When I told my friends and family I wanted to travel to Amsterdam to check out some of the local beers, the initial feedback was less than promising. “There’s the Heineken Brewery,” they advised, “and Amstel, but not much else.”
Fortunately, in the last few years the beer scene in Amsterdam has grown from role-playing as a yeast clump in the Heineken brewing experience to a rich and varied offering of craft breweries across the city. They’re not all brilliant – many of them still have a lot to learn. However, Amsterdam is far from the beer desert it’s been made out to be.
After a delayed flight and a confusing journey from the airport, I’m just about ready to tuck into a line of beers at 3pm. Fortunately, this brewpub is on hand right by Centraal Station to scratch that itch. Past countless clueless tourists, testy tourists, and clouds of cannabis fug, tucked down a quiet side street lies Brouwerij de Prael.
Inside it’s a pleasant mix of pretty and functional: the stainless steel fermentation tanks in the back remind you this is a working brewpub; the painted ceramic beer taps out front soften the atmosphere enough to enjoy it.
The man standing behind the bar is bald on top with frizzy grey hair down to his shoulders. With that look I can only assume he’s one of the brewers or that Brauwerij de Prael hires part time wizards to work the bar.
He’s not the friendliest. Either he’s worked out that I’ve clocked him as a part time Hogwarts professor, or maybe he’s fed up of the perpetually looping Bob Marley playing in the background – it is central Amsterdam, after all. More likely he’s just had his fair share of British tourists for the day, but that’s not going to stop me working through the bar.
Alt, 4% 3.50EUR
Unsurprisingly given the name, altbier is an old style – brewed with top fermenting yeast rather than the new-fangled bottom fermenting lager rubbish. As such, I’m hoping this beer will bring along some interesting flavours.
It’s amber and cloudy, with a tall, thick head to start: just seems to be a feature of how they pour them here, as it quickly dissipates to a more reasonable lacing after a minute or so. The aroma is wheaty and strawberry sweet. It might just be that it’s my first beer of the day, but it’s really inviting.
There’s more berry flavours on the palate: strawberries and blueberries; sweet bubblegum notes. That’s balanced by the bitternesss spreading gently over the tongue to finish.
The Alt straddles the realms of ales and lagers, ably displaying the positive characteristics of both. I’m enjoying it now in the depths of midwinter, but this would really be best as a refreshing thirst-quencher in the summer. 4/5
Russian Imperial Stout, 8.9% 4.00EUR
It’s at this point that I realise all the beers are roughly four Euros a go, and that if I want to get my money’s worth I should switch to the strong stuff – hence my move to this, a nine percent imperial stout. I wonder if that’s a uniquely British mentality?
It looks much like any other stout: pitch black with a caramel head. Perhaps the biggest difference in appearance is that the structure of the bubbles here is much coarser than I’d normally expect to see in a stout. The nose is smokey, with some subtle sweetness, perhaps coconut.
Then it hits the tongue, and it’s all bubbles.
It’s only once the bubbles clear that I can catch a glimpse of the flavours behind: milky sweetness, like cheap chocolate ice cream, the kind that doesn’t taste like chocolate unless you’re specifically looking for it. Floating above is more of that berry, bubblegum note we spotted in the altbier: these beers may be very different styles, but they’re still cousins. The finish is more milky sweetness mingled with pear drops.
Not a bad beer, by any means, but this Russian Imperial Stout lacks the impact and flavour I’d expect of the style. 2/5
Brouwerij de Prael has its high and low points. On the one hand, the selection of beers is decent: I’ve only tried two of around a dozen beers they brew themselves here, so there’s every chance I’ve missed the best ones. The atmosphere is pleasant enough, and the location is convenient.
On the other hand, perhaps this place suffers from being too central. The breweries and bars I’ve found further away from Centraal Station have been consistently friendlier and have had more pleasant atmospheres, though not necessarily such good beer. Barflies are also a problem here, as the pots of honey on every shelf will testify.
Still, as a first stopping point on arriving in Amsterdam, Brouwerij de Prael is a decent shout. Just be willing to move onto more welcoming surroundings if you’re planning to stay a little longer.