Beer in Amsterdam
We decided to take a relaxing weekend break in Amsterdam to stroll around the canals, sit in cafes, and drink Dutch beer. And when I say Dutch beer, I don’t mean Heineken.
There are lots of great beer bars and beer-cafes in the capital of the Netherlands, with new ones popping up all the time or reinventing themselves. As well as the big names like Amstel, you can find micro-brewed Dutch beer, as well as bars that serve American beer, British ales and Belgian beer– a bit of everything really. So we decided to track down as many as time allowed.
The first pub we visited was In de Wildeman in the city centre, in the middle of a maze of narrow crowded streets off the main drag of Niewezidjes Voorburgwal. The pub was located on a busy strip with a coffee shop opposite and a Wok to Walk around the corner (a favourite place for noodles when in Amsterdam – yum). It was a Saturday night and the pub was pretty busy. We sat in the main bar and took in our surroundings.
It’s an attractive building with a tiled floor, lots of dark wood, and large windows. There are three areas in the pub –the main bar where we were sitting (the best spot), a raised level decorated with empty barrels, and a pretty, quieter bar around the other side. There were some casks on top of the bar serving Dutch real ale, as well as 18 taps and 250 bottles from the UK, US, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. A board above the door displayed a long list of beers available. It seemed that most beers were over 5% and were priced from €3.20 for 25cl, quite expensive compared to prices I’m used to in the UK (where presently it’s around £1.70/80 for a half pint in Cambridge). The Dutch don’t tend to drink beer in pint glasses – it’s generally the ‘vaasje’ size glass, the 25cl, which suits me fine. It’s only really tourists that drink pints.
I opted for a Ramses IBIS on draft at 5.3%, a Belgian style wheat beer – it wasn’t too bad, quite tasty with hints of peach. Not really one of my favourite styles though. @pintsandpubs had a Ramses Hop on cask at 6.6%, which I thought was much nicer – apparently pacific gem hops in there and peachy flavours but with an earthy element. We also tried a De Prael Doe Maar Hop on cask at 7%, which I really didn’t like. This amber scotch ale had a lovely hoppy aroma, but it’s a shame that this didn’t follow through with the flavour. It was very yeasty, some caramel, but a very odd element that I couldn’t put my finger on – it was like fresh hops gone sour. Not one for me. In fact, neither of us could finish it.
We moved out of the narrow streets to emerge back onto the main tram thoroughfare of Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal to seek out the Beer Temple. This is the only American beer bar in the city and has 30 beers on draft (not all of which are American) and over 60 US beers in bottles. The building was quite small, long, narrow, modern, and dimly lit, which is always nice. The beers were chalked onto a board above the bar, and the barman patiently waited while I told him that ‘we might be some time’. I tried a few beers, on a quest for something nice and hoppy, and one that he offered me turned out to be BrewDog’s 5am Saint, which I wasn’t going to turn down, but I explained that I wanted to try something different. There were beers from Flying Dog, Left Hand and Mikkeler, and they were selling beers in all sizes, from 15cl for barley wines such as Southern Tier’s Back Burner (€3.50) to 42 cl for Bridge Road’s Bling IPA at 5.8% (€9). Prices started at €3.50 for 25 cl of Leffe Blonde.
I ended up with a non-American beer after all that, a Weihenstephaner Pale Ale at 5.5%, which was OK, tasted of bananas, nothing particularly special. @pintsandpubs had a Mikkeller Sort Gul at 7.5%, an absolutely gorgeous black IPA. I have a bit of an internal battle with black IPAs at times, but this one was just great – nicely balanced, rounded, beautiful roasted smoky flavours with lovely Citra flavours. I should’ve gone for that one.
Just around the corner from the Beer Temple is a bottle shop called De Bierkoning. It had a massive selection of Dutch beers, Belgian beers, beer from the UK (BrewDog, Crouch Vale, Fullers, even The Kernel), the US, and the rest of Europe. The Dutch and Belgian beer was nice and cheap, with De Molen ranging from just under €2 to €5 a bottle. But the Mikkeller beer was still expensive – is there anywhere where you can find it for a decent price? We picked up some De Molen and more Dutch beer to take back to the apartment. Another cheap place for bottled beer is the local supermarket – the Albert Heijn in the Jordaan was selling La Trappe, Westmalle and Duvel for next to nothing, with some beer less than a euro per bottle. Bargain.
The next day after a stroll around the Red Light District we tracked down the Brouwerij de Prael‘s ‘Proeflokaal‘, or tasting room, tucked away in a little run-down alleyway (Oudezijds Armsteeg) behind the brewery itself which is located one of the main Red Light canals, Oudezijds Voorburgwal (at least it’s one of the main RL canals at the moment but things may change very soon around there – but that’s another story). This modern, light and airy tasting room has lots of exposed brickwork and tiles, dark wooden floors, 3 very different feeling levels, a tiled bar and shiny stainless steel taps. Some of the beers I wanted to try weren’t on, such as the Zwarte Riek, a milk stout, and the Nick 7 Simon IPA, but after several tasters from the very nice lady behind the bar I ended up with a Mary at 9.7%, a barley wine with strong orange and citrus flavours with a hint of coriander. It was beautiful, rich and warming. @pintsandpubs had a Johnny, a refreshing kolsch at 5.7%, a cloudy blonde beer with some spice, peach and lemon flavours, and quite yeasty. A nice amount of carbonation too. We sat in the comfy armchairs on the middle level with a candle on the table, overlooking the main bar and another bar at the back. A nice afternoon stop-off.
That evening we headed to Arendsnest, a bar that sells only Dutch beer and run by Peter van de Arend who set up the Beer Temple. This lovely bar, with its dark polished wood, sparkling glassware, smartly-dressed staff and cosy atmosphere, is situated on a quiet section of one of the lovely stately canals, Herengracht – blink and you’ll walk straight past the bar. There are over 30 taps and over 120 bottles to choose from. I perused the chalkboard, offering beers from the likes of De Molen, Jopen, T’Ij and Texels, and went for a Kompaan 20, a brewery from the Hague, at 5.2%. This beer was pleasant enough, inoffensive, nothing special – just light and sweet with banana flavours. I decided at this point that this was it for me with the plain blonde beers – I was getting a bit fed up with them. I tried a Texels Bock at 6.5 which others in the bar were drinking. It was dark amber and spicy but too sweet, so I ended up with a De 7 Deugden Bock + Spring, a deep dark bock with lots of spicy notes, a big foamy head, smooth and moreish. This was more like it. @pintsandpubs had a De Molen Engels, 4.5% – this amber beer from this fantastic brewery was as good as usual, with tropical hop flavours bursting out of the glass. This was followed by a Snab Pale Ale at 6.2%, with rich malt flavours, US hops and bitter finish. What a great bar.
We’d walked past De Bekeerder Suster, a brewpub, the previous day, and although it was on my list of bars to visit it didn’t entice us in and we headed elsewhere. However, the next day was cold, the two pubs we wanted to go to were closed, and we just so happened to end up back in that area near the Kloveniersburgwal canal. We were told this bar opened at 3, so we ended up back there at 2 minutes past. As well as selling beers from their own brewery such as Blonde Ros, White Ros and Manke Monk (a great sounding tripel) there were also beers from Heineken, Palm, La Chouffe, as well as lots of bottled Belgian beers and a handful from the US and Europe. We wanted to try one of their brews, so we both chose the beer of the month, Bock Ros, a lovely deep ruby bock beer at 6.5%, only available in autumn. This was a beautiful spicy beer, with caramel flavours, an aroma of demerera sugar, very smooth and quite sweet.
The building was lovely too, with the walls painted with artwork, dark brown wood, dim lighting, art deco lamps, glowing candles on every table (I like that about Amsterdam, candles lit even in the middle of the day) and shiny copper brewing vessels at the back of the pub, overlooked by a portrait of the Bekeerde Suster, or the Converted Sister. It just goes to show that appearances can be deceiving, as from the outside this place just looked like a regular cafe.
That evening on our way to eat in the Jordaan we stopped off on Prinsengracht at Het Bruine Paard, or brown horse. It was teeming with locals and we could hardly get to the bar – but we managed to order an Amstel Bock at 7% for about €4 each and took our drinks outside, overlooking the lovely canal. It was OK, not as good as the other bocks I had tried, and although it was creamy and sugary with lots of caramel flavours, it was slightly dull. Never mind. The setting was nice and it was good to see a bustling locals bar.
We had to fly home the following day, but before heading to the airport we found ourselves close to In de Wildeman again so thought it would be rude not to at least pop in for a quick drink. It was empty, completely different to our Saturday night there, and the casks had gone from on top of the bar. As soon as I spotted De Molen Vuur & Vlaam, 6.2%, on the board nothing else mattered – this is one of my favourite beers from this brewery, and I had only tried it from the bottle, never on draft – if there was one beer I hoped I’d find in Amsterdam, it was this one. What a find. It was full of big citrus hop flavours, yet mellow at the same time. A well-rounded, bitter-sweet beer which went down far too easily – so much so that another one was in order. @pintsandpubs had the Ayinger Celebrator at 6.7%, a dark, rich and roasted malt beer, with silky caramel liquorice flavours. But nothing could entice me away from the Vuur & Vlaam. A great way to finish off our trip.
So that was it, off home, but we unfortunately couldn’t take any beers back with us as we had hand luggage only – come on airlines, change the carry-on liquid allowance! It’s good to know that there are lots of great bars with decent beer worth visiting in Amsterdam – I’m missing them already…