Notes from the road, July 2000
New York: World Beer Cup
At the World Beer Cup Awards ceremony, in New York City, where I was guest speaker, I greatly enjoyed the gold medal-winning IPA from Russian River Brewing, of Guerneville, California. Smooth and dry, but full of lively flavors. It was good to see a local New York beer, the deliciously refreshing, herbal, Blanche de Brooklyn winning the gold for Belgian-style white beers, especially as it pipped Hoegaarden, the brew that originally revived this style. Only a third of the entries were from outside the U.S., so I was pleased that Hoegaarden sportingly rose to the challenge. Congratulations to the Täarnö brewery, of Sweden, on winning the hotly-contested barley wine category with its Nils Oscar No 5 Christmas ale (1998 edition). I tasted this a couple of years ago at the brewery, and loved its blend of assertive maltiness and syllabub-likelemony fruitiness. I was also glad to see so many young Japanese breweries pick up medals. I was sorry not to have chance to taste Nasu Kohgen's Stout, having enjoyed the same brewery's slippery-smooth, nutty, Scotch Ale at the Great Japan Beer Festival in Tokyo last year.
Scotland: New brewery
On the Isle of Arran, researching malt whisky, I also visited a new brewery, not far from the ferry terminal at Brodick. The brewery is at Cladach, the hamlet adjoining Brodick Castle. It is called simply the Arran Brewery, and was established in February of this year by an Englishman, Richard Roberts, and his Glaswegian wife Elisabeth. The couple had been holiday visitors to Arran for many years. Their brewery, in shop-like premises, is a micro, with a tasting room. The basic Isle of Arran Ale is a gold-to-bronze brew of 3.8 per cent alcohol by volume, creamy, with a very good late bitterness (the hop varieties are Challenger, Mount Hood and Styrians). Isle of Arran Dark, at 4.3 abv, has a more overt hop aroma; a smooth malt character; and an appetisingly dry finish.
In the better-known whisky region of Speyside, I enjoyed an ale called Red Murdoch. It has more of a tawny color, and is very smooth, nutty, and dryish. This beer is from the region's Aviemore brewery. I tasted it at the Highlander pub, in the village of Craigellachie. This is a friendly pub with modestly-priced accommodation, in the heart of whisky country. Two or three miles up the road in the whisky village of Aberlour, The former railway station bar has been turned into an excellent pub featuring Scottish micros. When I called in, I had a cask-conditioned ale called Formakin, malt-accented but beautifully balanced, from the Houston Brewing Company. This Houston is near Glasgow -- not in Texas.
The Netherlands: New beer bar and two breweries
Belgian brews have long been celebrated across the border in the speciality beer bars of The Netherlands, but what about this country's own products? A Netherlands-only beer bar was tried some years ago, in Amsterdam, but failed, perhaps due to a poor location. Now a new one has been opened. I was guest of honour at the opening, and was introduced by Dutch comedy actor Kenneth Herdigein, a beer-lover, who came up with a fresh twist on jokes about my gloved namesake. Herdigein, who is black, scanned the room and explained: "Michael Jackson is supposed to be here tonight, but I can't see him. You know what black people are like -- very unreliable."
The new bar was established by Peter van der Arend, formerly the local chairman of the consumerist organisation PINT. Arend means "eagle" in Dutch. The new place is called 't Arendsnest. The draught selection is limited, but the bar will aim to carry one beer from every brewery in The Netherlands: more than 60 in all. It is not far from the main railroad station (or from the famous beer bar In De Wildeman), and may prove to be a more amenable location. Arendsnest is on the Herengracht, one of the main canals. It is in a typical canalside house, dating from the 17th century. The address is 90 Herengracht, and that is also the name of the house beer, which is broadly in the style of a Belgian ale. It has a bronze color and begins with a malty sweetness, but has a very late balance of hop bitterness.
Peter van der Arend pours a beer (photo/Erik Pruisken)
The beer is produced for the Arendsnest by the micro De Schans, in the village of Uithoorn, on the river Amstel, just beyond the suburbs of Amsterdam. This brewery is in a former barber's shop and family house on a street called Schans. Owner Guus Roijen designed the high-tech one-hectolitre system himself, and had it constructed by a producer of dairy equipment. The brewery specialises in making customised beers, many for associations or companies as gifts or premiums. Adjoining the brewery is a speciality beer shop, also selling Dutch gins, run by Guus's wife, Jet van Dalfsen.
Another newish venue in Amsterdam is Cafe Boulevard (3 Cruquius Weg), in a 1902 former customs building in the reclaimed harbor area in east of the city (not far from the famous brewpub 't IJ). Boulevard began ten years ago as purely a cafe, but evolved into a restaurant, and in recent years has begun to feature an extensive range of Dutch and Belgian beers and to use them in the preparaion of dishes.
Visitors to Amsterdam often take in the small town of Volendam, about 15 miles away. Volendam is one of the few places where traditional Dutch costume is still worn, albeit by a very small number of people. The town's traditional industry is fishing for eels, but it seems never to have had a brewery. In recent years, the beer-friendly Cafe Molen, on the waterfront, has held courses in home-brewing by retired air traffic controller Theo van de Voorde. He has now helped set up a micro. His partners in the venture are Kees Jonk, who works in construction and had space available in his premises; and Martin Veerman, who has a background in sales. The beers are labelled 't Volen, in a pun on the city's foal emblem, and the principal brew is called Palinck, an old spelling for the Dutch word for eel. It is a Belgian-style ale, with a very attractive Saaz aroma and a very light spicing. A "top-fermenting Maibock" called Zeebonck ("Jack Tar") is sweeter and fruitier, with very satisfying, long, flavors. There have also been experiments with other styles.