17 October 2011

My kind of pub crawl

Festival over, we went to the pub. The wife Derek and I headed to Amsterdam on the Sunday after the Borefts festival. High on the agenda was a recommendation from Ron's mate Mike for Oude Jenever, so early on the sunny afternoon we darkened the doors of In De Olofspoort and received a wonderful impromptu tutorial in 3-, 5- and 10-year-old jenever from the friendly barman. You're right, Mike: it does taste like really good Scotch.

While in the area we also paid a brief courtesy call to De Prael. The brewery's eclectic tasting room was little more than a hole in the ground last time I was through Amsterdam, and the comfy chairs they have now are far more conducive to beer tasting than the alley in which they used to serve them. Derek got the round in, serving me Gepijpte Nelis, a smoked version of the dark autumn bock. With its fruity spices, it's perhaps closer to a Belgian dubbel than a Dutch bock, and the gentle smoke character lends a little complexity to an otherwise quite simple strong and sticky beer.

From there we headed down to Beer Temple. I was at the grand opening of this American-themed bar in 2009, or at least I stood outside. This was the first time I've ever been able to sit inside and peruse the prodigious selections. I figured it would be easier and more economical to limit myself to the draught offerings, but then I spotted a can in one of the fridges: Maui Coconut Porter, a beer I've been hunting for several years, having heard amazing things about it. So I duly bought it, popped the ringpull, poured it and got ready to be amazed. I wasn't amazed. It's a very fizzy dark brown beer giving off quite subtle coconut scents. It tastes extremely dry, a little sulphurous, and rather gritty, like a stout that's had a bit too much roast barley added. The sweet coconut flavour makes a very late appearance and lingers oilily on the lips. I definitely think I'd built it up too much. I mean, it's nice, in its own way, but at the same time a huge disappointment. The main thing is that it's done and I won't have to go to Maui to experience the loneliness of the long-distance ticker.

Beer Temple has commissioned its own house beer from Dutch brewery Jopen, and of course it had to be an IPA. Tempel Bier is a little bit on the light-to-watery side: a session beer in a pub without pints. But the refreshing zesty orange flavour can't be argued with. The fresh hoppy benefits of not having to cross an ocean are used to full effect.

There were a couple of strange versions of familiar beers on tap, including Flying Dog Double Dog on cask. The softer carbonation produces a different sensation to the bottled version, coating the mouth with extra-sticky toffee malt and turning the citric hop notes into something funkier and more spicy. John John Dead Guy is a barrel aged version of Rogue's Dead Guy Ale. Rogue's in-house distillery makes barrel acquisition particularly easy for them, and this one had seen some of their own whiskey before the beer went in. I'm not a fan of Dead Guy normally and this was little better. Massive wood flavours don't help the cloying stickiness, though the little bit of bretty sourness helps take some of the edge off, as do the sharp vegetal hops. I'm still glad I was just stealing a sip of someone else's rather than having a glass to myself.

The Maryland-based Stillwater brewing company were holding a tasting session in the back of the pub while we were there and as each tasting tray was brought to the corralled punters, the relevant beer went on general availability to the rest of us. RateBeer tells me that the two we tried were imported from no further away than Belgium. Jaded was brewed with the assistance of De Struise and is a dark red-brown ale doing a great job of balancing Belgian fruity esters with fresh and pithy hop zing. ’t Hofbrouwerijke near Antwerp was the birthplace of Love & Regret, another zesty one, though this time loaded with aromatic spices like coriander and white pepper. Apparently it was actually done with heather, lavender and chamomile, but you get the idea.

There was more white pepper -- a flavour I really enjoy in beer -- in Dieu du Ciel's Route des Épices. This time there is real pepper present: green and black corns are added to the recipe. There's a lovely rich chocolate biscuit aroma, but after that it's all pepper all the way. Before moving on I spent a bit of time with Marshall Wharf Old Ale. The Maine brewery has done a fantastic job with this: cola red and with a pungent vinous, almost vinegar, nose. It's one of those big textured strong ales filling one's face with sweet treacle and moreish umami, finished off with a distinctly sharp hop bite. Amazing stuff. I could have had another, but one does not leave Amsterdam before dropping in to Beer Temple's sisterhouse Arendsnest.

So we made it our last stop. Things have changed a little at Arendsnest in recent years. Gradually, the blackboards are starting to take over the walls. Since the pub serves exclusively Dutch-brewed beers that's probably a clear sign of how robustly healthy the beer scene is in the Netherlands these days.

A couple from Jopen to start: their Extra Stout is a tour de force with some fantastic smoky roasty aromas and a smooth texture given a cheeky burnt kick at the end. Barrevoet is their barley wine: dark red almost to the point of blackness. In combination with some majorly aromatic and grapefruitish hops it's almost a black IPA. But what's in a style? All you need to know is that it's one to look out for.

Perhaps inevitably, De Molen now has a blackboard to itself in Arendsnest. From that came Rijn & Veen, a cloudy pale ale with a lovely big orangey aroma. The taste is a little bit of a let-down, however: sharp and with some unfortunate disinfectant notes. Hemel & Aarde was a much better proposition: a sublimely smooth imperial stout with a touch of smoke on the nose. The flavour is heavy on the roast side but balanced by lavender perfume. Easy-drinking, balanced, but softly powerful too.

The airport train beckoned, so just one more for the road. My big finish was Bommen & Granaten: a dark red ale of a full 15.2% ABV, and possibly tasting like more. It's incredibly viscous, almost chewy. A knife and fork job. The flavours are sweet of course, but amazingly not cloying. "Turkish delight" was one comment as the glass got passed around. I was still tasting it all the way to Schiphol and was still thinking about it when I got to my own bed in Dublin hours later. Sometimes, good beers follow you home.


  1. I had a can of the Maui CoCoNuT Porter a few weeks ago. I thought it was great. But I'm easily pleased...

  2. Every time I read about one of your trips to the Netherlands, I get insanely jealous.

  3. All I can say is: it's really not very far away.

  4. Nice one! I will be in Amsterdam this coming weekend and will visit Bier Temple for the first time. And I hope to spend Saturday in Haarlem and visit Jopenkerk.

  5. Enjoy! And Olofspoort is a very short detour on the way down from Centraal. Just saying...

  6. I had no idea the Maui Coconut Porter was that highly prized! Had it at the local Spoons during their last beerfest; wasn't impressed.

    Bommen & Granaten ("Bombs and grenades"?) sounds superb.

  7. A friend came back from the GABF a few years ago and said it was the best beer he'd ever tasted. I wasn't expecting it to be the best beer I've ever tasted, but there was always the possibility...

  8. mdagnew1:55 pm

    Couldn't agree more about the Coconut porter - a huge disappointment. I was expecting a liquid version of a Bounty bar !!

  9. Anonymous7:06 pm

    I enjoyed the Maui, but I wasn't subjected to any build up or hype before trying it. Had I been told it was amazing, I probably would've thought something similar to what you thought; A good beer, but nothing to write home about.

  10. 'Sometimes good beers follow you home'. Amen.