After a very long day of touristing around Amsterdam, I was happy to find that the restaurant we hit for dinner, Humphrey’s, had a beer I had never drank, Leffe Bruin, on draft. For a decidedly un-beery restaurant, it was a nice surprise, a tasty Belgian brown that went down very easily with a big, hearty meal.
The following day, we took a break from more serious touristing for a quick lunch-and-beer at De Beiaard in the Spui square. De Beiaard is a chain of restaurant/bars, with this location perfectly situated between a busy square and one of the canals, making it a great people-watching spot as tourists and locals streamed by on foot, bicycle, scooter, tram, car and boat.
Their beer selection was decent, and one thing caught my eye, Hertog Jan Grand Prestige, a quad. I’m a sucker for quads, even ones I’ve never heard of or tried. It’s not necessarily the ideal style for a lunch beer, but I enjoyed it. We were also glad that we were practically on our way out when we noticed a small mouse dashing under a table across the room. That was our cue to leave.
That night, our final one in Amsterdam, we walked the half-dozen blocks from our hotel to ’t Arendsnest, a very well-regarded bar that prides itself on serving only Dutch beer, and a wide range of it. I came prepared with RateBeer.com’s list of top 50 Dutch beers, and was both thrilled and disappointed to see that the bar had many of them. Thrilled, of course, because I would be able to drink a couple of them, but also disappointed because I knew I couldn’t spend another week or two hanging out there and tasting a bunch more.
Despite the wide range of options, I ended up with two beers from De Molen, a brewery which practically owns the top of that list of great Dutch beers, and which seems to have fully embraced the idea of big and bold beers. I ended up drinking two of their beers, both big and delicious imperial stouts.
The first was De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis, which means Hell and Damnation. It was relatively fresh, bottled 9/16/10 (bottle #785, incidentally), and you could tell. Even though I really liked it, in all its thick, black, motor-oil glory, it was also very big and boozy (10% but tasted bigger). You could tell that a few years would help turn it from a very good beer to a great one.
I followed that up in the only way I could, with another huge stout: De Molen Hemel & Aarde (which means Heaven & Earth). The standard version is a 9.5% imperial stout which the brewery says is “made with the most heavily peated malt in the world from the Bruichladdich distillery”. Well, I didn’t drink the standard version. Instead, I ordered an aged version. Here’s the brewery’s description:
“And still we thought that we could do better! So we barrel aged this beer in Bruichladdich whisky barrels used for the first time in 1972. As a result an unbelievable complex beer with flavours like smoke, vanilla, coffee, chocolate, peat and wood. What’s not there? And the most surprising part is probably the great balance between these flavours. This is why it’s still very easy drinkable. But it’s no beer for those who are just discovering real beers.”
The aging boosts the abv up a tad, to 10%, but it tastes much bigger than that. Bottled on 6/7/10 (bottle #919), this has to go down as the peatiest imperial stout I’ve ever drank. I’m not a Scotch nerd, and on the rare occasions when I do drink Scotch, I think I prefer it less peaty. Still, this beer was delicious. The huge wave of peat up front quickly settled down, so that instead of overwhelming the beer it just led the way to tons of big stout goodness: vanilla, chocolate, smoke, all in a thick, mouth-coating package. It came in a small bottle, just 20cl (I think), which seemed the perfect size to slowly sip this monster. It screamed “cigar beer”, and I don’t smoke cigars at all.
A quick note about the bartender: he was nice and was working hard, but he was also quite clueless, which was disappointing for such a well-regarded beer bar. Both times that I ordered, he pulled out the wrong bottle from the coolers. Fortunately, he showed me the bottles before opening them, so I had a chance to correct him both times.
Also, before ordering the second stout, I tried to order off the vintage menu, which listed (among other very tempting things) 2003, 2004 & 2006 vintages of La Trappe Quadrupel. I asked for the 2003, and he pulled out a fresh bottle instead. I pointed to the vintage section in the menu, but he said they didn’t have any of those beers. I suspected that he just didn’t know where they were, but even if they were simply out of stock, it was disappointing. In the end, though, this was a relatively small annoyance at an otherwise great bar.
Sadly that was the end of our time in Amsterdam, with an early wake-up call and long day of train travel to Paris the next morning. What a way to go out, though. The next time I’m in Amsterdam, I’m going directly to ‘t Arendsnest, and I’ll make sure to have done much more research on Dutch craft beer.