A Dutch Beer Primer
Amsterdam is a great city and is worth a visit, especially if you love discovering new beers. Dutch beer doesn’t get a lot of love in the United States, or in most of the world, but their beer scene is similar to the U.S. in a lot of ways. Being directly between Germany and Belgium, you’d think they’d have their own brewing traditions, but that’s not the case. Instead, they tend to bring the best of both worlds and a lot of imagination and experimentation to the table.
Another aspect of Dutch beer is how mellow it is. The Dutch tend to be a lot more patient with their beers than US brewers, and will generally let things sit a bit longer in fermentation. This tends to add a smoothness to Dutch beer and makes it distinct. There are likely other aspects, however, I generally know when I’m drinking a Dutch beer. I guess to really understand it, you have to try it.
As far as this guide is concerned, it’s focused on the brand new European traveller. It’s also on the more risque and adventurous side. We don’t judge your brand of fun. Just remember that at all times that you are representing your country… so don’t be an asshat.
English Spoken Here
That’s right. If you’re sticking to Amsterdam, other than the occasional person, you’re going to be quite alright with just using English. Crazy, right? If you venture outside of the city, however the odds fall the farther away you get and the older the people who you are trying to converse with.
These Boots Are Made For Walking
Bring. Walking. Shoes. You will be doing a LOT of walking. This has upsides and downsides on a European trip. Upside, it’s a cheap mode of transportation. Downside, your feet will hurt and ache for the first week. Upside, you will eat and drink whatever you want and not gain any weight. Downside, your feet will hurt and ache for the first week. Do yourself a favor and go with function over form for your shoe choices on this trip. Comfort is key.
This may sound stupid, but all that walking you are doing? Well, you’re going to need to drink more water. Especially if you plan on drinking a lot. Ask for still water if you can, as the typical European will drink carbonated water. Buying bottles at a Kiosk, or what the locals would call a Bodega or Convenience Store, can be tricky.
Before your trip you should contact your credit card and debit card companies and see if you can get the kind of cards that have the chip in them. Make sure you also get a PIN assigned to these cards. In Europe, not having the chip and pin is like having a horn growing out of your head. Also let the card companies know where and when you are going to avoid getting locked out of your account. It does happen, so have at least two ways to get funds.
Avoid currency exchanges. Use large bank ATMs. Most banks charge minimal fees for rate exchanges. It’s way cheaper and super convenient.
Is It Open?
This is something to really pay attention to. Shop owners in the Netherlands aren’t after profit over their personal lives. This means that, generally, there is at least one day a week they are closed. They also might keep hours that we, as Americans, find odd. Google information isn’t always up to date, either. Using primary sources is key. Nothing sucks worse than walking for 30 minutes to find out the place you are going is closed.
Not Just For Cows
Tipping is a thing most Americans have a problem with, as they tend to leave too much. However, in the Netherlands it is expected to leave 10% only if you’ve had exceptional service. Rounding the bill to the nearest Euro and/or leaving some small change is more in line with expectations. It’s also a good way to get rid of some less useful coins. This also makes your drinking dollar… or in this case, Euro, go farther.
There are two entities to deal with here. When travelling in between towns, you will be using NS, which is short for Nederlandse Spoorwegen or Dutch Railways. Generally tickets for these can be purchased on a per need basis. As far as public transit inside Amsterdam, it is recommended to get passes for the amount of days you’ll be in town, up to seven day passes. Remember to badge in and out of the streetcars as the operator, GVB, uses this information to better plan and utilize their routes, and it’s the polite thing to do.
Going To The Bathroom? It’s Dangerous.
First off, ask for the WC… Ves-ay. Second, in a lot of places you will be visiting, this usually involves stairs of some type. And there seem to be no building codes on stairs in Europe. Or ceiling heights. If you are tall and have large feet, like myself, sometimes you’re going to have to do the math of how drunk you are multiplied by the width of the stairs divided by the height of the ceiling and figure if it might be a better idea to go somewhere else instead of seeing how bad you’ll fall down those stairs. Just be super careful and you should make it every time.
The locals will constantly remind you of this happening. Apparently it’s fairly common and some tactics are people walking up to you and ‘drunk dancing’ with you, etc. Keeping your wallet in your front pocket seems to be a good move. That being said, it’s better to enjoy yourself than being paranoid as it will make it hard to have an enjoyable time that way.
Pronunciations and Spelling
This guide will try to help with pronunciation and spelling as best as it can. Just know that it’s a very regional thing. If you go 50 miles in one direction, the pronunciation and spelling may well change. In fact, this is considered normal there. It would be like if the South, New England, and Valley Girl all got their own proper ways of spelling and proper pronunciation.
‘t is something you will see most everywhere. It’s a contraction of the word Het. Which is ‘The’. ‘de’ is also used as ‘the’ in Dutch, and there is no real rule of thumb for which to use when. It can also be a for of ‘of the’, for example, Brouwerij ‘t IJ (brower-eye het eye) would be loosely translated as “Brewery Of the IJ”. The IJ being a body of water nearby. ‘t will sound like either ‘het’ or ‘it/et’ depending on if someone is being formal or not. The locals get it, however. It’s cool to make friends and ask, if you’re into linguistics.
A Note On Holland vs. Netherlands
The Netherlands is the entire country. Holland refers to two regions in the Northwest of the Netherlands. While the locals will say Holland a lot and refer to themselves as ‘Hollanders‘, knowing the difference will win you points. Think of it as someone from North Dakota calling themselves a Dakotan. They’re still Americans as well.
First of the many foods you will find in drinking establishments in the Netherlands and Belgium is Bitterballen. These are available virtually everywhere beer is served. They seem like deep fried mashed potatoes, but they are actually a thick gravy or roux that is rolled, breaded, and fried. It is suggested ordering some at least once a day from various establishments. They will come out very hot and at some point you will burn yourself on one. A trick to cool them off faster is to break the fried shell and to blow into them.
Another favorite that is all over the Netherlands and Belgium are frites. Frites are basically just french fries. However, locally they are served in a cone, often with a large dollop of mayonnaise on the top. Give it a shot, it’s actually quite tasty and nice to walk around with outdoors.
Three other things recommended are Bicky Burgers, which are deep fried mixed meat burgers, and you must get some Shawarma and/or a Doner Kebab. Spelling and names will change, but these are basically beef and/or chicken gyros. And they are excellent. Last, but not least, if you’re out late one night and you’re a bit drunk and want something completely satisfying, see if you can find a Wok to Walk. It’s like a Subway sandwich shop, except it’s Asian food. If we had one of these in my town, I’d be there all the time.
Another local food to check out, preferably with a cup of coffee is a stroopwafel, which is basically two thin waffles with some sort of syrup in the middle.
A Blow To The Head
Dutch Gin is better known locally as Jenever (Dutch: yenever | Flemish: genefah). It is not similar to the gin you are used to, as Jenever has a very herbal quality. Generally a shot will be served with the meniscus over the top of the glass. It is customary to bend over without using your hands to sip off the top before you pick up the glass so that you do not spill any. This is a liquor that you don’t shoot. It’s for sipping. Generally you would order a kopstoot or ‘blow to the head’. This is a shot of jenever and a beer. Take alternating sips of beer and jenever. The place recommended giving this a shot at is Wynand Fockink (Wine and Fockink) in Amsterdam, and no, they don’t sell t-shirts, but we ask every time.
Amsterdam The City
There are plenty of things to do in Amsterdam. In fact, you could probably stay a couple of weeks and not be able to see and do everything you want.
Drugs and Weed
Most people want to know about the drug culture here, and to ignore this fact would be a folly. There are plenty of smart shops which are basically what a head shop is in the states. In these stores you can buy a bunch of oddball stuff and drugs, if you want to. As I’m not really into all that, you are free to explore on your own.
Coffee Shops are where you get weed. Not all places are the same. Some expect a certain amount of knowledge, some cater to newbies. Some will let you borrow pipes, bongs or whatever you want to smoke from. If you are going to experiment, that’s fine, but if you are unaware of your tolerances, be cautious. It’s hard to enjoy beer when you are stoned out of your mind.
Also, if you have never ingested cannabis vs. only smoked it, do some research as it’s a vastly different experience, and you’re in for the ride from 8 to 12 (or more) hours. I learned the hard way and ended up falling asleep on a bench. All that said, space cakes are recommended. You just have to cut back on your drinking a bit.
If you do visit a coffee shop, do yourself a favor and get a Cappuccino. It will be much cheaper than in the US and it will likely be better than most you have ever had, plus you get a cookie. Also, one of these and some weed, serve as a great hangover remedy.
If this is all new to you and you want to check things out, a great place to start is a little coffee shop called Rookies. The staff is friendly and have a wide variety of product. Additionally, De Spuyt, a nice beer bar is right down the street, though they have generally later hours, and Shoarma Oma, next door is a great place to get shawarma (both spellings are viewed as correct, depending on the country of origin).
The Red Light District
It’s here. And you should go check it out. It’s pretty wild. Basically it’s like an outdoor mall with the excitement of a comic convention and all the stores have scantily clad women in them. Or, if you see a blue light instead of a red one, that might still be a woman, but there’s extra bits there if you’re into that kind of thing. Fifty Euro for 20 minutes seems to be the going rate. However, feel free to haggle. It won’t be taken personally.
There are also sex shows and all kinds of other entertainment there. Most of the bars in this area are of the dive nature, but you can find pretty good deals like 10 for 10 buckets or 10 for 10 shots, etc. While beer hunting is fun and all, you’re on vacation and if you just want to get shitfaced, more power to you.
In the US, we would call these bachelor parties. However, Europeans do them a bit differently. Generally there is a theme, and if it’s a German party, the groom-to-be generally has to wear some sort of wacky costume. Folks from the UK generally have an entire weekend of drinking, and can get pretty rowdy.
First off, I’d like to say that the craft beer scene in the Netherlands is exploding. Recently it came out that there are currently more breweries in the Netherlands than there are in Belgium. There really is a lot going on there, so I’m going to cover what I know and let you either stick to it, or use it as a starting point. Remember, the best way to find good beer is to ask the bartender or other patrons. Experience the culture!
At the bottom of each brewery, I’m going to recommend one of their beers. This may not be their best beer, but it’s an example of “If you only have one beer from this brewery, have this.” Hopefully this helps in your beerhunting.
Wasting your alcohol intake and calories on this beer would be a waste of time. However, it must be mentioned as it’s one of the largest beer brands in the entire world. Heineken started here in Amsterdam. There’s a Heineken Experience ride that goes through the original brewery. Personally, I have yet to do this, but I’m told it’s actually pretty fun. Perhaps next time. Just seemed too touristy to hit the first few times I was in town.
Jopen (sometimes referred to as Jopenkerk)
Emerging as one of the larger craft powerhouses in the Netherlands, this brewery based in Haarlem
has a taphouse in Amsterdam [edit: well they did for a bit], and they make many award winning beers. It is recommended taking a trip out to Haarlem as it’s a beautiful town. More on that later. Most of their beers have different, non-Dutch names for export.
Full Disclosure: These guys have been amazing to us over the years and we brewed a beer while there the last time… it’s called Friend Finder, so if you run across it, cheers from us.
Recommended Beer: Mooie Nel (Northsea IPA for US export)
One of the first smaller breweries in the Netherlands, north of Amsterdam you can take a ferry to this Island and visit the brewery.
Recommended Beer: Skuumkoppe
A 45 minute train ride from Amsterdam brings you to the small town of Boedegraven. Here you will find one of the best breweries in the world. Recommending more than one beer here. Honestly, this brewery doesn’t make a bad beer. They may not even make average beer.
Recommended Beers: Tsarina Esra, Moord & Doodslag (aka Rasputin aka Cease & Desist for US Export)
Off on an island on the southwestern end of the country is this brewery that is near impossible to get to by public transportation. I hope to make it someday, but Chris did get to go the one time.
Recommended Beers: Imperial Russian Stout
La Trappe (aka Bierbrouwerij De Koningshoeven)
One of the few Trappist breweries in the world, this brewery sits on Monastic grounds in the south of the Netherlands. Worth a visit if you plan on travelling through the area. It’s very lovely and peaceful.
Recommended Beer: Quadrupel
Situated inside one of the last remaining original windmills in Amsterdam, this beer bar is known for being very busy and attracting Stag Parties from all over Europe. The beer here is insanely cheap. Enjoy.
Recommended Beer: IPA
A brewery in the Red Light District. Originally, the name was De Pearl. However, the owners realized that name had already been taken, but only after the sign for the outside of the building showed up. So they just flipped some letters around. Working as a non-profit type organization, De Prael employs a lot of marginalized people that couldn’t otherwise find steady employment. It’s an enjoyable stop and since we all know you’re going to be in the Red Light District anyway, stop on in.
Recommended Beer: Milkstout
Another Amsterdam brewery, however I unfortunately haven’t been to, however Chris did make it. I just know they are newer and making decent beer, enough to mention them.
Recommended Beer: Thai Thai
Another brewery from Haarlem, these guys are all over the place with different styles and just plain off-the-wall beers. Also makes picking a recommended one hard. I highly suggest a visit to this place and the other gems Haarlem has to offer.
Recommended Beer: Peer Pressure
This brewery is a bit out of the way (30m from city center on public transit) and is a bit hard to find but was enjoyable anyway. Has a very American hipster vibe to it.
Recommended Beer: Green Cap
As stated previously, there’s a lot going on in the Dutch Beer Scene. And as Amsterdam is the epicenter of this, new beer bars are opening all the time. However, these are the tried and true of the bunch. With a couple newer contenders thrown into the mix.
The MOREBEER Tour
MOREBEER is a small brewery owned by the same person who owns these establishments. They’re a great bunch of dudes, this tour is totally recommend as well as their beers. Start at Arendsnest, second Beer Temple, third is ‘Cause Beer Loves Food, ending at Craft & Draft, and get a free shirt. When I went the third stop was Jopen, but apparently that has changed.
Remember to save your receipts! Also doing these out of order is fine, but you have to end at Craft & Draft because that’s where the shirts live. You may notice that MOREBEER isn’t listed as an option for a brewery. That’s because as of this writing, they don’t have a physical location to visit. But you can be sure to find them on tap at the above listed locations.
In De Wildeman
Very old establishment. Often has specialty beers from Flying Dog on tap. Neat little space.
“If it ain’t Dutch, it ain’t much.” If you’re looking for Dutch beer and only Dutch beer, this is your bar. 52 taps, and all of them Dutch. 100 more Dutch beers are in bottles. First stop on the MOREBEER Tour.
Neat little older bar near Rookies Coffee Shop.
Specializing in American beers, this is a great place to stop to find those rare whales. Second stop on the MOREBEER Tour.
‘Cause Beer Loves Food
Third stop on the MOREBEER Tour. This place is very new, and I have to admit I haven’t been there as the third stop was Jopen when I went last. But you gotta get that free shirt, right?
Craft and Draft
Final stop on the MOREBEER Tour. To be honest, this place seemed cool and all, but it was jam packed and honestly I was quite drunk. But I got my tshirt. Insert happy face here.
Delirium Cafe Amsterdam
I can’t say I’ve been here, but I’ve been to the one in Brussels multiple times and I have to recommend it just based on those visits. Looking forward to visiting next time I’m in town.
This is the only bottle shop that you need in Amsterdam.
This is one of the only things I’d recommend that isn’t considered a vice. There are some very famous paintings at this museum, and some that are larger than most bathrooms. This could be good for a rest day, or if you want to have a space cake and just wander around the city instead of drinking.
Here’s the place to get your touristy picture. It’s right next to the Rijksmuseum, which makes it super easy to find.
Van Gogh Museum
To be honest, I didn’t go here, but it’s near the Rijksmuseum, so maybe check it out? Also, ask a local how to pronounce this. It’s not how you usually hear it. In fact, it sounds a bit Klingon, in my opinion.
Eating Amsterdam Food Pairing Tour
I was a bit skeptical about this one, but it was well worth the price of admission. Feel free to skip the herring, if you want. It’s cool, nobody is judging you. One of the great parts of this tour is learning a bit more about traditional Dutch pubs aka Brown Cafes. Have the oldest traditional house made Dutch Apple Pie inside one.
See Amsterdam from the canals. It’s pretty neat to get around the city by boat. Or don’t. I’m not your mother. Adding the canal tour with Eating Amsterdam is worth it, just to say you’ve been on a boat that Winston Churchill was on once.
If visiting in the spring, do like a basic tourist and head out to this and see the tulip fields. If you time it right, you can see them in full bloom, which is quite breathtaking. If you’re early, like we were, be sure to visit the greenhouse, where there are plenty of amazing flowers to look at. Walking around the grounds, you should be able to see many different varieties of tulips on display for global buyers to choose which bulbs to export for next year’s sales. Yes, the entire place is really just a tulip bulb showroom that is open to the public.
Alkmaar Cheese Market
A short trip north of the city, Every Friday, from April to September, you can visit this beautiful city, where they reenact traditional cheese trading just as they have done since the 12th Century.
The Second City of Amsterdam. For lovers of Improv Comedy, this is a must on any trip to Amsterdam. See where comedy staples like Seth Meyers, Jason Sudekis and Jordan Peele got their start.
If you’ve read the rest of the guide, Haarlem is listed often. It’s a 15m train ride from Amsterdam (make sure you make the last train back if not staying overnight) and it’s a beautiful town. Here you will find Jopen and Uiltje Breweries. Jopen brews out of the Jopenkerk, which translates into Jopen Church, a brewpub built into an old stone church. The stained glass is still intact and when the sun shines inside, it’s quite beautiful.
Uiltje Bar is a short walk from here, though it is the original brewpub. The production facility is across town and one long walk. Stick to the original, right? In this case it’s the better deal.
In the opposite direction from the Jopenkerk, a somewhat longer, but still short 12 minute walk, you will find Cafe Briljant. An excellent little bar where I first got to sample both Sink The Bismarck! and Tactical Nuclear Penguin. I can’t guarantee they still have any left, however. There are also plenty of other great little bars around the town. Ask for recommendations at any of the places already listed. They’ll give you good tips.