Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Sampling bottles from Brouwerij ‘t Ij, Amsterdam.

Amsterdam’s Brouwerij ‘t Ij ("eye") is an enigma.

The brewery and café are located in the base of an old windmill by a canal, and it is a good hike from the central train station. Management in general, and opening hours in particular, are eccentric, so it pays to call ahead.

My first visit was in 1998, and the house ales were assertive, clean and well made. Belgian styles obviously served as the starting point for the Ij’s formulas, but the brewery was unafraid to tweak them.

A year later, friends I trust sampled the Ij’s ales and found them infected and barely drinkable. Two years ago, a small shipment of bottles came to Rich O’s, and these, too, were on the funky side, though closer to the form I remembered than the descriptions given to me from 1999.

Improvement was again evident last year, when I spent a few days in nearby Haarlem.

Last week we received a case each of Scharrel IjWit, Natte, Zatte, Ijndejaars, Columbus and Struis. All are unfiltered and unpasteurized. I’ve sampled all except the Wit and Columbus … and they are uniformly excellent and highly recommended.

Natte is in the Belgian Dubbel range, chestnut brown, with hints of raisin and plum, and balanced at 6.5% abv.

Zatte mimics a Tripel. Tawny golden in color, with the honey-like fullness found in the yardstick Westmalle, perhaps slightly more restrained, and benefiting from alcohol notes (9% abv).

Ijndejaar is a winter seasonal, sandier in color than the Natte, but bigger (9% abv), eliciting fond memories of Belgian holiday ales and even the brawnier Danish Christmas and Easter lagers.

Struis is dark, deep and the answer to the question: What do you get when a Dutch microbrewer interprets a Belgian microbrewer imitating an English barley wine? Exuberant, yet still clean and crisp.

The unsampled Wit is a 7% abv organic wheat ale. That's enough alcohol to make it potentially interesting, although there's no further information on the brewery's bare-bones brewery web site. Coumbus has been sampled previously (and will be again when time permits!), and I seem to recall it as another Tripel variant, or perhaps Belgian-style unclassifiable "strong."

For an explanation of the Ij's origins, go to the web site of Shelton Brothers. With the assistance of contacts provided by Dan Shelton, I’m attempting to add a brewery tour to the fall trip in Netherlands and Belgium.

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