First stop on arriving in Amsterdam was legendary beer emporium De Bierkoning. Amongst the prodigious range of Low Countries bottles, there is an impressive selection of foreigners. I surprised myself by picking an American, a Norwegian, a German and just the one Belgian.
Flying Dog beers are just starting to touch down in Ireland, but I've not seen the Gonzo Imperial Porter yet. It pours very thickly with a slow-rising café crème head. The aroma is rich and estery, with almost the essence of a solvent. A syrupy feel and sweet coffee notes are at the front, followed by an orangey, pithy, bitterness. Not a beer to be taken lightly, despite a piddling 8.7% ABV. More from Flying Dog soon(ish).
It seems to me that Norway's craft brewers are turning out new beers faster than I can drink them. (The fact that they're not sold in my home country doesn't help either.) I'm just now catching up to Haandbryggeriet Dark Force, another strong black beer. This goes all-out for a powerful hoppy bite, with only a gentle coffee mellowness to take the edge off. I detected some licquorice notes at the very end as well. Half a litre of this is a bit of a rollercoaster.
The German, chosen largely at random, was a pale bock: Leonhardi Bock Heller, by Hummel-Bräu. It's a beautiful dark gold colour and the flavour engages in a tugging match between sugary alcoholic notes (it's 7.5% ABV) and dry throat-catching bitterness. This all makes for a complex, interesting and highly enjoyable experience.
To Belgium, then, and a bottle of legendary Christmas ale Stille Nacht. It pours a hazy orange colour with a big foamy head, yet has a very light and typically Belgian carbonation. It's strong, it's bitter and it's hoppy, but I just didn't feel warmed by it. As Christmas ales go, I think I'd pass on this one.
I didn't have time for a whole lot of pubbing around Amsterdam, but did squeeze in an hour or two on the mezzanine of Café Gollem -- the best seat for a view of the blackboard menu around the walls. Here I had another one from the makers of Stille Nacht, Arabier. It's a pale Belgian ale with the contrast of malty sweetness and hoppy bitterness I most associate with Duvel, but here the two flavours act separately and the result is a little bit sharp and discordant for my liking.
Quite possibly my favourite beer of the trip was that trans-North-Sea oddity Martin's Pale Ale. Here we find the floral and tannic notes of an English ale, but tempered -- quite beautifully, in this blogger's opinion -- with some very Belgian sugar notes and a soft carbonation. Shame about the 33cl bottle: I could neck this by the pint quite happily.
I've come this far and managed to avoid mentioning a single Dutch beer. No more. First up was La Trappe Tripel, a gorgeous red-gold honey colour with yet more honey on the nose. Alas it's not as much of a feast for the tastebuds as it is for the other senses. While there's a little bit of honey in the flavour, there's not a whole else going on. The absence of the full-on fruity and spicy and bitter tripel experience makes it a disappointing example of the genre.
How does one follow a La Trappe? Why, with an Amstel, of course. In a café in Haarlem on Monday afternoon I saw table cards advertising Amstel Rijpe Bock, and I figured I'd have me one of them. Not surprisingly, from Heineken's low-rent offspring, this doesn't taste of much. However, the slight sweet-sour fruit flavours with a hint of smoke, and especially the light ungassy texture, make this quite a pleasant drinking experience, if not exactly a challenging one.
More Dutch beer to follow, and then I'll finally be caught up with everything. Unless I try a new beer in the meantime, of course. The Flying Dogs are calling me, as Kate Bush might have said if she were rather madder than she already is.