BEER TREK 2012: New Adventures in the Beer-o-Sphere

The continuing saga of Michael 'fezz' Nazarec at large in the world of beer, hunting down new and varied species of the fermented ambrosia in its natural habitat: breweries, brewpubs, beer bars, restaurants, train stations, airports and beer festivals.
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Current Posts: fezz's picks: the Top 12 of 2012; Back to Brussels, London Calling; Get Lost in Maastricht; Amsterdam and Beyond; In Bruges and Ghent; Mussels in Brussels; Brussels Beer Weekend #14; Further Adventures in the Beer-o-Sphere; Calgary's Best & Wurst; A Wee Peak at Vancouver Craft Beer Week 2012; A night out in Denver; Drinking Beer in L.A.

Amsterdam and Beyond

Into the Netherlands
The trip from Bruges to Amsterdam took about 3 hours, traveling through Ghent and transferring in Antwerp. We actually got off in Den Haag for lunch, locking up our luggage in the station, and wandering through Chinatown looking for beer and food, in that order. In no time we found Café-Restaurant Rootz, located in an old coach house right in the old centre of The Hague. They had a bottle list of some 80 beers, mostly Belgian plus 14 taps and feature a large terrace. The 'wissel-tap' or rotating tap that day was
Scheldebrouwerij Zee Zuiper Tripel, a very tasty 8%, cloudy, pale gold very drinkable beer, some malt sweetness, fruity, hints of spice (it's name means 'drinker of oceans', or something like that) and the Brand Pilsner: a crisp, clean and refreshing beverage. After a fortifying lunch, our server cheerfully recommends De Paas, a small beer cafe on our way back to the train station, featuring a floating terrace in the canal. Unfortunately, they were running late and were not open as we passed by. Maybe next time.

It was a straight run into Amsterdam from here, except for the unexpected change of trains in Haarlem. It is a beautiful warm sunny day as we arrive in the Central Station and make our way (the wrong way I have to admit) to the Prinzgraacht (canal) in order to find our hotel. My bad. It was a nice afternoon for a walk, but not so pleasant with luggage bouncing along the cobblestones in tow. Eventually we made it, showered, changed and headed for a evening out on the town. 
We cruise the long shopping streets and find many a café on the even smaller side streets, some quiet and pensive, an after work spot for locals, others were busy, just cranking up for the evening to come. One of the former was where we found Witte Trappist (5.5%) from La Trappe. This is something new from the Dutch monks, a very well balanced white beer, tart and thirst quenching, cloudy pale yellow smooth with hints of spice, yeast and malt tonality. We continued our vague wandering and soon came across a small alleyway just off the main shopping drag, crowded with a laughing, friendly crowd. The tiny bar, Café Belgique was well into happy hour, DJ spinning a great selection of tunes, barmaid pouring continuously from 8 taps, the crowded room spilling into the street of this self-serve bar café.
Luckily, two seats at the bar open up just as we survey the room, and that was it, we were there for the evening! Every inch of wall space is covered in beer trays and other Belgian beer memorabilia, and the place seems to pick up steam as we settle in, feeling right at home, chatting with customers waiting for beer, as well as the DJ and barmaid. We start with La Trappe Dubbel (7%, soft aromatics, sweet malt & caramel characteristics) and St. Feuillien Saison (6.5%, tangy, rich, warm golden ale), move on to Zinnebir (6%, blonde, fruity, complex, thin bitterness) and Floreffe Abbaye 
Blonde (6.3%, malt, fruit,citrous) then La Chouffe (classic big 8% blonde ale, spicy, yeasty, woody) and Blanche de Bruxelles (4.5%, cloudy, tart, some spice, malty tonality). The party was in full swing by this point, when I discover more interesting beers in the bottle menu, especially two new Belgian brews I don't know: De Graal SloCK (6.5%, hazy gold, bitter hoppy, spicy - they use Duvel yeast) and Strandgaper from Scheldebrouwerij (6.2%, floral, bready, malty edge,  gently bitter finish).

Well, fun is fun, but hunger was setting in now, so we stumble off
into the night in search of something hearty, just not sure where we are going to find it. It's not long before we fall into the large and beautifully restored historic building housing Heffer, dating from 1637. 8 beers on tap, twice that in bottles, and an extensive menu, whatever your fancy. We feast on ribs and hearty salad, and quaff a couple of Lindeboom beers: Gouverneur Brune (6.5%, ruby, malty) and Lindeboom Pilsner (3%, bare, blond and beautiful!) I'm sure I must have tried the 'wissel-tap', but notes are scarce. After this we stroll the fabled Red Light District, taking in the midnight
madness, window shopping in the well lit galleries, watching the throngs of people out on this gorgeously warm evening, the tourists, the late party people just getting started, locals going home. And the bicycles, the miles and miles of bicycles locked to each other, on every fence or pole! Truly a night to remember, if only I really could. We got lost again, this time I opted for the gentleman's way out - a taxi. Home James, tomorrow is another day!
The next morning we are up fairly early, all things considered. We take the tram to the station (10 minutes), stash our bags and head out to find brunch. We end up in the flower market area, at a little place called Gewaeght Café. They have only two beers on tap, a light beer
and a dark beer. We order one of each. Turns out the light beer is Weihenstephan Weizen (classic Bavarian wheat beer, cloudy, tall, banana, cloves, yeasty and more) and the dark is St. Christoffel's Brune. This brew seems to be an oude brune at first sip, slight sourness, balanced with fruity aromatics, but malty and more complex, silky smooth, long finish. We buy amazing sunflowers in the market before we leave the square, the most beautiful we've ever seen! On our way to the train, we drop by Prael, only one of three breweries within the city limits. Their new taproom is right around the corner from their main storefront/brewery, featuring their line of unique and delicious 
brews many named after Dutch pop stars of the past. No less than 14 beers on tap this day, we choose the Johnny Kolsch (5.1%, tall, light, refreshing, smooth)) and their 'seizoenbier' Hepie-Hepie Dubbel (8.5%, dark brown, malt accented, nutty, fruity) at the inside bar, then sit out in the street on the pub picnic tables. It's quiet here now, but Prael is building a shelter across the lane, part of their on going commitment to help those who cannot help themselves. They hire those who need direction to work at the brewery too, and help to get them back on their feet. We shop briefly in the main store, then head to the train. Our next stop is only a half an hour away, in Bussum, where friends are awaiting our arrival for the weekend.

Bussum and Beyond 
Ulli and Edzer's house is a short walk from the train station, and they are waving to us as we walk up the street. Donna presents them with the sunflowers and we all relax in their spacious back yard. Thoughtful as always Edzer has laid in a few bottles of Westmalle Tripel for me and some Brand Pilsner for everybody else. Ah, refreshing! We do some catching up, then decide to go for a drive
to visit Cafe Demmers, an excellent little pub in neighbouring Naarden, an old town surrounded by a medieval fortress wall. We sample some excellent Dutch brews: De Leckere Willibrord Amber Special (5%), a hazy copper-colored beer, slight malty sweetness, caramel notes, some hop nuances; Gulpener Chateau Neubourg Pilsner (5.5%) very clean and crisp, sparking yellow-gold, good balance, dry finish; and the Vestingbier, made by locals members of the Vestinggilde (Fortress Guild), basically friends of local caterers, specializing in traditional high quality fare. This brew is 6.5%, blond in color, fresh and fruity, with a well balanced palate and a dry finish. In business since 1885, Demmers has 8 continuously rotating taps featuring local, Dutch as well as Belgian specialties.

The next day we decide to hit the beach, as in drive up to Noordwijk and take a dip in the North Sea. The weather is still gorgeous, the country side beautiful and crossed with canals as we take the scenic route to the sea. It's Saturday and a perfect day, as the crowds usually like to hit the beach on Sunday. In tow is a cold mixed pack of Hertog Jan beers: Weizener, Oerblond, Karakter, Grand Prestige and Natuurzuiver, all good beers in their own styles.
We do dip our toes (some of us more) in the North Sea, walk around the town a bit and stop here and there for a refreshing Wieckse Witte (5%) always served with a slice of lemon and a little plastic plunger that allows you to squash the fruit into the bottom of your glass. It is a wonderful day, topped off by very delicious and spicy Indonesian take-out, a local favourite, from nearby Hilversum. The evening is spent in earnest conversation, eager laughter and a switch to some very lovely wines. This turns out to be one of the best days on our trip. Dank u wel Ulli & Edzer!!

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