01 November 2005

Pelgrim's prowess

Rotterdam was the destination last weekend. I made a beeline for the city's only brewery, Stadsbrouwerij De Pelgrim. It is a brewpub and restaurant in picturesque Delfshaven, taking its name from the Pilgrim Fathers who left from the church next door to travel to America. I'm sure the thought of a brewery on the spot would thrill them no end. They do five beers, though the house witbier was off when I paid a visit. Their blond is in the Belgian abbey-style, quite similar to Leffe, though it is stronger and has a crisp bitterness that shows it is handmade rather than mass produced. Mayflower Tripel is again aping a Belgian original, and doing a very good job of it too: it is strong and cloudy and very satisfying. Much rougher round the edges than a Trappist tripel and better for it. The last of the regulars is Stoombier. It is a red ale, lighter than anything else on tap (5%) and I found it quite plain. There is a subtle hint of fruit somewhere in the flavour, but it's barely noticeable. Lastly, Pelgrim always has a seasonal beer (Seizoensbieren) available. Autumn is bock season, and the Pelgrim Bock is a classic: full of sweet treacle with a slight, but not overpowering, taste of burnt caramel.

Bock season extends beyond the microbrewery, and each of the big brewers produce one. Amstel's is pretty easy-going, lacking the bombastic caramel sweetness of its rivals, but gaining drinkability in exchange. Heineken's is quite burnt tasting, but with enough sugar for it to remain pleasant, similarly Grolsch's. Hertog Jan's bock is a rich red colour, rather than brown, and especially heavy and sticky.

Two other beers from the weekend of note: Wieckse witbier is the commonest witbier in Rotterdam. As someone who is used to Hoegaarden I found this a bit too rough and bitter for my taste. Finally, I tried Gordon's Halloween beer. This is an ale, light brown in colour with a subtle fruity taste that belies a whopping 8.8% alcohol. A wonderful little beer.

Rotterdam is a good destination for beer tourism: it is compact and easy to get around, offers quite a bit of variety (I didn't even get to any of the specialist 200-beer bars, of which there are several) and has a damnably pleasant brewpub. All this with none of the overcrowded chaos of Amsterdam.