Hello all and welcome to another People & Pints post! This week I was able to play host as my friend Andrew, who is spending the semester studying at the University of Edinburgh, visited Amsterdam. So far I have been lucky enough to spend a day in Brussels and a weekend in Sevilla, but this was my first time showing someone around my city. I was certainly excited to welcome a friend and Andrew came prepared with an itinerary, so we had plenty to do. Soon after Andrew arrived–and when I mentioned my blog–he admitted to me that he wasn’t much of a beer person. I joked that Amsterdam might change that. I had a great time with Andrew and we were able to sample some delicious beer. This weekend I was actually lucky enough to have two People & Pints experiences (whereas last week I mostly struck out)! I certainly enjoyed the weekend and I hope Andrew did too!
Andrew’s visit to Amsterdam included a few trips to museums, pastry shops and some great restaurants; the days were packed and we managed a great deal of walking/biking. On Friday, we decided to tour the Heineken Experience, an immersive trip through Heineken’s past and present. As a craft beer enthusiast I was a little reluctant; I knew this might be an act of sacrilege. I went into the tour expecting it to be entertaining and informative, as well as commercial–and I wasn’t wrong. We learned about the history of the company, which is still ‘family-owned,’ and the beer production. It was a good lesson in how a small, local operation turns into an enormous corporation. At one point Andrew asked how I thought this compared to the small breweries. After some thought I could really only answer that “it’s just different.” The tour of Brouwerij ‘t IJ was intimate and charming but the Heineken Experience was still enjoyable. There were a lot of interactive features and we had fun, despite the corporate and self-congratulatory nature of it all.
That evening, though, I told Andrew I would show him what craft beer in Amsterdam is really like. I decided I would take Andrew to Cafe Gollem, a chain of small craft beer bars spread throughout the city. I had been to a location down the street from my apartment several times and in a lot of ways it captures the cozy, gezellig atmosphere of a typical Dutch locale. “It’s a really cool spot. Usually quiet and good for just hanging out, talking and having some good beers,” I assured Andrew. We arrived and it was packed with people. No matter though, we ordered our drinks and sat outside enjoying the cool Autumn air. I settled on a bottle of Orval Trappist Ale from Abbey d’Orval in Belgium. It was a delicious Pale Ale with a strong aroma and intense flavor with various herbs and citrus notes. Andrew opted for a bottle of Dodo from Oedipus Brewers, one of my favorite Amsterdam breweries. I’ve had the Dodo once before and it is a sessionable California Common with a malty, yet smooth, taste.
As we chatted and sipped our drinks under the street lights, a man, who had lit a cigarette next to us, asked us a reasonable question. “Why the hell are you wearing shorts?” Julio, whose name I learned later, had asked–with a laugh–a very honest and just question. “Well,” I responded, “we’re from Boston.” Although I only go to school in Boston, Andrew has lived in and around Boston for most of his life. The day was beautiful and relatively warm, by Amsterdam standards, so we decided to break out some shorts. Julio revealed that he is originally from Colombia but has been living in Amsterdam and also spent the past year in Boston. It was an incredible coincidence that prompted a long discussion about Boston winters, our favorite restaurants and spots in the city, as well as the thrill of a Red Sox game. Julio’s expletive laden comments were humorous and were the mark of someone who had had a bit too much to drink. It was also decidedly hispanic and he brightened when I revealed that my mother is from Buenos Aires. He shared the name of an authentic Colombian restaurant in Amsterdam and we both lamented the lack of true South American cuisine here. We agreed that though a lot of restaurants were branded “Argentine” or “Uruguayan,” they couldn’t be trusted. Eventually two of Julio’s friends joined us outside, a girl who is also from Colombia and a guy from Amsterdam, who just happened to also be an English major at the University of Amsterdam. We chatted about classes and professors at the UvA, while Andrew talked with Julio. Eventually our new friends left us and Andrew and I went back home.
This serendipitous meeting was not the only worthwhile conversation over beer I experienced this weekend. After Andrew returned to Edinburg early Sunday morning, I asked a few friends, Eli and Alice, to join me for an afternoon beer tasting at a bar down the street from my apartment. We descended the stairs to MOES, an underground bar, where the restaurant would be unveiling their new taps featuring beer exclusively from Brouwerij De 7 Deugden, an Amsterdam craft brewery. The brewmaster, Garmt Haakma, was available to share some insight on the beer and enjoy the fruits of his labor. Along the bar he had laid out the various ingredients used in his beers as well as several bottles. He was very noticeably proud of his products and his enthusiasm definitely helped us enjoy the event. We decided to have a flight of the beers and continued to chat with Garmt.
The first taste was of Arm + Zalig, a Smoked Beer, which was a little dark in color but tasted relatively sweet with malty notes. When Garmt revealed it was a Smoked Beer, I couldn’t really make out the smokey flavor but enjoyed it nonetheless. Next we sampled the Witbier, Ruw + Bolster, which immediately had a distinct citrus aroma. The citrus, lemon and perhaps some other fruits, came through in the taste and the finish was smooth and tasty. The Wijs + Neuzig followed was a Dunkelweizen, a dark wheat beer. The aroma was incredible and Garmt explained the beer was brewed with cardamom. The spices were apparent in the taste and made for a delicious, refreshing drink. Next we tried Dubbel + Dik, the brewery’s Dubbel. This dubbel was very interesting and had a blend of spices that were difficult to make out. Garmt had us guess what ingredients he had chosen in brewing. I tasted notes of chocolate and Eli guessed nutmeg. Finally Garmt revealed it was a blend of licorice, cloves and star anise. Garmt explained that he had been working for a long time on finding a perfect mixture of the ingredients “so they don’t overpower each other.” We enjoyed the flavors and agreed it was smooth and easy to drink. The penultimate sampling was perhaps my favorite: the Trippel, Scheepsrecht. Scheepsrecht was amber in color with notes of cinnamon and other spices both in the aroma and the taste. Lastly, we finished with the Stout, Stout + Moedig. Garmt shared that the stout is his favorite and it was definitely interesting. It was very dark in color but much softer in the taste. The taste of coffee–organic, Arabica beans, Garmt shared–certainly came across, as well as some notes of chocolate.
We all really enjoyed the beer but the event itself, hosted by the very engaging Garmt, was more exciting. Garmt was happy to chat about his production and encouraged us to come by the brewery soon for a tour. He very clearly loved brewing beer and was quick to label his craft as “special.” He clarified that he thinks the tendency to use interesting ingredients and spices in beer, which is typical of Amsterdam breweries, makes the beer special and particular. I agreed and said that I had really enjoyed the city’s craft beer. As we were chatting, a complementary cheese and meat platter was laid out for us to enjoy. “You can’t have a beer tasting without cheese,” Garmt remarked with a laugh and we were very grateful for the delicious snack.
At one point Eli and I asked what Garmt thought of beer in America. He thinks that the amount of craft breweries is a good sign. We also discussed some of the differences between American and Dutch craft beer. There’s a big trend in the states to use a lot of hops and everyone seems to love IPAs, while in Amsterdam, the dutch style of Dubbels or Trippels, as well as Saisons, are very common. Of course there are overlaps but we understood his point. I also asked how his own process of starting a brewery had been. I explained that in Boston there are a lot of craft breweries popping up and homebrewing is becoming very popular. Garmt said it took awhile but it wasn’t necessarily an arduous process. “There’s a lot of paperwork to fill out and the brewing takes a lot of work,” Garmt shared, “but it’s not so bad.” He said the choice to try to start a brewery was only natural and flowed from his love for the brewing process.
We continued to chat for a little but eventually bid farewell to Garmt, though we assured him we would take a tour of the brewery soon. Garmt definitely seemed happy with our enthusiasm and appreciation. He said goodbye and as we were walking up the stairs called out, having forgotten to say so before,”spread the word!” “We will,” we happily called back.