An Ode to Beer in Holland
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.