An Ode to Beer in Hol­land

DINE and Destinations - - AMSTERDAM - By Stephen Beau­mont

For most trav­ellers, beer in Am­s­ter­dam be­gins with Heineken and ends with Am­s­tel, two sim­i­larly tast­ing brews not that far re­moved from the Cana­dian main­stream. For the vis­i­tor will­ing to dig a lit­tle deeper, how­ever, to walk a few more blocks or take the ex­tra tram ride, the city has much to of­fer. Long over­shad­owed by the fame of its leg­endary brew­ing neigh­bour, Bel­gium, craft beer in the Nether­lands has, over the last few years, fi­nally shown signs of com­ing into its own. More than just signs, in fact. To visit Am­s­ter­dam to­day is to wit­ness a beer scene ready to take its place on the world stage.

A sense of ex­actly what that means may best be gleaned from a barstool at the Arend­snest, a com­fort­able pub on the edge of the Jor­daan district, where some 180 draught and bot­tled beers are en­tirely Dutch in ori­gin. What’s more, you needn’t even do your beer home­work be­fore you go, since the highly knowl­edge­able bar­tenders at the Ea­gle’s Nest will be only too happy to guide you through their se­lec­tion of lo­cal pil­sners and pale ales, su­per-strength bar­ley wines and inky, bar­rel-aged Im­pe­rial stouts, per­haps ac­com­pa­nied by your choice of more than a dozen Dutch cheeses.

For an­other side of Am­s­ter­dam beer drink­ing, turn to Café Gollem, a com­pact, two-level bar near the Am­s­ter­dam Mu­seum. While less com­mit­ted to the Dutch ideal—like many Am­s­ter­dam drink­ing dens, it is more strongly Bel­gian in its beer fo­cus—this cozy, ramshackle wa­ter­ing hole stocks more than enough of­fer­ings to sat­isfy the “drink lo­cal” ide­al­ist.

If you’d rather find your beer at the source, a highly rec­om­mended first stop is found on the other side of town at the Brouw­erij ‘t Ij, the city’s orig­i­nal in­de­pen­dent craft brew­ery. Un­der the pro­tec­tive arms of a tow­er­ing wind­mill, the Ij has—for al­most 30 years—been de­light­ing lo­cals with ales as di­verse as the sweet­ish, blond Zatte, a strong beer of the tripel style, to newer of­fer­ings like the quench­ing, herbal and lemony IPA. Or try the Butcher’s Tears, a brew­ery so new that it doesn’t even yet have a brew­ery. Found in the Oud Zuid, or Old South district, the Butcher’s has its beers made, for now, un­der con­tract in Bel­gium, but they’re con­fi­dent their on­site brew­ery will be up and run­ning by the year’s end. In the in­terim, vis­i­tors can en­joy the flo­ral, cit­rusy Green Cap, or stronger, peachy-fruity Mis­ery King at the op­er­a­tion’s tast­ing room, open Wed­nes­day to Sun­day from 4 to 9 p.m.

For a so­cially aware brew­ery ex­pe­ri­ence, ven­ture to the Red Light District brew­ery, De Prael. Founded and still func­tion­ing as a char­i­ta­ble pro­ject to aid vic­tims of men­tal ill­ness, the brew­ery’s tast­ing room, opened in 2011, is a fine spot for a light lunch and a sam­pling of Bel­gian-in­spired ales, in­clud­ing a co­rian­der-ac­cented strong golden ale, Willeke.

Then again, you may only wish to ex­pe­ri­ence the Nether­lands’ world­fa­mous lager, in which case you’ll want to make your way to the dis­used city cen­tre brew­ery, now known as the Heineken Ex­pe­ri­ence.

Part brew­ing school and part beer-themed fun park, the Ex­pe­ri­ence is an at­trac­tion en­joyed by in ex­cess of 600,000 vis­i­tors an­nu­ally, and for good rea­son. Be­gin­ning with an in­ter­ac­tive Heineken his­tory, it segues nicely from beer in­gre­di­ents to the brew­ing process—in­clud­ing a multi-sen­sory adventure in which the au­di­ence be­comes the beer—ul­ti­mately end­ing with sports and video games, high pro­duc­tion value tele­vi­sion spots and, of course, the tast­ing room.

Hav­ing com­pleted your Ex­pe­ri­ence, cel­e­brate with an­other beer, this time at the nearby Café de Spuyt. Typ­i­cal of the tra­di­tional Am­s­ter­dam “brown bar” style, a pick from its se­lec­tion of more than 100 beers will bring to a per­fect end a visit that should, one way or an­other, change for­ever the way you think about Dutch beer.

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