One Bar, Two Beers and 40 Taps

Hello everyone and welcome to another People & Pints post! Almost, if not all, of my previous posts can be labeled a “success” in most people’s books; I set out to share beers and conversations with interesting people and I would argue that all of my posts have achieved that goal. However, last night I experienced “failure”–if I can call it that. I have previously addressed the challenges involved in taking up my mission to meet new people and drink new beer; it can be tough to enter a bar with the goal of striking up interesting conversations. There are times when people are unwilling to talk, when the bar is relatively empty, when others would rather keep to themselves. I experienced that last night.

I had a marvelous weekend last week as I visited my lovely friend Jess in Sevilla. The days that followed however were less than perfect. I developed a bit of a cold and felt generally down in the dumps for a few days–a result of the quick switch in climates is my hypothesis. Because of this, I entered the weekend a bit drained and without any concrete plans. This was the weekend that many had decided to take the trek to Munich for Oktoberfest. Some readers may wonder why someone who claims to have such a fondness for beer would pass up a trip to the annual celebration of all things beer. Unfortunately, I failed to make plans in advance and as prices rose to visit Oktoberfest, I had to ultimately turn down the prospect of that trip. Although I was a little disappointed, I noticed that a few restaurants and bars around Amsterdam were throwing their own Oktoberfest parties. The weather was beautiful (for Amsterdam): sunny with a slight chill in the air that was both comfortable and refreshing. So with a few friends I set out early Saturday afternoon and reached Amsterdam Roest. We decided to take our huge mugs by the water, where some beach chairs had been set up, and soak in the sun on this cool autumn day.

Amsterdam Oktoberfest

Amsterdam Oktoberfest

Ultimately though, I decided that last night, Sunday, would be the evening for my blog. I invited my friend Eli to accompany me but he turned it down saying the trip was too far for a Sunday night (it was only about 15 minutes on bikes). Although I teased him, I accepted his decision and went my way. It was dark out already but the day had been beautiful again so the night air only had a slight chill. To reach the bar I needed to bike through Vondelpark, one of the larger parks in Amsterdam. As I biked through the park, dark and empty, I looked up at the sky and noticed how many stars could be seen. It was really beautiful and I paused for a moment on my trip to take it in. After another two minutes I arrived at my destination, Craft & Draft.

40 taps!

40 taps!

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Brutus

Craft & Draft only recently opened its doors–early this past spring to be precise. I believe that it also happens to have the most taps in Amsterdam at 40. I asked the bartender and she agreed but said she wasn’t 100% sure. I settled in at the bar next to some very boisterous Dutch men and ordered my drink. I had asked the bartender for some suggestions, which was a bit of a tough query, I admit. So she asked what type of beer I generally go for. “Anything really,” I admitted with a laugh, “but I usually go for ambers or something with some color.” It is very difficult to narrow down my preferences but I noticed that there were a few Amber/ Red ales so I decided I would ask for her suggestion. She nodded and let me sample one that she said was “very popular.” It was the Brutus Amber Ale from Brouwerij Maximus, a brewery from the Netherlands. It had a strong aroma with malt scents and was a deep red in color. It drank smoothly with hints of caramel and even some chocolate, I believe, in the finish.

I sat scribbling in my notebook and looking around the bar. There weren’t many people, only a couple of men at the bar and a few groups at tables but as I continued drinking the Brutus, people gradually left. At this time I decided to chat with the bartender and learn a little bit about this new bar. She informed me that their draft list changes whenever a beer is out. I asked if they usually return to the same brewery for replacements. “No,” she answered, “not necessarily. There are definitely some breweries we return to but sometimes we change it up.” They had a few American beers on tap including Stone, Samuel Adams and Brooklyn and so I assumed, because those are larger, more popular breweries, those would be ones that are often served at Craft & Draft. I also took a look at their schedule and they have several beer tastings coming up so I’m sure those beers will likely be featured as well.

Inner sanctum

Inner sanctum

One of the more interesting things about Craft & Draft is their shop; not only do they have a full bar (let me repeat 40 taps!), they also have a beer shop with bottles to take. I had used the beer shop before when I was around Vondelpark and really enjoyed the selection. I also found out that they have a very interesting system. The beer shop is inclosed in glass walls, separate from the bar, and at 10 pm they close the doors while the bar stays open. Apparently, according to Amsterdam’s liquor licensing, they cannot sell beer to take after 10 so they have to lock up the shop then. Craft & Draft is also one of the only bars in Amsterdam to serve growlers, mugs of beer from the tap, which one can buy and take away, but only because of their beer shop. Again, Amsterdam’s liquor licensing is quite strict so bars often don’t sell growlers to take away but, at Craft & Draft, the customer orders and the bartenders fill the growlers at the bar but then they are brought into the beer shop, the inter sanctum, and sell it to the customer there. It’s a very clever loophole and something I found incredibly interesting. It is also a great way to make Craft & Draft unique.

Arctic SunStone

Arctic SunStone

After some time I moved on to my second drink. I was deciding between two, an Italian scotch ale and an APA collaboration from a Danish and an American brewery. Ultimately I opted for the Arctic SunStone APA from Amager Bryghus in Denmark and 3 Floyds Brewing Co. from Indiana, US. The beer is a limited draft so I decided to go for it. The hops and the bitterness came through in the aroma while there was a slight but distinct fruitiness in the taste, specifically grapefruit and other citruses. It was a very refreshing American Pale Ale and a great choice.

I sat, still on my own, enjoying my delicious beer. I noticed that a couple had walked in with two dogs; although in America one would never come across pets in a bar, this is a pretty normal occurrence in Amsterdam. I continued to chat with the bartender who was very engaging and, as the bar was mostly empty, seemingly happy to indulge my questions. The bartender shared that because they are indeed a new bar they would be confronting their first Amsterdam winter. I didn’t realize this would be a significant milestone but apparently business can fluctuate as the weather gets colder. I assured her that Craft & Draft seemed “unique enough” to set it apart from other bars. As I paid, I revealed that I am an exchange student from America and she asked what I was studying. “English,” I happily responded, “so literature while I’m here.” I shared that I enjoy writing and she seemed pretty happy with my answers. I was also eager to explain how I had enjoyed the craft beer culture in the city and she agreed with a smile, “you picked the right place.” I think she was referring to Amsterdam but it was just vague enough that I could assume she meant Craft & Draft as well.

Although I didn’t have the evening I was necessarily hoping for, I did have a nice night drinking delicious craft and having a warm conversation. There wasn’t anything particularly revelatory shared between us but my knowledge of the beer culture in Amsterdam was expanded by one bar, two beers and 40 taps.

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Buenas Cervezas, Grandes Conversaciones

Hello all and welcome to this week’s People & Pints! This past weekend I was lucky enough to visit my wonderful friend Jess, who is studying in Sevilla, Spain. Jess is also from Boston College and I was incredibly excited to travel to Sevilla and see her. I did minimal research beforehand, attempting to arrive with as little preconceived notions as possible, though I did manage to add one thing to the weekend’s agenda; in the spirit of this blog, I decided to find out whether there is any craft beer in this city in southern Spain. Spain is more known for its wine than its beer so I assumed the options were limited. However, I managed to find a bar that served what craft beer so with that knowledge in hand, I eagerly set out for my weekend in Sevilla.IMG_3122

As soon I stepped off the plane, I couldn’t help let a smile stretch over my face. The journey to reach Sevilla was a relatively long one. I flew out of Eindhoven, another major city in the Netherlands, which is about a two hour train ride from Amsterdam. From the train station I then had to take a shuttle from the station to the airport. Finally, I sat through another two hour plane ride and arrived in Spain. The trip wasn’t particularly arduous but it was a bit draining switching through all these modes of transportation. Nonetheless, I arrived beaming and breathing in the warm Sevilla air. After a shuttle ride into the center of the city, I was greeted by Jess and her roommate Claire, who is from Wisconsin and was really wonderful. They showed me around the city as we walked to my Airbnb. My first impressions were that Sevilla has quite a bit of vegetation and is very quaint; there were palm trees lining most of the main streets and, despite the fact that Sevilla is a significant city, it had the feel of simply a large town. In that regard I suppose it was quite like Amsterdam.

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View from the Metropol Parasol

We arrived at the apartment in which I would
be staying for the weekend and were greeted by Nuria Maria, who was renting the room out to me. She welcomed the three of us genially, though she had to nervously double check that only I would be staying, not me and the two girls. Up until this point we had been speaking Spanish, though at one point, and I can’t remember why, she switched to English and I asked if she spoke fluently. She seamlessly switched to English for the remainder of the conversation, able to swap between Spanish and English when needed. She revealed that she is a flamenco dancer and that she had taught dance in Amsterdam for about 15 years, which was quite a funny connection. After I announced that my mother is from Buenos Aires, Nuria Maria told us, happily, that she has danced there before and that she was in the process of arranging a trip to Argentina to dance. She continued to chat with us for a few minutes and then I
remembered that I had brought something for Jess and Claire, but was happy to share with Nuria Maria as well. Her eyes lit up, knowingly, as I pulled out a bag of stroopwafel and told my friends about this Amsterdam delicacy. We all enjoyed a stroopwafel and bid “hasta luego” to Nuria Maria. That evening was spent mostly just wandering the city and sampling a few tapas. The night was beautiful and we decided to take in a view of the city from the top of the Metropol Parasol, the largest wooden structure in the world. Later in the evening, we joined some other American students and enjoyed the Sevilla nightlife.IMG_3169

Real Alcazar

Real Alcazar

Cathedral of Sevilla

Cathedral of Sevilla

The next day was spent exploring the main attractions of the city including the Cathedral, the Alcázar and the Plaza de España. It was a hot day, which was something I hadn’t experienced for quite a while in Amsterdam, but it was still lovely. The Cathedral was enormous and we climbed la Giralda, which had a marvelous view of the city. The Alcázar was gorgeous, with lovely flowers, fountains and amazing architecture. Lastly the Plaza was very serene and we decided to rent a row boat to take on the little river. After we spent a large portion of the day walking, we took a much needed siesta. I realized the idea of taking a siesta is what truly sets Spanish culture apart from many others. Spaniards, and I suppose Mediterraneans in general, have a reputation for being a bit more laid back. Meals are often much later than they would be in America; we didn’t have “dinner” the previous night until about 9:30. More than that, punctuality isn’t necessarily as prized a virtue as it would be in the states, or in Amsterdam for that matter. Even the way people greet each other, with warm, friendly kisses on each cheek, demonstrates the informal, welcoming and cordial way the culture functions. Sevilla’s culture, though it has heavy Muslim influences, is quite particular. Amsterdam has a very rich history, but it is comprised of a variety of cultures through years of conquest and colonization. Nonetheless, there are still several similarities between my new home, Amsterdam, and Sevilla. In Amsterdam, locals greet each other with three kisses on the cheek and like Sevilla, the city is accessible and walkable.
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Plaza de Espana

Plaza de Espana

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Maquila Bar

Maquila Bar

Another significant similarity, though perhaps not as clear, I discovered later that evening. Jess and I were joined by two of her friends, Lauren and Shirley, both also from America. We decided to try a few restaurants and bars for dinner and drinks. It was then that I suggested we try the craft beer bar, Maquila, that I had discovered in my limited planning. Although, craft beer isn’t as big of an industry as it is becoming in Amsterdam, there is nonetheless a similar culture of imbibing. Dutch are quite fond of cozy, “gezellig” locales to drink delicious beer and chat for the evening. People in Sevilla do much the same, though usually with a pitcher of Sangria. However, in Maquila, I was happy to find a delicious glass of beer and engage in warm conversations with Jess, Lauren and Shirley. We chatted about favorite foods, where we were from and a range of topics that lasted long after we left Maquila. I had a glass of SON Compañía Cervecera, the house brewery; I tried the SON Mayo 15:37, which was a fantastic saison with hints of ginger and citrus. As we left, I worked up the courage to ask the bartender, who had spoken a bit of English to us, some questions about the bar. My knowledge of Spanish does not yet include craft beer vocabulary and neither did the bartender’s English. He did manage to reveal that they were in the brewing a strong stout for the “colder” weather. He also shared that production was relatively small and I responded that that fact probably made the beer feel more local and undoubtably more tasty. He agreed with a smile and asked why I was so curious. I couldn’t formulate an eloquent, articulate response but I did manage to reply, “estoy estudiando en Amsterdam y las cervezas son muy bonitos allí.” After I said Amsterdam, the bartender smiled and nodded and then affirmed, “son fantasticos.” “Pero,” I continued, “estos son fantasticos tambien.” The bartender laughed and thanked me as I left with my friends. We tried a few other restaurants for more tapas and eventually wished each other goodnight.

SON Mayo 15:37 Saison

SON Mayo 15:37 Saison

Perfectly Timed

Perfectly Timed

My last day in “Sevilla” was actually spent on a beach in Portugal. Praia de São Rafael was beautiful and absolutely necessary after weeks of chilly days in Amsterdam. The water was a bit cold but I didn’t mind and I was happy to get a bit sunburned, soaking in the warm sun. The most amazing part of the day was when Jess, Claire, Nicole (their friend who also happens to be from Boston College) and I climbed one of the incredibly tall rock structures that marked the end of the beach to take in some breathtaking views. It was absolutely stunning atop these mounds of compacted sand, shells and rock. We descended on the other side to feel the water as it crashed against the side of this structure. We struggled upwards and reached the high point to sit and breathe in the fresh sea air and look out over the horizon. Before long we had to return to Sevilla and then next morning I bid goodbye to this beautiful city. My girlfriend Rosa at one point jokingly asked me when I told her how much I liked Sevilla, “What? Better than Amsterdam?!” I laughed and said, “No, they are just very different.” I love life in Amsterdam, but Sevilla was pretty great as well.
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San Diego Beers and Broken Bikes

Hello everyone and welcome to People & Pints! I know I’ve written a post for this week already but I think the events of Tuesday night are worth mentioning. In the past few weeks I’ve had the chance to experience the beer culture in Amsterdam and it has been both eye-opening and enjoyable. Last night I was given a look into how American craft fares in a European city. The founder and the brewmaster of Coronado Brewing, a craft brewing company from San Diego, joined forces with BeerTemple, a bar in Amsterdam that sports a large variety of American craft beers, to host a small meet & greet as well as a tasting. I had never experienced an event like this so I was more than happy to sacrifice my Tuesday evening for a night of conversations and beer.

I was joined by a few American friends, Eli, Jon, Maddie, Noam and Kylee, from my apartment complex for this excursion. As we arrived and began locking up our bikes, two men walked past speaking English. One was wearing a Coronado Brewing hat so I eagerly asked, “are you guys with Coronado?” The men turned and, seemingly just as eagerly, affirmed my guess. We introduced ourselves to Rick Champam, the co-founder, and Ryan Brooks, the brewmaster, as we entered the bar. After some small talk we made our way to the area reserved for the tasting and sat down in a booth. We were joined by a man from England, Dave, who I assumed would be a bit annoyed to be surrounded by a bunch of American college students but he seemed to enjoy the evening with us. Rick and Ryan introduced themselves to the small group of us (there were around 15-20 people total) and Rick gave a brief history of the brewery. Rick, and his brother, opened Coronado Brewing as a small brewpub in 1996 at a time when there were only 6 other breweries in San Diego. “Now,” Rick announced, “there are about 120.” In the past few years, as the craft beer culture in America has grown, Coronado has expanded rapidly. In 2013/2014 they produced about 25,000 barrels of beer and this past year they brewed 40,000. Rick then handed the reigns over to Ryan as we sampled the first beer.

Rick and Ryan

Rick and Ryan

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Islander IPA

The Islander IPA was the first beer on the list and was very tasty. Ryan said it was a typical “west coast IPA,” light and low in caramel malt. He explained that the beer was brewed with Columbus and Chinook hops. Rick was proud to announce that at the 2014 World Beer Cup, the Islander IPA had won gold in one of the categories.

Following the IPA was the Silver Strand Saison, which was again light in color and very drinkable. Ryan said it had been brewed with a significant amount of wheat and spices, “with notes of coriander.” This beer was brewed at a very high temperature producing a lot of fermentation. The Silver Strand was my personal favorite of the night.

In the middle of the list was the Mermaid Red, a red ale which was much darker in color than the previous two. “This is brewed with British Crystal malt and German black barley,” Ryan explained. It had a very interesting aftertaste and Ryan clarified that there was also a bit of chocolate and that definitely was clear lingering after a sip. Rick added, “this is an English take on an American Amber.”

The penultimate beer was their Idiot, another IPA. The Idiot was darker and very hoppy, “a double IPA,” Ryan revealed. “It is brewed with 5 different varieties of hops.” It had notes of caramel and had a drier finish. Rick then explained the backstory for the name. After brewing this IPA, which has a higher ABV than the Islander, a few of the brewers sat down to drink it. After having a few glasses, one left to go to the bathroom and when he returned announced, “Damn, i feel like an idiot after just two.” So, the name stuck.

Blue Bridge Coffee Stout

Blue Bridge Coffee Stout

Lastly, we sampled the Coronado Coffee Stout named Blue Bridge. The stout was dark in color with a low head and was significantly lighter than expected. With an ABV at 5.4%, the Englishman Dave joked that if it were an actual coffee, it’d be pretty weak. Ryan said that there was actually a lot of coffee used, “about a half pound of coffee per keg…with a blend of Sumatran, Ethiopian and Central American coffee.”

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BeerTemple

Although it sounds like I only spent the night drinking, the reason I enjoyed the event so much was because of how engaging Rick and Ryan were. The backstories and explanations were much appreciated and between each tasty they talked with everyone and asked for our opinions. “So what do the college kids think about this one,” was a question posed by both Rick and Ryan after a few of the beers. We couldn’t really find anything to complain about but they were happy to chat. We found that Rick’s daughter would be starting university this year and he was excited to talk about our experiences back home at university and while we study abroad here. I also got to chat with Dave who is working in Amsterdam. He also loves to homebrew on the side, so he elaborated about his experiences with trying to brew his own beer. “You never really know what you’re going to get,” he noted with a smile. Although the beer was great the intimacy of the event was even better. The tasting was also catered by Keekas, who provided fantastic salsas, guacamole and chips. The Mexican style paired well with the SoCal beer.

The night was nearly perfect and we left the bar extremely happy. We had had wonderful conversations and I was excited to hear about the brewing process as well as the success of international distribution. Rick shared that about 9% of Coronado’s annual sales were international. I also asked, as Rick was making his final rounds, what differences in craft he sees between east and west coast in America. He said the style as well as the availability of ingredients could create major differences but he admitted that it doesn’t necessarily restrict beer on either coast. “Massachusetts is one of our best markets,” Rick explained with a laugh. I was really happy how much Rick enjoyed talking about craft beer–particularly the scene in Boston, which is what I’m most familiar with.

As I said, the night was nearly perfect. I walked outside to find the front wheel of my bike unattached to the rest of the frame. I didn’t think that much of it, a relatively easy fix, until I noticed that someone had broken the lock in an attempt to steal my bike. However, instead of just stealing it, the would-be thief decided to leave my bike a mangled mess. After a long time attempting to reconnect the wheel, we managed to make it “rideable.” Amsterdam is notorious for its bike thieves and this was a lesson not to get too attached to my bike. The warmth of the beer and the evening stuck around regardless, as I road home on my broken bike.

A Little Bit of Boston in Amsterdam

Hello all and welcome to this week’s People & Pints post! The past week was a relatively standard and uneventful one following my exciting trip to Brussels, but yesterday proved to be lovely and definitely worthy of a post. My day started with a delicious brunch at Bakers and Roasters, a spot that is quickly becoming a personal favorite. I had tried it a few weeks earlier with my wonderful girlfriend, who was visiting, but this time I decided to invite a few friends and show off B&R. The forecasted rain thankfully was nowhere to be seen so with full bellies, we decided to journey into the north of Amsterdam and peruse a market. I had never seen such a complex and strange flea market as the IJ-Hallen in Amsterdam-Noord. After meandering through the various stands peddling old clothes, toys, books, knick-knacks and more, I quickly returned to the city center to grab my bike and head to a tour of one Amsterdam’s more well-known breweries: Brouwerij ‘t IJ (the ‘t is short for “het” so the brewery is “het IJ” pronounced “et eye,” more or less).

Huevos Rancheros, Bacon and a Strawberry Collins

Huevos Rancheros, Bacon and a Strawberry Collins

I have to preface my experience at ‘t IJ quickly by explaining that the previous two times I had attempted to buy a ticket for the tour, it had been sold out. Tickets could only be purchased on the day of and the English tour sold out incredibly quickly. I was determined to arrive an hour and a half before the tour began, but a delay on the ferry and a problem with my bike set me back. Finally, dripping in sweat and with greased hands from hastily fixing my bike (and a greased forehead I found out later), I purchased my ticket and happily plopped myself down on a stool at the bar.

Wall of bottles

Wall of bottles

As I sat patiently waiting for the tour and trying to cool myself down, a young man and woman, having asked if the seat next to me was available, joined me at the bar. I overheard the couple speaking English and smiled as they tried to decide if they should have a beer flight. During one of my previous attempts to secure a ticket for the brewery tour I had tried the flight and was happy to recommend it. The woman asked, undoubtably recognizing my American accent, where I was from. After I confirmed their suspicions I returned the question to find they were from Boston. “Boston?” I excitedly repeated back, “I go to school at Boston College!” Not only was this couple from Boston but they lived in Brighton, which would make us basically neighbors. I was both stunned and happy to hear this news and began to chat as I waited for the tour.

Kevin and Emily are both pharmacists and were finishing their vacation through Europe, having stayed in Berlin and Prague already. I was happy to hear that they enjoyed their time in Amsterdam though the three of us also reminisced about Boston and Kevin joked that he was disappointed he couldn’t find a bar to watch the Patriots game. As the time passed, I asked if they would be joining me on the tour of the brewery and they said they would pass. Kevin explained they had been on a brewery tour already in Amsterdam and were happy just to sit at the bar. He continued that Boston had plenty to offer in terms of brewery experiences with Sam Adams as well as plenty of other smaller options. I agreed, but admitted that because I was underage in America this would be my first chance to experience a brewery tour. They recognized that it was a novelty and urged me to enjoy it.

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Arjen explaining the science behind brewing

I was surprised to find the space behind the bar and tasting area rather small, until the tour guide shared that the beer brewed here was only used for this location. “We have another brewery a few kilometers down for distribution. Between the two we produce about 2.3 million liters a year.” The ‘t IJ beer is sold all around the Netherlands now and is known as one of the more popular dutch beers. It began much differently though. The brewery was started by a “punk rocker” named Kasper, the tour guide explained. “Kasper wanted to bring the delicious beer from Holland’s neighbors, Germany and Belgium, back to Amsterdam.” He was tired of the industrial, tasteless beer and wanted to bring back the artisanal craft of Amsterdam’s beer that had been interrupted by the World Wars. Homebrewing was illegal at the time but Kasper was squatting down the street from the Heineken factory–the only official brewery in Amsterdam–and, ironically, the smell that wafted down the street masked his own production. Finally Kasper needed to expand. He settled on what had been an old bathhouse next to a windmill and set up shop. “The existing plumbing and drainage made it easy to brew and the tiled floors were easy to clean,” the tour guide stated. He then began to explain the process of brewing beer, letting us smell the hops used in the brewery’s IPA and giving us a sample of grains to taste. “The process is really scientific,” he said, and he wasn’t lying. Brewing beer takes a lot of effort and attention. “The brewmaster needs to create the perfect balance of ingredients for the beer to be tasty,” our tour guide said with a smile as we ended the tour.

IMG_3038I stopped our guide to ask him a few questions as we returned to the bar. I introduced myself and he told me his name was Arjen, or at least that’s what I heard. The bar was rather noisy and I didn’t ask him to write down his name so if I misheard him I hope he isn’t offended (not that I expect him to read this). I was interested if there were any seasonal beers in production and he confirmed that there were a few bocks (German, dark lager) nearly ready to be served. I told him I was from America and we talked about the growing industry of craft beer. I then asked if there were any plans to export ‘t IJ overseas. He shook his head sympathetically, recognizing the slight disappointment in my face, and said that though the brewery is growing, there weren’t any plans to ship the beer to America. “I think it would take away from some of the local flavor if we shipped to the US,” Arjen admitted. I understood what he meant; by joining the ranks of other huge corporations that ship their beer around the world, ‘t IJ might loose the sense of community. I thanked Arjen, who then asked if I lived in Amsterdam. “Yea, I’m studying here for the semester.” “Oh good, so I’ll see you soon then,” he said with a laugh! I agreed and I do hope to see him again (and perhaps confirm his name).

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Amber Ale

The ticket for the tour included a complimentary drink and I had to make my decision. I have tried ‘t IJ’s beer at different bars and restaurants around the city so I opted for one I hadn’t had: their new Amber Ale. The amber ale was hoppy with a strong caramel flavor, giving the beer it’s rich color.

I then returned to my Boston friends, who were now chatting with a man from South Africa. I found out that the man was bringing his concept for a large, all-inclusive market, Yada Yada, to Amsterdam from Cape Town. “It has everything,” he shared enthusiastically, “live music, good food, craft jewelry and clothes. You can spend a whole day there!” I shared that I was studying here and I let him know that I would be attending the opening day of the monthly market, November 1st. Kevin and Emily also promised to look for space in Boston for Yada Yada and I said I would join in the search when I returned. After he left, I continued to talk with Kevin and Emily about my interest in writing and journalism, my plans for traveling and how I wouldn’t mind living in Boston after graduating. I also mentioned how I had found a few similarities between Amsterdam and Boston. Emily then caught me off guard when she asked, after a pause in our conversation, if I were homesick. I thought for a few moments and said that I felt more or less comfortable in Amsterdam, “but on days when things go wrong, when I have a bad day, that’s usually when I miss home.” I’m lucky enough to talk to my family pretty frequently but, as I alluded to in last week’s post, Amsterdam is now another home. Eventually, I parted ways with Kevin and Emily, who were kind enough to allow me to include them in my blog. “As long as you say nice things,” Emily teased. “No, I want honest reporting from you,” Kevin chided. “Well,” I responded with a laugh, “I don’t think it’ll be hard to do both.”

The brewery’s slogan, which is printed on every bottle, offers wonderful advice which I think is apt for this specific post. The logo on the bottle features an ostrich beside an egg with a windmill in the background. “Leef met je kop omhoog” it reads. “Live with your head up.” I’m glad I decided to keep my head up and meet some fantastic people. Kevin and Emily were lovely and I hope that, when I return to Boston in the spring, we can meet for another beer.

A Bizarre Day in Brussels

Hello everyone and welcome to another People & Pints post! This post will highlight my first excursion outside of Amsterdam as I traveled to nearby Brussels, Belgium. Amsterdam, and the Netherlands in general, is beautifully situated in–essentially–central Europe making travel quite easy. I hadn’t made any significant plans, when–during the middle of the week–my good friend Eli (featured in week one of People & Pints) invited me to join him and a few friends on a weekend trip to both Antwerp and Brussels. I couldn’t commit to a full weekend, so I decided to just make a day trip to Brussels and invited a few other friends. As far as I can remember, I have never made such spontaneous plans for a day of travel. I was very excited and, though I had failed to perform much preliminary research, I thought it would be a fun day.

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Getting lost outside of Brussels

The trip was indeed exciting and definitely fun, but the best word to describe the day is truly bizarre. I’ll quickly preface this story just to introduce my friends who joined me on this trip: Eliza, Sophie and Gabby. Eliza, who is also from New Jersey, and Sophie, who is from Australia, were both in my Orientation Group. Sophie had introduced our group to Gabby (also from Australia) who was wonderful and is now essentially a part of that group. Gabby said something poignant as we were walking around early in the day, “I am on a trip to another country with strangers.” It caught me off-guard but was essentially true! I am so happy that these strangers decided to join me on my journey and through the various ups and downs of our day we got to know each other very well.

The day started early as we boarded the bus to head to Brussels. The night before we had decided to risk joining the rest of our orientation group at a party and we were quite exhausted the morning of our trip. So almost immediately after the bus left our eyes shut and we slept through the brief trip to Brussels. We awoke to a shining sun at Brussel-Noord and no wifi. We knew we had to be pretty close to the city center but I blame what happened next on our empty bellies. We decided to walk in what looked like the right direction only to find closed stores and empty streets. We were on a main street and in the distance saw buildings that resembled museums so we continued to walk until we could find a restaurant. We settled on a small cafe that was both open and offered free wifi: our two requirements. When we sat down in Scenario, apparently a nightclub and restaurant, we realized that we had walked 35 minutes west of Brussels. After filling up, we decided to call an uber and made it back into the center of Brussels.

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“I don’t really get it”

The rest of our day was spent mostly wandering around without a particular plan. I decided to explore the Belgian Comic Strip Center, which was very interesting. We managed to find some delicious macarons, waffles and french fries to sate our appetite for Belgian food. Afterwards, we saw Manneken Pis, which is perhaps Brussels’ biggest draw. Sophie summed up that experience perfectly as she commented, “I don’t really get it.” The center of Brussels was bustling with people but as we wandered a few blocks away the streets were once again empty. We all agreed that it was strange that a city would be so quiet but we still enjoyed the walk. We found Notre Dame du Sablon and quietly enjoyed the grand interior as we lIMG_3011istened to part of a French mass. Down the street, we stumbled upon a beautiful view over the city and we audibly wondered how we had walked to such great heights but no matter, the panorama was lovely.

As we walked, Eliza pointed out something interesting about the city: it had small elements of other European cities. Some of the streets reminded us of an Italian village or the large park we sat in, Parc de Bruxelles, looked like it could have been in a Parisian postcard. We really enjoyed meandering through the quaint streets all around the city but continued to recognize how odd the city was. Every little neighborhood looked beautiful but was more or less empty. Perhaps it was because we could only compare it to Amsterdam, but, for better or worse, Brussels certainly was much less exciting. Brussels was absolutely enjoyable and I am very happy that we went but it was vastly different from Amsterdam.

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Day quickly passed into evening and we eventually sat down, tired but happy, in a small, warm bar in the center of Brussels. We appropriately capped off an interesting day with an interesting evening as we sat in La Bécasse, which we almost missed. La Bécasse is truly a whole in the wall; we almost walked right past it barring a bright neon sign. This tiny cafIMG_3024e was rustic and quite charming but featured a curt waiter who either wasn’t able to or didn’t care to speak much English and seemed annoyed with my question of “recommendations?” Nonetheless, I settled on a Chimay Blanche which was a refreshing, yet tasty Tripel.  We spent the time marveling at this strange cafe in this strange city. It was as I sat warming myself in La Bécasse that I realized this whirlwind of a trip indeed managed to bring Eliza, Sophie, Gabby and myself together. From opposite ends, two people from New Jersey and two people from Australia managed to spend a day in Brussels. We made it back to the bus eventually, having enjoyed our day but exhausted and happy to be on our way home (did I just say home?).

As strange as I’ve made Brussels sound, this trip was really fantastic and served several purposes. It brought me closer to some wonderful friends and it managed to make Amsterdam truly feel like home. I had felt extremely comfortable being in Amsterdam before this trip but it was the act of returning to the city–after exploring somewhere new–that was truly revelatory.