“Euro Christmas 2010 Part II” is the latest episode of One Pint at a Time.
Our whirlwind European tour covered six cities in six countries over two weeks. The non-stop itinerary included two favorites: London and Dublin, two new cities: Hamburg and Copenhagen, and two that we wanted to explore further: Amsterdam and Brussels.
In this last installment, we explore the beer scenes of Amsterdam and Brussels as well as attending one of our favorite beer events, the Kerstbierfestival. And we deal with the joys of having our flight home canceled.
So enjoy our latest beer adventures in Europe…
For all the episodes of One Pint at a Time go to beergeekTV.
We awoke on our last day in Amsterdam to see the city covered in a nice blanket of snow. Living on the snow-free central California coast, we would normally be very excited for the opportunity to play in the fluffy white stuff, but on this morning, we were a bit worried. We were headed outside of Amsterdam to visit a couple of breweries and the weather was wreaking a bit of havoc with the trains.
We met Ferdinand at Amsterdam’s Central Station for the journey to Bodegraven, the home of Brouwerij De Molen (the Mill). The trains were a bit crazy and we had to use an alternate route. Luckily, we had Ferdinand with us and we made it to Bodegraven without too many delays. Pulling into the station, our excitement level rose as we could see the windmill a short distance away on the other side of the village.
Bodegraven was a winter wonderland as we walked through the town to get to the brewery. Kids played in the streets, throwing snowballs at each other. Meanwhile mothers out shopping towed their wee-ones and groceries on tiny sleds. We walked in the front door of the restaurant within a few minutes of leaving the train station.
In our time at De Molen, besides the occasional customer stocking up in the bottle shop, we were literally the only three people in the restaurant. A few staff were setting up for a 70 person beer dinner that evening in the main room, so they sat us in the the front room with a view of the main street leading to the brewery. In the cozy, warm room, we settled in for a leisurely lunch and beers.
I was excited beyond belief to be at De Molen. One of my high-anticipation breweries of the trip, I didn’t leave disappointed. There were six beers to try. Beginning with Vuur & Vlam, a brew that I had already fallen in love with. We moved on to two different Double IPAs and then a smoked beer, Zak & As (Sackcloth & Ashes).
Despite most of the beers being out of her comfort zone, Merideth did enjoy the first double IPAs and the fifth brew, the winter seasonal Piek & Ballen (‘piek’ is a Christmas tree topper and ‘ballen’ refers to ball ornaments). The final beer was the Bourbon barrel aged Bommen & Granaten (Bombs & Grenades). Already a massive Barleywine at 15% ABV, the barrel-aging gave it quite the kick.
The afternoon’s entertainment was provided by our by perfect view of the main road as it curved in front of the brewery. We watched with much amusement as bikes, scooters, motorcycles, cars and trucks tried to negotiate the snowy bend in the road. Some entered the curve with utmost confidence, while others looked like they would be better off if they closed their eyes. We stopped laughing after a car locked up it’s wheels and slowly slid into a street sign and sandwich board outside the window. No one was hurt, the car and signs weren’t even damaged. But we quickly imagined what would happen if that was a large truck.
Despite completely enjoying ourselves at De Molen, we had to head back to Amsterdam at some point. We settled our bill, departed our toasty sanctuary and headed back out into the snow for the walk back to train station.
Ferdinand had lined up one more brewery visit on the way back to Amsterdam. Getting off the train in the Haarlem, a city 20km from the Dutch capital, it was a 15 minute walk from the train station, which seemed long as we negotiated the icy streets to Jopen. We walked into a bustling brewpub with a number of large groups enjoying a few beers on a Friday night. Clearly, Jopen was the new, hip place to hang out in Haarlem.
Housed in a converted church, Jopen was one of the most impressive brewpubs we have ever seen. Shiny metal, stainless and copper, was everywhere. The main level housed the brewery, bar and main dining area. The copper clad brew kit sat in front of high church windows that dominated the room. A balcony level overlooks all the action below. Merideth’s favorite feature were the tapestries on the underside of the balcony, most likely there as a sound dampener.
On a recommendation of a friend, I began with Koyt, which turned out to be a Gruit. Not a huge Gruit-head, I could at least appreciate it as a well-crafted brew. Merideth began with the Gerstebier, a 4% ABV Blonde. Once I finished the Gruit, I returned to a beer I had the previous evening at Arendsnest, Jopen Hoppen. Their flagship brew, I just liked saying the name… Yo-pin Ho-pin. With a light body and a nice hop bite, the Hoppen packs a punch at 6.8% ABV.
Counting Jopen on the List was critical in achieving our goal of reaching 600 breweries by the end of the year. At this point of the trip with only a few breweries left on our target list, we had very little wiggle room. But there was one problem. The Jopen brewpub was brand new, being only open for a month. Until the in-house brewery was operational, the Jopen brews were still being brewed under contract. To count on the List, we need to try beer brewed on premise; even if it was just a sample out of the fermenter.
Late in our stay, we were joined by one of the brewers, Roel Wagemans. We unfortunately learned that they were still working out the kinks in the brewery and that the first batch was still still a week or two away. We’ll just have to make another trip to Haarlem on our next visit to Amsterdam.
[As a complete aside, Roel spent four years in Australia so he spoke English with an Aussie accent. An Aussie accent on a Aussie is strange enough… I kept having to shake my head to make sure I wasn’t having flashbacks from last December…]
Ferdinand had one more stop for us in Haarlem. We stopped at his friend’s, Atze and Willemijn, flat for dinner and a few beers. The home-cooked meal and the hospitality were greatly appreciated. But I think we were a little preoccupied by thoughts of getting to Brussels the following day.
It was with a bit of relief when our SAS flight from Copenhagen touched down in Amsterdam. We got out of Denmark just before a big storm hit and I don’t think we could have afforded (literally) to be stuck there for another day or two.
We were also very excited to be in the Dutch capital. Our previous visit in December 2008, we were in the city less than 24 hours. There for a Flogging Molly show, we hurriedly squeezed in our beer stuff, two breweries and two beer bars, into the short amount of time we had before the show. This trip, we were looking forward to a leisurely two plus days to explore.
Leisurely means having our hotel a few doors down from the legendary In de Wildeman Bier Café. After checking into our room late afternoon, we walked out our hotel door and into the bar without bothering to bundle up. Our plan was for a few beers, maybe a game of scrabble and then leave to get some dinner.
In de Wildeman was packed. Castle Rock Brewery, brewer of the Champion Beer of Britain at this year’s Great British Beer Festival, had three beers on cask. The numerous patrons were holding imperial pint glasses instead of fancy Belgian beer-branded stemware. We squeezed a space at the bar and ordered our first beers. I went with Castle Rock’s Black Gold while Merideth ordered La Trappe (Koningshoeven) Witte.
As they often do, our well-laid plans soon went awry. After a round or two of Christmas beers, we were able to secure a large table. We were quickly joined by five or six locals who became curious by our frequent videotaping. A conversation started and we soon learned they worked for an alcohol distributorship and were on their monthly (maybe quarterly) outing on the town. They have a game where each beer had to be higher than the previous in ABV. We semi joined the game. If you break the rules, the others choose the punishment. We tried to make the punishment that the offender had to buy us a beer. I’m not sure that worked, though.
For the next four hours, we had a great time with our new Dutch friends. Luckily, the game included a short dinner break. I did somewhat cheat following a 10% ABV Gouden Carolus X-mas with Castle Rock’s 3.8% ABV Harvest Pale. But it was the Champion Beer of Britain so I had to have a pint.
Our Dutch hosts introduced us to Gerookte Osseworst, a raw beef sausage. We’re not beef eaters, but we found it hard to turn down this local delicacy when offered. This version was slightly smoked (gerookte). It was quite good, tasting like a soft salami.
Also a first for us at In de Wildeman was the way in which Orval and other sedimented beers were served. They poured the beer clear in its serving glass and then emptied the yeasty bottom into a apéritif glass.
Our new friends finally called it a night and that was our signal that maybe we should pack it in too. After a short stroll through the red light district, we returned to our hotel room to rest up for our first full day in Amsterdam.
The following morning was cold, damp, rainy and a bit miserable. The worst weather for beer travelers who like to rely on their feet as the primary mode of transportation. All we could hope was that the rain would finally turn to snow. The beer stops on our day’s itinerary didn’t open until later in the afternoon, so we played regular tourists for the early part of the day.
We learned about the Amsterdam library from one of our new Dutch friends the previous night. He told us that there was a cafe on the top level with a good view of the city. Boy was he right! Even with the low hanging clouds, the panoramic views over the whole city were spectacular. And the cafe’s food court was excellent and pretty inexpensive. Well, everything seemed inexpensive after Copenhagen.
After a visit to the highly recommended Resistance Museum, we were ready to begin our beer portion of the day.
Brouwerij de Prael’s beer bar was located on the edge of the red light district around the corner from the the brewery and bottle shop (thanks to the bottle shop employee for showing us where it was). Pushing 3pm, Merideth and I needed that first beer to ward of the chills from walking in the rain all day. I began with the Willike, their Belgian-style Triple while Merideth first beer was the Heintje.
It was nice to finally to be back indoors, sitting down relaxing with a beer. As we sipped our second beers, Merideth had an Agent Kujan moment from the Usual Suspects when he is piecing together the tale Verbal Kint had weaved.
Decorating a good portion of the bar were albums, really cheesy looking albums. Merideth’s brilliant and correct observation was that the beer names were the same as the names on the album covers; Heinjte, André, Corry, Johnny, Nelis, Willy, Mary… De Prael’s beers were all named after Amsterdam pop stars.
Feeling quite proud of ourselves, we left De Prael and walked Amsterdam’s now snowy streets back towards our hotel. After a quick pit stop in our hotel room and a quick beer at In de Wildeman, we were off for our evenings entertainment.
Café ‘t Arendsnest was a five minute walk from our base. The home of Dutch beer was pretty much how I remembered it, endless gleaming, shiny copper. But this time it was nicely decorated for the holidays. We met our Dutch friend and fellow Flogging Molly fan Ferdinand who was going to be our guide for the evening and following day. They had just opened so it was easy to find a seat at the end of the bar.
Over a few rounds at Arendsnest, we caught up with Ferdinand who we hadn’t seen since Wolfie’s birthday party in July 2009. Even though we were visiting the brewery the following day, I opted for De Molen’s Vuur & Vlam (Fire & Flame), a beer I had the previous night at In de Wildeman (it’s that good). Merideth went with the SNAB Pale Ale, an American-style Pale Ale from a Dutch brewing collective. My last beer was De Molen’s Black Damnation, a blend of their Hel & Verdoemenis (Hell & Damnation) and De Struise’s Black Albert. A powerful brew at 13%, it reminded me a lot of Black Albert, having never tried Hel & Verdoemenis.
We finished our first full day in Amsterdam at Cafe Gollem #3, also known at Gollem’s Proeflokaal. Thankfully, we had Ferdinand there to guide us on the 20 minute walk from Arendsnest. The not-so-huge bar was packed with a younger set out on a Thursday night. To our delight, we did manage to get a seat at the bar.
My eyes widened like a kid in candy store when I saw, amongst their well-stocked Trappist bottle list, they had Westlveteren 8 and 12. Ignoring the 12 Euro price tag, I eagerly ordered the 8 (They must be prized even in Amsterdam because the bartender hands you the bottle cap). Merideth started with the Kasteel on draft.
Since we really hadn’t eaten since our first stop at the library, we needed some food. Merideth ordered fondue which was good despite oddly coming with celery. Ferdinand explained that celery is a good cheese scooping food item. Feeling a bit douchey, I went for a beer-food pairing moment. To go with my Westvleteren 8, I ordered Vlaamese stoverij, a Flemish beef stew. Again, not a beef eater, I felt of my meal choices, this was a menu item for my beer.
After a Boon Gueuze nightcap, Ferdinand led us back to our hotel. On the way, he showed us the original, now ‘temporarily’ closed, Café Gollem. We also passed the bottle shop landmarks Cracked Kettle and Bier Konig. Unfortunately, both closed were for the day (so much for bringing back some Westy).
Curiosity even had us checking out Beer Temple, Arendsnest’s sister and the American beer bar in Amsterdam. Despite there being a ton of American beers we don’t get in California, we wisely surmised we’d had enough beer for the day. After marveling the beer list and snapping a few photos, we continued our journey back to our hotel. Tomorrow we’d do it all again.
“Belgians, Trappists & Kerstbier” is the latest Year in Beer episode of One Pint at a Time.
With December being the last month for the Year in Beer, we wanted to make it a special one. And what can be more special than a beer tour of Belgium. We had two main goals for the trip: visit all seven Trappist breweries and reach 450 breweries. The Year in Beer culminated at the Kerstbierfestival, a Belgian Christmas beer festival in the town of Essen.
So enjoy our adventures in Belgium…
For all the episodes of One Pint at a Time go to beergeekTV.
With the Year in Beer now over, we would be remiss not to come up with a list of top 10 experiences from our amazing year. The original plan was to come up with a combined list, but within the first minute of discussion, it was clear that wasn’t going to work. So, here is my list not necessarily in order…
Our kind of festival where great beer, friends and conversation seem to be the focal point. Maybe the perfect end to the Year in Beer.
I still need to come up for a better name for our July-October stretch of the Year in Beer. In these months we went to four of the premier beer events in the world; Oregon Brewers Festival, Great British Beer Festival, Oktoberfest and Great American Beer Festival. A lot of beer geeks would be happy to make all four in their lifetime; we did it in consecutive months.
Anchorage in January
The first month for the Year in Beer and there was some worry about how it would turn out. Not only was Anchorage’s beer culture quite amazing, the community was so nice and welcoming. We couldn’t have started the year in a better fashion.
Cologne, Munich and Vienna
After the Bergkirchweih beer festival, we joined our friends Ute and Wolfgang for Flogging Molly shows on consecutive nights in Cologne, Munich and Vienna. Day one was Kölsch, day two was beer gardens with liters of beer and day three was our first visit to Vienna.
Hallertau Hop Tour One of the fringe benefits of the Year in Beer was that we got a tour of the Hallertau hop growing region by Anheuser-Busch’s European hop guy, Willy Buholzer. Thanks to Willy for being a great host and hop guide.
The Beer Bars
The Year in Beer gave us the opportunity to go to some of the best beer bars in the world… Toronado, Monk’s Cafe, Standard Tap, Brouwers, Falling Rock, Kulminator, Arendsnest, In de Wildeman, ‘t Brugs Beertje, Cafe Delerium, Liar’s Club, Cafe Amsterdam, O’Brien’s… to name a few.
Visiting All Seven Trappists
One of the main goals of our December trip was to visit all seven Trappist breweries. The worry was that in December, the six that were open to the public, would have limited hours or be closed. The beer gods were smiling down on us as we were able to visit all seven and drink the beer at the six that were open to the public.
One of the side trips we made during 2008. Big thanks goes out to the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation for inviting us out for Philly Beer Week. If they hadn’t, we would still be talking about someday we need to get to Philly. We knew about Monk’s Cafe, and it is truly amazing, but there is a lot more to Philadelphia’s beer scene than just Monk’s.
Seeing Our Friend Win Beer Drinker of the Year
Another 2008 side trip… Being into beer, for me, is not just about the beer, it is also about the great friendships you make. And to be on hand to see our friend, Matt Venzke, win Wynkoop’s Beer Drinker of the Year, was not only a great time but was worthy a Top 10 Year in Beer experience.
OK… this is probably number one. I got to spend the Year in Beer with my best friend and better half. It truly doesn’t get better than that.