19 August 2008

Dutch gold

I left you on a Saturday evening in Amsterdam and I was heading out for 't Arendsnest. Now, Amsterdam has more than its fair share of lovely pubs with great beer lists, but this upstairs bar on Herengracht is my new favourite. Rather than a primarily-Belgian beer list, everything here is Dutch. There's pretty much the full range, from bottles of Grolsch and Bavaria all the way up to whatever's currently good from De Prael or De Molen.

It was with the latter I started: Menno's Rasputin imperial stout. The super-smooth creamy texture is the first thing that struck me here. It makes it very easy to drink, despite the big sticky malty flavours and an intense bitterness totally unlike the acidic hopping of American versions of the style. Herself opted for one that Wildeman had been out of on Thursday: the delightfully-named Skuumkoppe by Texelse. I found this orange wheatbeer quite vapid and dull. It starts with a big sugary flavour but follows it with absolutely nothing. It's always a tragedy when the name provides more entertainment than the beer.

Of necessity, dinner was next, then straight back to the pub. My next was another Dutch stout: Van Vollenhoven Extra. You can read more about the history of this one, and how lucky I was to get hold of it, here. Under the fluffy white head is an easy-going beer with the emphasis on sweet maltiness and perhaps a touch of saccharine. Even though it's a full 7% it tastes much lighter. Simple yet satisfying.

We couldn't leave without trying the house beer, Herengracht 90 Blond. Expecting something plain and made on the cheap -- often the way with contract-brewed house beers -- what poured forth was a spicy, floral, blossomy cloudy orange beer, much more reminiscent of a saison than your bog-standard blonde ale.

It was heart-breaking to have to call it a night, but 't Arendsnest has given me a new reason to visit Amsterdam and I will be back at the next opportunity. The main reason I have for visiting Amsterdam is the beer shopping, and before bed I fitted in another couple from the Cracked Kettle. The proprietor said he was having trouble shifting Mikkeller Jackie Brown, which surprised me. My bottle had just passed its expiry date, but it was still a pretty good beer. Highly complex, it starts with a sweet café crème nose but follows with a surprisingly bitter yeasty flavour before the roasted coffee kicks in leading to a very slight sweetness on the outside edge. Phew. All this happens on a soft velvety mouthfeel which makes it less work to drink than to write about. Shame on you, Cracked Kettle customers.

Last beer of the evening was the final American of the trip, and one which seems to be on special offer all over Amsterdam: Left Hand Milk Stout. I have a certain fondness for this beer. There's really not much to it, but what's there is enjoyable: a slick milky texture, a tiny touch of bitter coffee and we're done. Better not to have a thought-provoking beer at bedtime, right?

After a bit of proper tourism (something we do occasionally, believe it or not) Sunday's drinking started in De Beiaard again. In random pinstick mode, I went for Deugniet, a strong, pale blond ale with a slightly sharp dry greenness to it -- like celery, observed Mrs Beer Nut. I quite liked it, being somewhere between a spicy blonde ale and a low-key tripel. Meanwhile, m'lady was on Dikke Mathile, choosing once more on the silly name factor. This has orange blossom on the nose and a marvellous tannic quality, similar to some of my favourite English bitters, though stronger and sweeter.

We were on our way to Ron's place where we had an invitation to share some of the goodies in his cellar. That's not the kind of invitation one turns down. So, bearing a handful of bottles of decent Irish stout (but no vodka), we arrived in to meet Ron, Dolores and the real stars of Ron's blog, Andrew and Lexie. Among the delights produced from the bowels of Patto Mansions was a tiny nip bottle of Courage Russian Imperial Stout, bottled in 1992. Fascinating it was too -- under a vinous, almost vinegary, nose, there's triple-espresso thick roasted coffee notes. A very civilised after-dinner sipping beer.

Andrew accompanied us to the local boozer, where La Chouffe and jenever were the order of the evening. I did take a bit of ticking time to try Brigand -- yet another strong blonde and one I quite enjoyed, being easy-going, smooth and fruity.

And so, clutching a couple of bottles of Ron's Whitbread recreations, we took our leave. Slightly pissed, it has to be said. And that was nearly it for the trip, though Ron's influence didn't end after we escaped his clutches. Intrigued by his review of Café Krom, we made a point of checking it out before leaving for Schiphol. There in the art deco splendour my last new beer was a Grolsch Oud Bruin. Unfortunately I still haven't found one of these to beat Heineken's. Grolsch's is rather bland. None of the unpleasant big saccharine notes of some oud bruins, but not a whole lot else, sadly.

Final stop before the airport train was De Bierkoning for a last couple of beery bits and pieces, and that was our lot. Thanks again for your very generous hospitality, Ron.

Roll on Copenhagen...


  1. Hi there! I absolutely loved Herengracht 90 blod while in Amsterdam... It reminded me in some way to fresh Orval.

  2. We're long overdue a trip to the Netherlands.

    It seems a bit unfair that Belgium gets all the attention when it seems there are many exciting beers and breweries in the Netherlands too.

  3. It's the internationalism that I like. You go to Belgium, you get Belgian beer. You go to the Netherlands you get Belgian beer and Dutch beer and American beer and Danish beer.

    Mind you, I tend to find the food better in Belgium.

  4. Thanks very much for the Irish Stouts. I tried the O'Hara's on Wednesday and it was very nice. Lots of roastiness.

  5. Oblivious7:02 pm

    Have you tried the Whitbread recreations yet?

  6. Not yet, Oblivious. But I don't really have the temperature conditions to keep them at their best so I won't be waiting too long. Couple of months maybe.

  7. Oblivious4:20 pm

    How long has he stored them for already?

  8. They were bottled in February.