Amsterdam Pub Guide
Brouwerij Het Ij

Amsterdam's Oldest Brewery
The wonderful smell that hits me as I open the door explains why brewer Kaspar Peterson has no time for me today. He's too busy mashing.

Ton Zijp, who has worked at the brewery for 9 years, stands in. I start by asking him how it all began. "Kaspar was in a band and they played regularly in Belgium. He became interested in Belgian beer and brought it back with him to Holland. That's how his interest in home brewing started."

"It soon got out of hand. His flat in De Pijp was rigged up with a series of boilers. It was highly dangerous. Then he found space in a squat where he could brew professionally. He spent a week at Slaghmuylder in Belgium learning some of the more technical aspects of brewing."

I wonder how they found such a beautiful location. "In 1984 Kaspar heard that Amsterdam council were going to sell off all of the pubic bath houses. He realised that this one would make an excellent location for his brewery and approached the council. It all went very quickly. In 1985 Kaspar was ready to brew."

Looking around there are several reminders of the buildings old function. Many of the enamel signs have been left in place.

The Proeflocal (brewery tap) was added in 1987. It plays a vital role promoting the brewery. "There's a synergy at work - people come to pub to drink, but buy bottles to takeaway, too. The pub definitely helps to publicise our beer."
While we're on the subject of the pub, I feel obliged to mention a disturbing rumour - that it's going to be renovated. I love the deliberately basic style of the place and am worried that this may be lost.

"Don't worry. Not much will be changed. We're moving some of the brewing equipment to the first floor. That will free up space on the ground floor for the pub. The existing bar will remain pretty much as it is. But we'll have much more space and a direct view out onto the terrace."

Who are their customers? "About 75% are from Amsterdam. At the weekend, people from the Dutch provinces and, of course, foreign beer enthusiasts." Amsterdam has become a stop on the international beer tourist route. "Many Americans fly in through Amsterdam. It's good that we exist. It helps promote Amsterdam as a serious beer destination."

I feel that it's time to start talking about their beer. How easy is it for them to find customers?

Ton smiles. "No problem at all. They come to us. We don't need to do any promotion or to advertise. We brew 2 batches of 2,000 litres a week. Around 1,500 to 2,000 hl a year. It's not difficult to sell all of that."

Where is their beer sold? "75% in Amsterdam, mostly in pubs. Some independent off-licences take our bottled beer, as well as some branches of the Gall & Gall chain. Sales are split about 50 - 50 between draught and bottled.

What about exports? "Most of our distribution is handled by Bierenco. We did send a couple of palettes to the USA last year. But it wasn't that much beer - about 2,000 litres."

The inspiration for the beers came initially from Belgium. Though Kaspar has added his own idividual touch. "It's very important for the beers to have character, identity. That's why we have our own yeast strain. I think that was the big mistake that Maximiliaan made - their beers tried to please everyone. It's the wrong tactic for a small brewery."

I agree. Maximiliaan never managed to build much of a following in Amsterdam. Only their one-off beers - where the brewer felt free to experiment - ever impressed.
The Het Ij beer range has been stable for many years. The only recent addition has been a witbier - something that shocked the Dutch beer world.

Ij Wit, which first appeared in 2002, has been a big hit. "Kaspar didn't want to brew a witbier. He said it was just a fad. He was surprised how popular the beer was in the Summer. Ij Wit and Plzen are the biggest sellers in the brewery tap. In other pubs, it's Columbus and Zatte that sell best."

I can't help asking one question about Plzen - is it top- or bottom-fermented? "We swapped to top-fermentation a couple of years ago. The beer started to smell strange in the Summer. The problem came from the interaction of top and bottom yeasts. The simplest solution is to stick to a single yeast. All our beers are brewed with the same strain."

I'm interested which of the Ij beers Ton likes best. "Vlo is a lovely beer. Very distinctive, though I can't drink too much of it. And Columbus, of course. It was the first Dutch beer I tasted that was as good as those from Belgium. It made me think, yes, it is possible to brew outstanding beer in Holland."
Seven beers are brewed year round.

Plzen, 5%, a top-fermented pils with a healthy dose of bitterness.

Vlo - 7% - must contain more coriander than any other beer. Distinctive, unusual and delicious.

Ij Wit 7% a delicately hopped wheat beer that is dangerously drinkable.

Natte - 6.5%, a bittersweet, creamy abbey dubbel.

Zatte - 8% a fruity tripel with a deliciously bitter finish.

Struis - 9%, a strong dark ale packed with chocolate and dried fruit flavours.

Columbus - 9% a big, burly amber ale that takes no prisoners.

There are three seasonal beers.

In Autumn there's an 6.5% dark Bock, in Winter the 9% Ijndejaars and in Spring Paasij, a blond ale of 7%, heavily spiced with coriander.

All the beers are unfiltered and bottle-conditioned.
Brouwerij "Het Ij"
Funenkade 7,
1018 AL Amsterdam.
Tel. 020-622 8325

The pub is open Wednesday to Sunday 15:00 - 20:00.

Tours every Friday at 16:00. It's free and there's no need to book in advance.

Questions? Suggestions? Click to email me.

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© Ron Pattinson & Will Price (thanks for being my photographer) 2004 - 2010