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).
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.
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.
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.
I 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).
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.