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Belgian beer by Dutch canals

Drinking in Foeders, Amsterdam, a neighbourhood beer bar that has seen its local focus build an international reputation.

It’s been a long day in Amsterdam. I’ve criss-crossed the city by boat, metro, and tram — dodging cyclists at every turn. Now it’s evening and what I want more than anything else is a beer. But I’m tired and I don’t want to go far. I don’t want to schlep into the city centre again for an all-singing, all-dancing, seek-it-out craft beer experience. I just want to go to the nearest corner bar and relax with an uncomplicated drink of something local.

Luckily there’s somewhere that looks good just around the corner. It’s on the other side of the Amstel but the bridge is right between us. It’s a matter of three minutes door to door. I step out into the first cold night of late summer. A hard rain falls. The streets have emptied.

I find Foeders on an unassuming street devoid of picturesque cobbles or leaning houses. The bar itself doesn’t have flashy neon outside. What it does have to pull drinkers in is its reputation, and that of its Belgian owner Yuri Hegge.

Yuri is distinctive, with his shaved head and babyfaced look behind dark round glasses. He is rather short, dresses well, and gives an impression of neat and compact competency, of expertise put to work in service of a deep passion.

His parents owned bars back in Belgium, and it was from them he learned the ins and outs of the business. Yuri says he knew from early on that he wanted to bring together the atmosphere of a local, neighbourhood bar with the sort of crowd he used to see enjoying beers in restaurants: people who drank for the pleasure of the beer rather than to get drunk.

Foeders is named after the huge wooden barrels in which many Belgian beers are fermented and aged, particularly those made using mixed and spontaneous fermentation of which Yuri is so fond. The interior is dark wood; the stools at the bar sit in a sea of peanut shells; small lamps light the tables towards the back. It’s cosy but not kitsch.

Yuri greets each new customer as they enter the door. He shares a word, a joke. They come in bedraggled, sodden, not dressed for the weather. His welcome warms them, he brings them in and sees them seated and served. Every beer comes in the correct glassware, reflecting Yuri’s pride in the beer and in serving and displaying it properly. Respect for the brewer, the bar, and the drinker. It’s a simple formula, but powerful nonetheless.

At one end of the bar of a woman cuts a large wheel of hard goat’s cheese into slices, and cuts one of the slices into chunks. Yuri holds an impromptu sampling session for those seated nearby. It is good, displaying a gentle sharpness with a touch of salinity that undercuts the beer well.

Yuri cares about the beer. He wants to make sure there is something on offer for everyone. He wants to have the best. Signs hung on the wall opposite the bar display what is on the thirty-odd taps — a range of largely Dutch and Belgian beers with a few from elsewhere including the UK. Tonight it’s mainly lambics, NEIPAs, stouts. There are also fridges full of 750ml bottles.

Respect for the beer. Respect for the bar. Respect for the drinker.

He says he will only sell a beer if the brewers meet his own personal criteria: they must own their own brewery; they must make good beer; ideally they should have their own branded glassware. He’s not interested in the marketing and the puffery. He wants authenticity and a sense of respect for the beer and the occasion it deserves.

Yuri tells me of his plans to open a second bar soon. It won’t be a clone. He sees no point in offering the same things twice, albeit in two different locations. Each bar should be unique, he says, and give drinkers its own reason to visit. The second bar will have hand-pumps and cask ales from England as well as the Belgian and Dutch beers you would expect to find.

It sounds good, but tonight I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than sat at the bar in Foeders, cracking unsalted peanuts from their shells, sipping my local beer and watching the evening unfold.

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