2 Beer Guys Blog

Welcome to the 2 Beer Guys Blog! Here, you will be able to read our stories and adventures as we travel through the world of craft beer.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Beer Mecca in Amsterdam

When discovering an awesome beer, the worst thing is realizing that you can't purchase it anywhere. This happens to us all of the time. On our November trip to California, we found a few amazing beers that are impossible to find in our local beer store. For example, the Old Raspy is extremely difficult to find (we have been lucky to randomly locate a small quantity) and we haven't seen Pliny the Elder anywhere. My Father-In-Law speaks of this Kentucky Beer that he had. He wants to go back to Kentucky just to enjoy the beer. Andy is always mentioning some awesome beer that he read about and we can't get it.

There are many beers from other parts of the country that we just can't get here. They don't distribute this far. It's out of stock. OH, we don't ship to Massachusetts. It's just so annoying.

The following story was found on Boston.com and it give us another direction we could take the 2beerguys (if we every wanted to..).

Ignace will be checking out the website and I am sure that he will have many comments to share about this article. I have challenged him to take a road trip to this mecca.



p.s Thanks Kristen for pointing us to his article.

It's 300 bottles of beer on the wall
Mass. native finds niche with rare ales in Amsterdam Colin Nickerson/Globe Staff)

By Colin Nickerson, Globe Staff | February 4, 2007

-- In a city famous for pot and prostitutes, a Bay State man is seeking his fortune as a purveyor of offbeat potables.

Do you crave a bottle of the legendary Westvleteren 12 beer from the Belgium Abbey of St. Sixtus? Got a yen for British-brewed Young's Double Chocolate Stout with its "slightly sour tinge and hint of bread?" Or maybe you are a Bostonian abroad and yearn for a Samuel Adams?

As long as American Bud isn't for you (but it's fine if you want the 700-year-old Czech Pilsner that has greater historical claim to the name Budweiser) and you don't require a brew with "lite" on the label, Jeff Cunningham can probably slake your thirst.

Eighteen months ago, the former farmer, automobile mechanic, National Guard medic, and robotics technician from Upton, Mass., opened a specialty beer shop in what his brochure calls the "heart of Amsterdam."

Well, make that one of the most obscure side streets in the colorful old central city. The Cracked Kettle -- Gekraakte Ketel, in Dutch -- occupies a cubbyhole on a narrow lane called Raamsteeg, off the Singel Canal. It's probably easier to find at the website crackedkettle.com.

The shop carries more than 300 varieties of beer, a smaller array of wine from little-known vineyards, and an even smaller collection of esoteric whiskies. Cunningham's associate, Andy Robb, is a Scot and specialist on the hard stuff.

"Between us, we've downed a bottle of everything in the shop," said Cunningham, showing familiarity with the goods. "Not at the same time, of course."

The stock is stacked on shelves high enough to strain the reaching abilities of a giraffe. Some of the beers are from breweries so small that the bottles don't even have labels.

"It's basically a hobby gone mad," said Cunningham, 34, who holds degrees in biochemistry. "But the shop is starting to break even and may even start making a little money this year."

Cunningham began his working life as a car mechanic in Milford, aligning wheels at Goodyear Tire and repairing brakes at Midas. He finally opened his own shop, the prosaically named Cunningham Automotive in Upton, which remains in business but with hours limited to his visits home to Central Massachusetts.

While growing hops on the small family farm, he got interested in yeasts and home brewing. He studied biotechnology at MassBay Community College in Wellesley, then earned a bachelor's in biochemistry from Brandeis University.

He arrived in the Netherlands a little over four years ago, enrolling in the University of Amsterdam's well-known biochemistry program and eventually earning a master of science degree.

Cunningham dreamed of establishing a backyard brewery in central Amsterdam of the kind that was commonplace until the mid-20th century. But bureaucrats informed him that working breweries were banned even along the ancient Brouwersgracht, or brewers' canal.

If you want to make beer, they told him, make it in the industrial suburbs, just like Heineken does (Holland's most famous brewery delivers its beer to pubs and restaurants in tanker trucks that pump the product into storage vats, much as fuel is delivered elsewhere).

The shop was a compromise.

"I'm dealing in fine beer," he said somewhat ruefully. "Just not brewing it. Yet."

The Cracked Kettle carries beers from across Europe and North America, but leans heavily toward Belgian brews, regarded by aficionados as the finest in the world.

Cunningham does a fair trade selling to customers who wander into his shop, mainly Dutch beer lovers and members of Amsterdam's large British, American, and Canadian expatriate communities.

But like every business, he's looking to the Internet for the future, and is doing an expanding commerce shipping individual bottles of unusual brews to picky American connoisseurs and pallet loads of hearty English ales to newly affluent imbibers in India, whose taste for beer stems from the British colonial era.

Meanwhile, he and his girlfriend, Renee Moroney, an Amsterdam art student also from Massachusetts, spend weekends scouring the countryside of Holland and Belgium looking for home breweries, buying from beer makers who typically sell only from local farmstands.

The hardest beer to acquire in quantity is Belgium's fabled Westvleteren, which shuns commercialism -- the Trappist monks of the monastery brew only enough beer to support their austere lives of prayer and contemplation.

"They are so strict,"' Cunningham said. "They limit sales to three crates [of 24 bottles] per person, per month. And they will sell to only one individual in each car, so you can't drive out with a bunch of friends and load up."

Every businessman needs a backup plan. In best Amsterdam fashion, Cunningham's is marijuana. He's acquired wholesale rights to a new marijuana cigarette roller -- delivering the contraption to head shops, devoted to selling marijuana paraphernalia, and cannabis cafes on his bicycle.

"I'm an entrepreneur at heart," he said. "I like to wheel and deal."

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