Drinking Beyond Amsterdam
From a genever museum in Schiedam to Rotterdam's diverse drinking and dining scene, there's never been a better time to explore the Netherlands.
Amsterdam hogs the spotlight in the Netherlands — and deservedly so. There are all types of world-class attractions, plenty of, shall we say, recreational activities, delicious food, endless museums, and no shortage of drinks, from beers at the bustling Heineken Experience to stellar, inventive cocktails at the must-visit Tales & Spirits.
Yet, there's more to the country than that, and some of its best drinking may reside elsewhere, about an hour southwest in Rotterdam and its quaint neighbor, Schiedam. Rotterdam was leveled by German bombing in World War II, and emerged on the other side with a can-do attitude summed up by its current slogan: “make it happen.” It's highlighted by city-wide funky and eye-catching modern architecture and its proud port heritage — including the rowdier side of port life, celebrated at the annual Nacht van de Kaap festival.
As for Schiedam, it's a city unto itself, but being only about five kilometers away, it's been dubbed “the distilling district” of Rotterdam. This is no new upstart, though. This is one of the world's oldest distilling hubs and the home of genever.
At its peak, there were nearly 400 distilleries in Schiedam alone, powered by 20 massive windmills spread across the city. Those days are long gone, and only a fraction of the distilleries and windmills are now active, but there remains a strong presence and an irrefutable historical tie. The latter is proudly displayed at the Genever Museum (National Jenevermuseum), where they make genever as well. A trip will fill you in on the spirits history, how its made, and also its influence.
Consider this incredibly far-reaching connect the dots in world spirits, and imagine the “what ifs” if they didn't occur: it's only when the British couldn't get Dutch genever that they began their gin production in earnest, and it was the Dutch who both distilled French wine from Cognac into brandy, and convinced the producers in Cognac to distill it themselves. For anyone who's visited the Cognac region or is familiar with their alembic stills, you'll do a double take when you go into a distillery such as Herman Jansen, founded in Schiedam in 1777, and see strikingly similar stills and stillhouse designs. The word “brandy” is even based on a Dutch word that translates to “burnt wine.”
Schiedam isn't just living in the past though; it's very much still home to a thriving and once again growing distilling scene. Nolet Distillery is located there, where they make Ketel One Vodka, as well as Nolet's Gin. There's De Kuyper Royal Distillers and its huge lineup of liqueurs, and Onder de Boompjes, the second oldest distillery in the country.
There's also the aforementioned Herman Jansen, where they make a huge range of spirits including their lineup of Notaris genevers, ranging from category-bending 10-year-old and 15-year-old expressions, and even older and rarer vintage single casks. If their main stillhouse looks similar to what you'd find in Cognac, when you walk into a back room and see two shiny copper pot stills which would look right at home in any Scotch distillery, you won't be surprised to learn that the distillery is now planning on full-fledged whisky production as well.
It's not a huge departure; the malt wine which Herman Jansen makes genever from is made up of a mash bill of equal parts corn, malted barley, and rye. Mass production at the turn of the 20th century brought the quality of genever down, utilizing more neutral spirits in tandem with the malt wine, but producers such as Herman Jansen follow an authentic and traditional approach which produces that unmistakably rich and malty quality that fits in snugly with its botanicals.
New brands are also emerging in the current environment. There's the popular Bobby's Gin, as well as Catz Dry Gin, and the upstart Loopuyt, a brand focused on lifestyle and culture. They're distilled by Herman Jansen, but have their own brand home where they host speakeasy parties replete with barber chairs and boxing rings, not to mention bars stocked with their gin's botanicals and their own brand-name tonic. An even larger space is currently in construction across from its current location, as they hope to win over consumers, and more importantly, bartenders, one party and cocktail at a time.
Back in Rotterdam after a hard day of genever touring, there's plenty more to entertain your palate. The city's zest for innovation and experimentation has led to a diverse dining and drinking scene. Visit the Fenix Food Factory to taste your way through an assortment of local purveyors, and wash it down with brews made on-site from De Kaapse Brouwers, where they keep 30 beers on draft and focus on big, bold flavors.
Another place to satiate your thirst is Markthal, a state of the art food hall with Rotterdam-appropriate, eye-catching architectural design to match. Inside, you'll find nearly 100 bars, restaurants and vendors ready to match any mood or preference, whether it's sherry and jamón ibérico, wines from Portugal, more local brews, spices and olives from Turkey, or anything else. Elsewhere in town, at De Jong restaurant you'll find an all-natural wine list to pair with an indulgent tasting menu, and at Ayla, you'll find house-infused gin cocktails and seasonal ingredients showcased alongside flavorful and modern Spanish tapas.
At Dertien, you can go back to where you began, with genever cocktails served alongside an assortment of local specialties cooked in their wood oven. If you're still going strong, the bartenders there and just about everywhere else recommend ending the night at Stirr for some of the best cocktails and hospitality in the city.
There's something for every type of drinker, and there's much to learn around every corner. So schedule a visit to Rotterdam, and neighboring Schiedam. Make it happen.