Saturday, 12 September 2009

Amsterdam, Day One, Part One

My Amsterdam cherry was popped this week, so to speak, as I paid my first visit, spending two days there. As beer destinations go, I was pleasantly surprised, and it has to be said there are some fantastic bars and beer stores with wonderful selections. But the main reason I went was the opening of BeerTemple, billed as Europe's first American beer bar. As usual, it was through the on-line beer community that I got wind of this, so I duly registered an interest in getting an invitation to the opening night on 09-09-09. The invitation was, appropriately enough, simply a beermat. The plan was set.

I arrived in Amsterdam around midday on the day of the openeing and trundled along the cobbled street of Amsterdam to meet TheBeerNut and Mrs. BeerNut (I really should ask if she likes being called that). I like meeting up with the 'Nut in these kinds of places, as it feels like I'm in safe beer hands, and true to form, there was always a plan, and sure enough, it wasn;t long till we were on the road on a beer mission.

After a short but intense beer shopping spree in De Bierkoning and The Cracked Kettle (sometimes I feel there is such a thing as too much choice) we went into the heart of the Red Light District to visit Brouwerij de Prael. De Prael moved to this new location about a year ago, apparently as part of an overall plan of the city to clean up the image of the district. The front feels like an open, airy beer shop, but behind this façade is a working micro brewery that can produce up to 3,000 litres of beer a week. We signed up for the tour that included a bottle of beer each, which we shared around to get a broader tasting, and which we had to drink in a side alley (and later in the staff canteen) as they are not allowed serve open beverages in the shop. Plans are in motion to have a tasting room/cafe, but the construction work has been delayed so it's not due to open till summer 2010.

Our guide was a nice man who explained in simple terms the whole brewing process. The brewery is an almost classic tiered system, and when we arrived they were hauling sacks of Weyermann malt to the grain attic where the mill was also located. From here, the grain is dropped into the mash tun on the level below, a lovely energy-efficient, stainless steel kit from BrauKon with a 1,000 litre brewing capacity. As I understood it, this is the showcase installation for BrauKon in the Netherlands, and is a closed system that comes with all the bells and whistles such as cooling coils on the outlet that ensures the neighbours don't have to smell stinky dimethyl sulphide or lovely hops. From the kettle, the wort drops down to a whirlpool and cooling system before being piped into the stainless steel conical fermenters. These appear to be temperature controlled, and apparently, although all the beers are currently top fermented, there are plans to make a Dortmunder Export style lager. I had to ask, and it seems they've done some test brews, but my request for a sample was taken as a jest.

One of the interesting things about De Prael as an organisation is that it began life partly funded by the state as an employer of people rehabilitating from psychiatric problems who were taking first steps getting back into the workforce. The owners had worked in a rehabilitation centre, and recognised that there were few opportunities for recovering patients, so combined this recognition of need with a desire to form a brewery. They still operate this way, though it was made clear that most of the money now comes from beer sales. It's a worthwhile endeavour, and going through the brewery it felt like a nice community spirit pervaded the place.

We did get the feeling that they weren't quite sure how to handle tours, but maybe it's a new thing. I reckon once they have their tasting room/cafe built there'll be more of an "experience" (more of that anon), but for what it's worth, I liked the raw feel of getting a view of a working micro brewery.

As for the beers, well, I'll leave that for TheBeerNut, as I made no notes. Of the four beers we tasted, I can only remember that the wit beer, Heintje, was refreshing and a little tart and a nice way to start the drinking day, while the Willeke was pleasently caramelly with fruity and spicy notes.

We followed De Prael with a bite to eat (this was breakfast for me) and a beer at De Haven van Texel, a lovely location at the junction of two canals, so sit outside if you can. They sell beers from Texelse brouwerij, one of which is the intriguingly named Skuumkoppe, which I avoided on TheBeerNut's advice. Instead, I went for the Texelse Dubbel, a reddish-brown affair with a caramelly, slightly fruity (strawberry?) aroma. The flavour has a decent amount of caramel sweetness with roasted notes and a touch of chocolate. I got an apple-banana middleground and a slight sour edge to the finish as it warmed up. A bit sweet perhaps, but it went well with the burger.

Following that we landed at De Bekeerde Suster, which TheBeerNut reliably informed us means the Reformed Sister. Apparently a prostitute found religion and the brothel turned into a convent, but now it's a brewpub. As a location it's nice enough with the pot-bellied copper-clad mash tun in the corner and a reasonable beer selection. I felt I had to go for one of their own, the Blonde Ros, an unfiltered, yellowish 6% ale. The aroma suggested more alcohol than it contained, with citrus, passion fruit and a kind of wheaty background. A little grainy, it had caramel undertones but was a little sticky. A passable effort, but that's about it.

Much more to my taste was the Deugniet that TheBeerNut ordered, with a fruity, almost raspberry aroma and a flavour redolant of peaches and apricots (of the dried type), it had a nice zing to it with a clean finish that did not taste the 7.3% alcohol that it contained. Lovely.

Heading back towards the hotel, we stopped at Gollem, a bar that I got the impression of being a bit of an institution. Nice, dark and cosy, with an impressive beer list, it's the kind of place you could pass a few hours in I reckon, and within arms reach of The Cracked Kettle, literally. Here I was guided to the De Ranke XX Bitter, a really lovely ale that delivers grapefruity, orangy aromas apleanty, with an ever-so-slight touch of funkiness. With chocolate-toffee undertones topped with a grapefruit-like bitterness and a touch of sorbet, this is really appealing. The finish is long and pithy. I would have preferred it served a touch colder, but damn fine if you like hops.

With a quick stop at the hotel to freshen up, followed by a tasty dinner at November, it was time for the main event. But that's the next chapter...

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