Saturday, 3 September 2016

Amsterdam 2016

Nautical view of Amsterdam Central Station
Considering that the European Beer Bloggers Conference was held in Amsterdam, I didn’t actually see that much of the Dutch capital itself. I was staying at the Mercure City Hotel, where the conference took place, but as the hotel was situated in a green area, to the south west of the city, approximately six metro stops away from central Amsterdam, it might well have been in the middle of the countryside, such were the lack of amenities in the surrounding area.

This only really impacted in the mornings, when I went looking for somewhere offering a spot of breakfast; or even a decent cup of coffee, as with the hotel charging €22 for a few rolls, plus the odd croissant, there was no way I was going to start my day there. Unfortunately, with nothing in the vicinity in the way of shops, I was left with little choice but to pick up a couple of croissants from the outlet in the hotel foyer, and resort to using the coffee making machine in my room.

Mercure City Hotel - from the waterfront
Obviously the hotel was sited to primarily cater for business people; especially as there were good connections to the motorway network close by. As a venue for the actual conference proceedings though, it was ideal, although rather more pricy than I would normally pay whilst away from home. It is also worth noting that the hotel backed onto one of the many canals, which are so much a feature of Amsterdam, and that during the week a waterborne commuter service into the city centre was available.

There were a couple of occasions where I could have ventured into the city centre; the first one being on the Friday evening when the vintage buses, hired to transport us to Haarlem for our visit to Jopen Brewery, were dropping people off in Central Amsterdam on the way back to the hotel, whilst the second was a farewell drink in a couple of city centre pubs late on Saturday evening, after the end of conference dinner.

Obligatory windmill - De Molen Beer Cafe
I forewent both these opportunities, as there had been outbreaks of torrential rain on the first evening, so a comfortable ride in the dry, straight back to the hotel, was far more appealing. On the second (Saturday) evening, there was still plenty of un-pasteurised Pilsner Urquell sitting downstairs in the special Tankovar mobile bar which the brewery had brought with them. Not only that, but it seemed rather rude to desert the people from the brewery who were there looking after us, by clearing off into the city centre.

I escaped from the hotel on Sunday morning; the day of the post-conference excursion to De Molen Brewery at Bodegraven. I intend writing a separate post about our visit to this iconic brewery, but suffice to say the trip involved a train journey and rather than travelling into central Amsterdam and then out again, a twenty minute walk along the river to Amstel station enabled us to make the hour or so rail journey south-west from Amsterdam to the town of Bodegraven.

It would have been a pleasant walk, were it not for the heavy rain which was falling, but by the time I made the return journey, during mid-afternoon, the sun was shining and I was able to appreciate the canal and riverside scenery as I walked back along the banks of the Amstel; the river which flows into the city centre, and after which the Dutch capital is named. It was a lovely walk back to the hotel, and amongst other sights, I saw some rather luxurious looking houseboats along the way.

River Amstel
That evening I arranged to meet up with a couple of fellow bloggers at a city centre pub, so some time after 7.30pm, I walked the short distance along to the Metro station and took the train to Amsterdam Central. It was my first time in the centre of the Dutch capital since 1975, and after I had got my bearings, the place seemed pretty much as I remembered it. The sun was shining and the city was bustling; mainly with tourists, it has to be said, but seemed just as vibrant as it was 40 years previously.

We had arranged to meet up in a pub called t’Arendsnest (Eagles Nest) which was slightly south-west of the Central Station. I started walking in the general direction of the pub, stopping several times to take photos of the picturesque bridges across some of the canals. t’Arendsnest had been recommended to me by Stanley Blenkinsop; an occasional contributor to this blog, but Italian blogger Jacopo, who I was due to meet shortly, had been the person who suggested meeting there. 

Canal-side beer at t'Arendsnest
I found the pub, in its canal-side setting, without any difficulty and having arrived slightly ahead of time decided to drink my beer at one of the outside tables, next to the canal. That way I could sit there and watch the world go by, both on land and on the water, whilst keeping an eye out for my friends’ arrival.

Jacopo was the first to arrive, and once he had grabbed himself a beer and settled down opposite me, he said that EBBC attendees, Sarah and Brett were also planning to join us, but he wasn’t sure about his compatriot, Arianna. Sure enough, Sarah and Brett appeared shortly after, having arrived by car following a meandering tour back from Bodegraven. They had also dropped Irish Beer Snob bloggers, Wayne and Janice off at the airport, en route. 

Royal Palace - Amsterdam
For a while we had quite a merry little gathering, but Brett said he could only stay for one beer before having to drive back to his home in the south of the Netherlands. Shortly after his departure, it began to rain, only lightly, but sufficient to drive the three of us remaining inside. There was a good vibrant crowd at t’Arendsnest that evening, but we managed to find a table towards the rear of the pub. The pub prides itself on only serving Dutch beers, and I am pleased to report that all the beers I drank were good. Unfortunately I have mislaid the list I made at the time, but I expect it will surface at some time.

Our conversation centred on the sometimes vexed subject of should bloggers and writers get paid for the work they do, and why do many companies (breweries and PR organisations), seem to expect bloggers will give their service for free? The discussion got a little heated at times, especially around the area of remaining impartial and losing one’s integrity when being paid to write a piece,  but the general consensus was people like us who write about beer, should be rewarded, where appropriate, either financially or with “goods in kind”.

In de Wildeman
We left t’Arendsnest some time after 11pm. Jacopo went off in search of another bar (Brouwerij de Prael), whilst Sarah and I walked back to Central station. We were unsuccessful in our quest for some chips though, and by the time I arrived back at my hotel I was feeling rather hungry. I ended up eating one half of the sandwich I’d bought for the following morning’s breakfast.

The next day I checked out of the hotel shortly after 10am, and made my way up to the Metro station. Despite having caught a train there the previous evening, I ended up on one going in the wrong direction. Mistake rectified, I ended up again at Central Station, where the plan was to deposit my suitcase in one of the left luggage lockers.

Interior - In de Wildeman
I wasn’t feeling over-confident about this, as the previous day Beer Historian, Martyn Cornell, who was on the visit to De Molen, expressed his concern that he might never see his luggage again. He had deposited his suitcase there, in order to collect it on his way back to the airport following the trip to Bodegraven, but as he explained, the automated system at Amsterdam Central seemed fiendishly complicated and he couldn’t see how the code on his electronic receipt could be used to re-open the locker.

I too was totally baffled by the system, so after standing reading the instructions and seeing other tourists looking as bemused as I was, I gave up on the idea and decided to lug my baggage around with me. First stop though was something to eat, and a Big Mac Meal from McDonalds, by way of a distress purchase, seemed the best way to ward off the hunger.

By the time I left the fast food outlet it had started to rain; not heavily but enough to be a nuisance. Plans for sight-seeing ended up on hold (the heavy suitcase I was towing behind me didn’t help in that respect). Instead I ended up heading for one of Amsterdam’s classic pubs in the form of In de Wildeman, which I found more by luck than judgement.

The door to the pub was wedged open, so I was able to ease in with my suitcase without any trouble. I chose the larger of the pub’s two rooms, which was on the left hand side. There were two couples sitting there, and after a few minutes conversation I ascertained that one of them was from Essex. Like me they were at In de Wildeman in search of good beer. They also recommended a couple more pubs for me to try.

Simon - manager of In de Wildeman
The couple had obviously been to the pub earlier in their visit, as during the course of our beer-related conversation I was introduced to Simon behind the bar, who is one of In de Wildeman managers. I spent a pleasant couple of hours there, chatting to my new found friends and enjoying several different beers; namely Witte Trappist 5.5% from La Trappe, Zomer 5.9% from De Eem and Cloudwater Clausensil Red Wine Barrel-aged Stout 7.4%, an import from the UK, which Simon insisted I try.

I left some time around 2pm determined at least to see Amsterdam’s Royal Palace, where I had been photographed standing opposite, back in 1975. I found the palace without too much trouble, but I was rather disappointed to see two tacky-looking hot-dog vans, parked in front. Somehow I can’t see Buckingham Palace allowing that sort of thing in front of the Queen’s official London residence.,

I then skirted the edge of the Red Light District to make my way to Brouwerij de Prael, which had been recommended by the couple in de Wildeman. It was also the bar Jacopo had been making for when we parted company the previous evening.

Brouwerij de Prael is a modern multi-level bar housed in a much older building. It is tucked away down a very narrow side street which borders on an alley. As might be guessed by the name, there is an on-site brewery which, as I soon discovered, turns out some amazing beers. Apart from a party of young male beer-tourists, sitting at a high table enjoying a series of “tasting bats”, it wasn’t overly busy when I arrived. I found a vacant stool at the bar, and parked myself down. 

Beer list - Brouwerij de Prael
There were a number of different beers on tap, but to start with I went for the 5.7% Bitterblond, a clean-tasting German-style beer brewed using plenty of hops. Later on I switched to De Prael’s IPA, which had been recommended to me by several different people. At 6.5% ABV, this was a true to style India Pale Ale, with plenty of bitterness to balance the sweet juicy malt. Without doubt it was the best beer of the entire visit to the Netherlands, so it was rather ironic it was the last one I had on Dutch soil. 

I was feeling rather peckish by that time, so I ordered a rather large cheese and tomato sandwich, which arrived on dark and filling, rye bread. There was plenty of salad to go with it, so I like to tell myself it was the healthy option! It certainly filled me up and helped soak up some of the beer as well. By the time I Ieft for the short walk back to Central Station, and the train back to the airport I was more than able to resist those big cardboard cones of chips, covered with mayonnaise; the very food item I had been unable to find the night before!

Best beer of the trip!
So ended my all too brief return visit to central Amsterdam. I will definitely return, but next time I will take my wife with me. Simon at In de Wildeman gave me the address of an inexpensive B&B, run by a friend of his, so we will have somewhere nice and central to stay next time.


A quick shout out to my fellow bloggers, writers and broadcasters who were mentioned in the post. They all have their individual stories to tell about the EBBC and their own particular takes on the world of beer and brewing. You can discover a bit more about them by clicking on the links below:

 Arianna Pellegrini:         La Ragazza con la Valigia

Brett Domue:                Our Tasty Travels
Jacopo Mazzeo:           Beer Without Frontiers
Janice & Wayne Dunne: Irish Beer Snob
Martyn Cornell:            Zythophile
Sarah Finney:                5MinutesOfFinney

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