Going Dutch

This week I am in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The city is home to one of the most recognizable and iconic beer brands in the world – Heineken. Heineken has operations in 70 countries and has a global workforce of 85,000. On a global scale only Anheuser-Busch InBev and SAB MillerCoors brew more beer. But I am not in Amsterdam to drink Heineken. The city has a small but vibrant craft beer scene that I want to explore. This afternoon, fresh off the plane from Detroit, I visited Brouweij de Prael, a craft brewery located on the site of an old auction house and wheelwright shop. The brewery can be found down an alley in the heart of the city’s famous Red Light District (De Wallen). Like many craft breweries de Prael has a nice line-up of year-round craft beers (ten in all) in addition to seasonal and limited edition brews. All of its beer is made with organic grains, is imageunfiltered, and unpasteurized. With the exception of some hops that are grown on site all brewing supplies arrive by canal. The beers are named after Dutch folk singers, most of whom (from what I can tell) are deceased. Johnny is a Kolsch (5.7% ABV) named after crooner Johnny Jordaan while Mary is a Belgian Tripel (9.7% ABV) named after Mary Servaes-Beij. Both are singers who specialized in levenslied (‘song about life’), a sentimental Dutch language genre of popular music. Photographs and album covers of the singers adorn the walls of the brewery’s tasting room. Much of the tasting room has the feel of a living room with comfy wingback chairs, old coffee tables, and moss green curtains.  However it is not just the great beer and the fantastic ambience that makes de Prael a brewery worth visiting. The brewery has a very distinctive social mission. Most of its employees have a history of long term psychiatric illness. Prior to opening the brewery in 2002 co-owners, Arno Kooij and Fer Kok, worked as nurses in a psychiatric rehabilitation center. Although they left the nursing profession Kooij and Kok saw the the brewery as providing them with an ideal opportunity to continue their rehabilitative work. In the United States craft breweries are known for giving back to their community through a variety of fundraising initiatives that support local charitable organizations. Kooij and Kok have taken their philanthropic passion to the next level by integrating their desire to help individuals suffering from schizophrenia, manic depression, personality disorders and a host of other psychiatric illnesses into their brewery’s every day operations. I’ll raise my glass and say proost to that.

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