Amsterdam: Beer and Horse Piss

An obvious aspect of Amsterdam we wanted to explore was beer.  If you walk through Amsterdam’s city centre for more than a minute you are bound to see a bar with a Heineken sign sticking out of it.  So we decided to visit the Heineken brewery.

The place was obviously not a real brewery.  It was more designed so that tourists could see, feel and taste each stage of the brewing process and their resulting states.

We saw how it started with malt barley mixed with hot water (mashing) in a mash tun.  Mashing generally takes a couple of hours.  The ‘mash’ is then washed to separate the liquid (wort) from the spent grain.

This sweet wort is then placed into a giant kettle, known as a ‘copper’, and boiled for around an hour.  The water evaporates during this stage, and any leftover enzymes from the previous stage are also destroyed.  At this stage hops is added to the mix, and it is this that gives the beer its bitter taste.  The more hops added, the bitterer the beer.

After this the hopped wort is cooled and transferred to a fermenter (essentially a large vessel for the beer to ferment).  Yeast is added and the beer is left to ferment for any number of weeks, depending on the kind of beer desired.

The last stage of the tour is a demonstration on how Heineken is served.  It was explained how the head is important in keeping the beer fresh; the 250ml glasses mean the beer doesn’t get warm before you finish it (unlike pints or, if you’re in Bavaria, litres); and how slicing the head of the top of the glass with a plastic spatula soaked in water helps to seal the beer.  We were all given a glass each and sent on our way after we finished.

One thing I noticed about this area was that there were two taps with a bar surrounding them.  The first bar was where the demonstration was performed, but the other tap was dripping beer, and was surrounded by flies.  This seemed weird, but I didn’t think to ask about it.  I just thought the place wasn’t being run properly.  But then I noticed it in all the bars.  Every single bar would have one tap, beer dripping from it, surrounded by flies.

I finally found out why:  beer flies are a real problem in certain parts of Europe, so every bar has one tap that is purposefully left with beer dripping from it.  This way, the flies are attracted to this one tap and happily buzz around it doing what flies do.  The rest of the taps (and everyone’s beers) are left alone, and remain uncontaminated.

Another place we heard about was Brouwerij ‘t IJ (IJ Brewery).  It was a brewery and pub attached to a windmill.  It’s own beers are more expensive, but a lot stronger, and a lot tastier than the beers brewed by larger companies.  We didn’t get to do the tour, but it is definitely one of the better places to drink beer in Amsterdam.

Being in the games industry I work with a lot of Europeans.  I have since learned from my Dutch friends that Heineken in the Netherlands is like Fosters in Australia.  No one drinks it.  In fact, they call it ‘horse piss’.

You’re better off buying Grolsch.

Amsterdam: Meeting New People

The night-life in Amsterdam is definitely worth experiencing.  A huge array of pubs, bars and clubs can be found, just as in any city.  Just like in any country with a smoking ban, the smoking rooms have become the hub of social interaction – anyone who sits in one for more than 5 minutes is sure to strike up a conversation with someone new.  A while longer, and someone will pass around a spliff or two as well (these ones mixed with tobacco, so not soul-destroying like the coffee shop shit).

I ended up discussing sex with a local.  I struggled to see her concept of being in love, but still sleeping around.  She argued that relationships and sex were 2 completely different things.  I asked her what was the point of being with someone if you’re just going to sleep around around anyway.  She told me I was still young, and that when I got older I would understand better.  I must still be young, because I still don’t understand.

I met some American soldiers on leave, obviously here to experience the pleasures offered by the city.  They hadn’t touched marijuana, however, because the American military does random drug tests.  If they got caught out then they would lose their careers, and these guys (or at least the one I talked to) were in it for the long haul.

I met an Irish couple who told me about the sex show they had been to earlier that day.  They said it wasn’t really a turn-on, more kind of odd that someone next to them was having sex while they drank.  Being from the ROI, their attitude was that it was all bollocks and people need to focus on having a good time.

I ended up talking to the girlfriend, Evy, while the boyfriend chatted to others.  She had a very pretty face, and was wearing a short red skirt and a low cut black top.  We talked about Ireland a lot, especially about how the Troubles were a load of “horseshit” to them.  We eventually started talking about Irish Gypsies and I mentioned that I had Gypsy blood in me.  My grandfather was apparently a Gypsy by the name of Patrick McDonagh (our family history is a little fuzzy on this, but that’s a whole different story).

Her face suddenly changed to one of both excited surprise and of shock.  She raised her hand to her mouth.  “You’re a McDonagh?”  she asked.  After I confirmed she tugged excitedly at her boyfriend’s shirt.  “He’s a McDonagh, he’s a McDonagh!”  Her boyfriend looked at me.

“Seriously?” he said.  I nodded and he turned away laughing.  I asked her what was so special about being a McDonagh.

Apparently McDonagh is a gypsy name, and this tribe is infamous for their bare-knuckle boxing.  She suggested that I don’t want to go around Ireland that I’m a McDonagh.  I’ve met several Irishmen since, and have had various reactions to my name (one did ask me not to blow anything up).  Although, funnily enough, when I actually went to Dublin later on in life (again, another story) no-one made a fuss about my name at all.

Eventually a couple of girls joined the group; one Dutch, and one an American who now lived in Amsterdam; and since it was getting close to midnight we all decided to go to a night club together.  The club was a typical city dance club – over-the-top decoration, bottled beers, cocktails and shots flying over the bar and several people drunkenly dancing the night away.  We partied for a while, and inevitably ended up in the smoking area again.

The smoking area in this place was an unfurnished room with a large man in a  suit stood emotionless at the door.  He moved only to eject a few troublemakers who had had too much.  We sat on the floor passing a spliff around as we talked.  We chatted about the marijuana laws in the country, how each person was allowed one plant, how it’s not technically legal to smoke, but it’s allowed, how Dutch weed is better than English or American weed, and the many various flavours of weed available.  Eventually I asked the American girl why she moved to Amsterdam.

She broke off into this speech about how she had really found herself here, how she felt so free to do as she chooses and be herself.  She grabbed the hand of the Dutch girl she was with as she said she had met a special person who meant the world to her.  She said that she was in love with the city, it’s people and able to finally accept and love herself.  I couldn’t help but smile at such a passionate speech, one that I am really not doing justice here.

Then she noticed the spliff in her hand and said “Oh, and you can smoke weed!”

Things To Not Do In Amsterdam

My first holiday abroad was your typical holiday.  5 young men going to Amsterdam to get high and party.  It was a friend’s kind-of birthday party back in 2009, and was my first time leaving the country*.

In the Capital of the Netherlands, with the oldest stock exchange in the world, historic canals, plentiful museums, the Anne Frank house and more bicycles than I’d ever seen in my life, we made the obvious choice.  We went to the red light district to find a coffee shop to get high.

Since 1st January, 2004, smoking tobacco has been illegal in public places in Amsterdam.  The effect of this is that the spliffs in the coffee shop in Amsterdam are made from pure cannabis all the way through.  In other words, it was strong shit.

So we order a couple of spliffs, find a table at the back of the coffee shop and lit up.  Puff-puff-pass, puff-puff-pass, we went on for a few minutes.  A few of the guys with us must have realised how strong it was and stopped before myself and the birthday boy.  Once I started to realise how much it was hitting me I stopped as well.  The birthday boy smoked a little more.  It was his first time smoking weed.

So what followed was him going through all the stages of getting high within the space of a few minutes.  First he started laughing inanely at the stupidest joke, then he could suddenly feel his insides more than usual, then he started to get paranoid.  Of course, myself being just as high I found the whole thing hilarious.  I sat there giggling away at him until I realised how serious this was.

“I don’t like this”, he complained, “oh God, this is horrible.”  I tried to tell him that he needed to relax, that if he just let it roll over him then he would be fine.  That’s when I realised I was paralysed.  Knowing I could do nothing, I leaned back and let the drug take over, giant grin on my face.

My friend had gotten up and ran off – my other friends had gone off after him.  I was chilled out and relaxed, but still worried about my friend, so I opened my eyes and looked around for him.  I saw him sat down on the opposite side of the room, the shop owner next to him feeding him sugar water.  Knowing that he was being looked after I was able to do what I needed to do.  I leaned back, closed my eyes, and relaxed.

Later, I was woken up.  It was Mark.  “We have to go, he wants to get some air”.  I knew the state I was in, I was just handling it better.  I knew I couldn’t stand up, I couldn’t walk around.  So my response was obvious.

“Dude, I’m not going anywhere!”

Of course I knew this wasn’t right, but I literally couldn’t pull myself up.  I was in the most beautiful place at that point and I couldn’t risk turning it into a bad high.

I’m not all bad.  I was worried about my friend, and I wanted him to be okay.  So as soon as I felt able to stand I pulled myself up and I told them we could go if they wanted.  Which we did.

Now, you need to know what goes on in the red light district.  There are loads of glass doors with half-naked women behind them.  They all want to sell sex to you, and they will do this by tapping on said windows, half-opening doors as you walk past, or shouting things at you.  There are drug-pushers running around who will try to sell to by running as close as possible to you and whispering “Coke coke coke” or whatever poison they might be selling.

The point to take from this is it’s not a good place to be when you are paranoid.

What followed was the worst high I’ve had in my entire life.  I was freaked out by the colourful lights, the constant tapping and banging of doors and pushers practically shoulder-barging me as I wandered the streets.  I wanted to go home and sleep it off, but I was unable to speak properly.

The birthday boy was okay by the way.  I think the fresh air did help him clear his head.

(*) Unless you count Wales.

 

Oh, by the way, I don’t mean to make Amsterdam seem like a bad place to visit.  It is a beautiful city.  I’ll write more about the good experiences I had there in future blog posts.