I arrived in Amsterdam much later than originally planned. After checking into my hotel near Schiphol, it was already past 3:00 and the clock was ticking until the Rijksmuseum closed at 5:00. Both it and the Van Gogh museum were shuttered for renovations the last time I was in the city but, since I had already missed my scheduled admittance at the latter and having seen most of the sunflowers and starry nights housed at the Hermitage in the interim, I figured I better just make a beeline for the former.
Once I’d gotten my fill of Rembrandt and Nijntje, the only other item I had on my limited agenda was a beer. So I started wandering northward through the spiderweb of canals toward the Centraal station. The last I had eaten was a rustic Dutch breakfast of smoked eel and gouda on a slice of crusty bread, and the pangs of hunger were increasingly making themselves known. I passed by a shop purporting to have the best burger in Amsterdam, but I pressed onward, unconvinced.
Just a few years ago I visited one of the best American craft beer bars around – in Amsterdam. The BeerTemple features an impressive tap and bottle list including beers that I couldn’t (at the time) even get back home in Texas. Peter van der Arend, the owner of BeerTemple, also owns ‘t Arendsnest, a monument to what is perhaps his first love: Dutch beer.
The Netherlands often gets overshadowed by its German and Belgian neighbors or painted with the macro brush of Heineken, Amstel, and Gröslch. But there are actually hundreds of active breweries in the Lowlands and many have earned a spot on the wall at Arendsnest (the Eyrie, or Eagle’s Nest), along with an array of jenever, gin’s Dutch ancestor. The wall behind the bar presented a boozy prospect for the evening and, suddently remembering from my BeerTemple visit that the Arend establishments only serve light cheese and charcuterie plates, I went around the corner for some bitterballen and dinner before getting into my cups on an empty stomach.
I started with a Puike Pale (POW-ka, not pukey) Ale from de Vriendschap, an experimental brewery on the north side of Amsterdam. A delightful American-style pale ale with fruity hop notes, the bartender recommended I pair it with a Walkwijk corenwijn. Korenwijn is a stronger grain alcohol type of jenever, sweetened with sugar or fruit flavors. The combo is basically a Dutch boilermaker, a 1-2 punch they call a kopstoot, or “headbutt,” which is appropriate nomenclature to say the least. I decided to ease off the jenever and corenwijn from then on, and went to an old favorite, the Brouwerij de Molen. I tried their Spanning & Sensatie (Excitement & Sensation), a rich imperial stout at almost 10% ABV. Boozy stouts are really one of de Molen’s specialties, and this did not disappoint. Nor did the Belgian Quad/Imperial Stout hybrid Mooi & Meedogenloos (Beautiful & Ruthless), which lives up to its name, combining the beautiful plum and Maillard notes of a Belgian Quad with the ruthless 10.2% ABV and rich chocolate of an Imperial Stout.
The mercury dropped along with the sun, so I stayed on the stout train for awhile, moving next to a special White Label edition of the Bierbrouwerij Emelisse IRS, aged in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. Probably my favorite of the night, barrel aging is sorta like injecting nitrous oxide into your car’s engine – it can give it an unparalleled boost, but in the wrong hands, you can quickly lose control. Emelisse did an excellent job here, with credit to the base beer, rich chocolate and coffee notes, nudged with the vanilla and warm booziness of the barrel.
After the 11% of that Emelisse IRS, I thought I might back down into lower gear. Red Ales are often the stepchild of the beer family, but my waitress recommended a barrel-aged imperial version from van de Streek Bier out of Utrecht. Ultimately the barrel couldn’t save the base red, but personal predilections aside, it was a solid offering and by no means timid at 10%. The red went well with the red wine barrels in which it was aged, Cahors, an AOC wine from the eponymous region in France, made up of predominantly Malbec grapes, which, outside of Argentina, call this area home.
A few of these Dutch specimens are indeed available in the U.S., though usually only on the east coast due to distributorship. I sidled up to the bar from my cozy table to close out, and ask for a few recommendations on bottles I should look for to bring home. All of the staff at the Arendsnest and, indeed, its sister bar the BeerTemple, are nothing but nice and eager to engage with customers and talk all things beer (and jenever). I had one last, more modest brew, the Coastal Gose from Jopen, a 4.5% savory number, with just that characteristic briny flavor, in this casing using sea salt and seaweed in collaboration with Italy’s Birrificio del Ducato.
Stepping back out into the increasingly cold and drizzly Amsterdam night, I was glad to take a bit of warmth with me from the tavern, and no doubt all those stouts. Catching a train back to Schiphol for the next morning’s flight, I hated to fly the coop, but was glad to have visited the ‘Nest. A must visit in Amsterdam.