MAY WE ALL BE SO LUCKY
Unwinding in Amsterdam with the Brews & Tales Drinking Tour
12 November 2015
A dream needs believing
To taste like the real thing
Like some stranger you recognize
So pure, so pure, so electric
So sure, so sure, so connected
To those little believers inside
May we all be so lucky
- Sara Bareilles, ‘Soft Place to Land’
“I’m going on a drinking tour tonight,” I told my apartment mates, two days before we were due to perform in a show in Amsterdam.
“Are you sure you can recover in time?” they asked. “Pub crawls leave you with a crazy hangover!”
True, but then, I didn’t think this was going to be your typical frat boy, cheap beer, drink ‘til you drop alcoholic equivalent of shopping at Primark.
CAFÉ DE PRAEL
Our motley crew of six, corralled by our guide, Rachael, met close by the Amsterdam train station. It was a rainy evening, perfect for knocking back a few beers. We began at Café de Prael. Opened by two former psychiatric nurses, Arno and Fer 12 years ago, this could have been just another a loony dream, but they kept their feet firmly grounded in brewing quality craft beers. We had a tasting platter of scotch ale, bitter blonde and a seasonal autumn witte beer. Oh, and a hard-boiled egg, which is a tradition dating back to the 1800s, where the point was to offer sustenance so patrons would not get completely drunk.
Whilst there, I had the chance to speak with our esteemed tour guide and fellow Singaporean, Rachael Teo. It was pretty weird to find a Singaporean running a local drinking tour in Amsterdam, but she said that it’s a great way of learning about the city and what she’s trying to do is to create an experience that even locals would be proud of. The alternatives, according to Rachael, just aren’t there. “The most popular pub crawl in the city is the Ultimate Pub Crawl where a few people I know work. Let‘s just say if you want to get sloshed, then laid, for 18 euro, that’s your best shot.”
CAFE IN DE WILDEMAN
Next up was a bar situated in a former distillery. “Wildeman” stands for wild man. It’s the stamp for purity and quality in countries like Germany and Holland. A beer tasting bar, no music plays and the use of mobile phones is discouraged. They want people to sit, converse and drink from their selection of 18 beers on tap and more than 250 different types of beers and ciders by the bottle.
We had a UK cider and a Saison beer from Greece and sampled ossenworst, a smoked sausage from Butcher Loumans, arguably the best butcher in town. The famous sausage is made from raw beef and spices including cloves and nutmeg.
To the uninitiated casual beer drinker like me, it’s a challenge picking a bar out of the dozens that dot the back-alleys and boulevards of Amsterdam. It’s mind-boggling!
When Rachael shortlists potential bars for her tour, she looks for authenticity, the ratio of locals to tourists, beer selection, the quality of food; even staff happiness is a pull factor. As Rachael puts it, “These are things that one can detect and I believe a happy barman is one who cares. There’s a Dutch word, gezelligheid, which is loosely translated as coziness and warmth. If a bar is devoid of that, it’s a telltale sign to stay away.”
DE DRIE FLESCHJES
The rain was pelting down, but we had a nice buzz on, so we headed over to our next bar, but not before making an essential pitstop for FEBO, a chain of automatic dispensing machines, serving snacks like deep-fried cheese, a minced-meat hotdog and a various amazing croquettes. The food is fresh, as the kitchen behind is constantly stocking up.
De Drie Fleschjes stands for “The Three Little Bottles”. Opened in 1650, distiller Bootz’ tasting room contains 57 barrels rented out to individuals and companies for two euro a day. Right across from us was a coffeeshop selling weed and other hallucinogens in the crook of the old church.
Only in Amsterdam.
In this bar, we had a break from the beers and downed a shot of Oude Jenever, which looks like alcohol but is a mix of malt wine and grain spirit. Known as Dutch gin, it’s almost always juniper flavoured. To go along with it, we had, as Rachael put it, “Anthony Bourdain’s meatball.”
I noticed that the tour is pretty concentrated for now in the heart of Amsterdam; starting near the Red Light District and ending in the Jordaan, but Rachael has plans to expand with a biking or boating element, as these two modes of transportation are a completely natural way of navigating the city.
Our last stop was Tripel. A former goth-punk hole-in-the-wall called Korsekof, this place has been transformed into a Belgian beer paradise with 20 beers on tap and a selection of over 180 bottled beers. We had a trio of beers: Kwak, Tripel Karmeliet and a bockbier. And to help us keep it down, we lined our stomachs with homemade bread and Trappist cheese.
I can safely say that all of in the group - Hazel, Crystal, Michelle, Angela, Jolene and I - thoroughly enjoyed the intimate experience that Rachel curated for us. I reckon it’s because we’ve all been scarred by one too many flag-toting, whistle-blowing tour guides and impersonal tour groups.
I turned the tables on Rachael and asked her what her ideal tour would be.
She said, “It would be a "home crawl" with Amsterdam’s home brewers who are also carnivorous chefs. The tour would begin with a walk around their neighbourhood (with a drink in hand, of course), filled with information and strange tales about whatever sorcery has been going on for ages, and end with a grand feast in someone‘s garden. Plenty of booze, stacked up meats and stinky cheeses, songs, stories and. ultimately, a slumber party to end the night where ‘onesie’ is the dress code and lucid dreaming is permissible.”
BEERY GOOD TIMES
After nine drinks, the bars in Amsterdam are signet points on the way home, where we find the end of all searching. The world is bright and happy and shining like a song, or a coin found in the lane. The trams hum with joy and there is laughter everywhere. Tomorrow, the sun will shine too early, but for tonight, it isn’t as cold, and we have made better friendships to treasure.
To sign up for a Brews and Tales Drinking Tour, head over to their website.
Café de Prael - Oudezijds Armsteeg 26
Café In De Wildeman - Kolksteeg 3
De Drie Fleschjes - Gravenstraat 18
Café Tripel - Lijnbaansgracht 161