; and finally Rasputin (18%), derived from a Russian Imperial Stout put through the Eisbock process, freezing and concentrating until the desired strength and flavour is achieved.
This was a wonderful mini tour of Dutch beer; some new beers from big breweries, some old favourites and many interesting, craft beers rising with the tide. And to discover the shared roots of brewing in Holland goes back through Belgium historically, well, it’s all come full circle now, hasn’t it, as new and old styles vie for shelf and tap space throughout the country. I’m off to Brussels now, to the annual Brussels Beer Weekend festival. Stay tuned.