Archive for June, 2016

Historical Interlude: Amsterdam’s Sleutelbrug

amsterdam_canal_bridge_1482937_oWhen I studied at the University of Amsterdam I have crossed this bridge more times than I can remember on my way to History classes. It is one of the many bridges in Amsterdam. Fairly nondescript that got its fame more from the many junkies selling you a bike for next to nothing. A bike they probably stole from you a week before.

The bridge is called De Sleutelbrug (The Keybridge) and is on the main path from the Rokin to the University of Amsterdam. This area is full of local history. Not only is it now the university, but a large part of the complex was once a hospital. The university complex is still called the Onze Lieve Vrouw Gasthuis, Our Dear Lady Guesthouse.

It wasn’t until I was doing research for a walking tour of Amsterdam beer history that I found out that the bridge is named after a brewery that stood nearby named De Sleutel.

The history of brewery De Sleutel matches that of the rise of Amsterdam as a global economic power. Amsterdam got its first wealth by holding a monopoly on beer from Northern German cities like Hamburg where beer was made that was significantly better than what was produced locally. This trade led to more trade with the Baltic Sea. Grains and wood was imported into the city and distributed throughout Northern Europe. With the wealth from this it was possible to build ships that could sail to Asia to open up the spice trade. You need capital for this, and that was made by the trade with Northern Europe.

De Sleutel Brewery was started by Gerrit Bicker in the latter part of the 16th century. With the money he and his predecessors made, they could expand into other enterprises, especially trading companies. This made them incredibly wealthy. So wealthy in fact that they could build an entire island north of the Haarlemmerstraat, called the Bickerseiland. At its peak this island housed more than ten wharfs for the construction of ships. With economic power came political power and for a long time they were one of the most important families in the city, and by extension the country.

The brewery stood somewhere in what now is the Binnengasthuis area. Now it is an administrative part of the university, as well as having some classrooms and the food hall. Before that it was part of the hospital, and before that even it had a city carpentry shop and the brewery.

Not a single stone, wooden beam or even a plaque remembers us that there once was a brewery here. A brewery of a famous family no less. The only thing that remains is that small bridge with such a generic name that no one even things of a brewery. Which is more than for most historic breweries.

I will add more short articles Amsterdam beer history, and hopefully soon I will be able to give a tour through the city, showing the few remaining signs of beer history. I will keep you all posted.

 

Amsterdam-West:Buying Beer, Drinking Beer and Eating (with a beer)

A piece about beer in Amsterdam five years ago would be one blogpost. There just wasn’t much to visit when this decade started. Oh things have changed my friends.

Much of it was centered on downtown Amsterdam with places like De Bierkoning, ‘t Arendsnest, Brouwerij ‘t IJ and In De Wildeman. But a lot more is going on in other parts of the city. New enterprises have started, and older stores have hooked onto the craft beer hype by adapting to the new type of alcohol consumer.

When I moved to Amsterdam in 2000 Amsterdam-West (or to be more precise Oud West or Old West, adjacent to the center of the city) wasn’t much. Maybe a few good places to drink coffee or eat, but not a neighborhood you’d base your visit to Amsterdam on. Though it is still not a Jordaan or De Pijp, it is changing. Like all the other neighborhoods this part too has been through a positive renewal.

So here I want to focus on some beer places in Oud-West, and in the area from De Clerqsstraat to the Overtoom. There are more places to mention, but I chose my favorite two in each category: buying, eating, drinking.

Buying Beer

IMG_8029Avondwinkel Sterk (De Clercqstraat 7)

Let’s start here, just outside the Centrum district. Take tram 13, 14 or 17 from wherever you are, or just walk from Dam Square past the Westerkerk. Sterk bills itself as a store that is open late and yes, 1:00 at night is late. It also open year round.

Sterk now is a shop that sells stuff for expats, mostly from English speaking countries. What they especially are is a high class liquor store, with a focus on craft beer. The selection is huge, I mean really huge. I don’t think any store in Amsterdam can match what they have, apart from the Bierkoning naturally. More than half I think is beer from the Netherlands, and almost all of the local Amsterdam brewers have a spot on the shelf.

‘t Fust (Bilderdijkstraat 203)

When I first visited this little corner store it had some shelves in the corner with beer, mostly Belgian, some local things like De Prael. Well, things have changed, now the majority of the store is beer, and great beer too. Good selection of De Molens and an Emelisse White Label is always a good sign. Store might be a little crowded and messy, but you won’t be disappointed by the things you can get here.

Drinking beer while eating

Foodhallen (Bellamyplein 51)

In between drinking tasty beer and schlepping around your increasingly heavy bag of bottles you need to eat. Let me suggest the Foodhallen, a must visit for anyone digging the small scale, food truck scene. It is close to the outside Ten Catemarkt, off the Kinkerstraat.

Built in what once was the garage for the trams on this side of the city, it now is a combination of shops, businesses, manufacturing, a movie theater and a food hall. Like any good food hall there is something for everyone. For the less adventurous there are burgers and pizza. But there is more interesting food like Spanish meats, Korean kimchi, oysters, ‘bitterballen’ filled with several ragouts or cheese fondue. It is a food lovers paradise and the prices aren’t even that absurd.

We had a perfect pulled pork sandwich, quinoa sushi, a nice slice of pizza with figs and goat cheese and Vietnamese rolls. What completes a trip to the Foodhallen for you the beer lover is that there is a beer bar. It is perfectly fine to buy a bottle of beer to eat with your burger here. And what is even better, it’s not your typical big brand beer but local brews from the likes of Oedipus or Two Chefs, and probably more in the future. I was able to have an Oedipus I hadn’t had before, so things were well.

There are plenty of other great places to eat, but if you are with a large group, this is perfect.

Bar Brouw (Ten Katestraat 16)

This place might be #1 on my ‘to eat at’ list. From what I have seen and heard this restaurant is a meat lover’s paradise with great smoked meat dishes. What sets it apart is the .Unfortunately it wasn’t open during the day on weekdays, but I will plan a visit soon. Based on recommendations from others this sounds great.

Drinking Beer!

I didn’t get around to visit Gollem on the Overtoom,  but from previous experience I know that this is nice too. It seems to be still focused on mostly Belgian and some German beers, but Dutch beer is available there too. Nice and roomy.

IMG_8040The Finish: Craft & Draft (Overtoom 417)

I promised two bars here, but this place is so good it counts as two. Any visit to this part of town should end with a visit to Craft & Draft. In fact, every visit to Amsterdam should contain at least a few hours here. Craft & Draft is part of the trifecta of amazing beer bars that also includes ‘t Arendsnest and the Beer Temple in downtown. This bar opened last year and is amazing. A little bit outside of downtown but easily accessible with tram, bike or a nice walk through the Vondelpark. 40 taps with things from all over the world, but mostly Scandinavian and American. There will be something for everyone. There is also a little store where you can buy some of the things. The interior is sleek, calming and at times funny and it is roomy. Downtown café’s might be small and cozy, but it is good to have some space now and again. This is one of the places where every time you come back the beer menu will be radically different. And, there are always some great Dutch beers on tap as well.

Travel

If you are a traveler just looking for some places to eat and drink West will suffice, but doesn’t stand above other neighborhoods. It doesn’t have a brewery (yet) but a high density of stores. If you can only visit two things though go to the Food Hallen and Craft & Draft, it will make your Amsterdam trip tastier.