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.