Drinking the Bottom Shelf »

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor store...so you don’t have to.

Bottom Shelf Beer Olympics: Holland (Heineken vs. Grolsch)

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Bottom Shelf research director Emily and I set out Saturday afternoon intending to get into the Olympic spirit by embracing foreign cultures via Australian meat pie and Brazilian graffiti art. We messed up the meat pie mission by ordering a vegetable pie and a chicken sandwich, but the Brazilian graffitists held up their end of the bargain, and the chicken sandwich was quite good despite its appalling lack of both pastry and gravy, so the outing was the sort of rousing success that makes a man realize he needs to get out and see more of the world.

I've never been to Europe but I'm starting to think that it might be my kind of continent, what with all the bicycles and breweries and funny talk. Amsterdam in particular has been recommended by several friends, but I'd never seriously considered it because the recommenders invariably mention various tawdry charms that happen not to appeal to my pronounced but discerning skuzzy side.

But it turns out there is also a Van Gogh Museum (Van Gogh was a painter, which is the sort of thing you know if you're the museum-going type). I bet that's quite something, but it wouldn't be enough to get me to Holland if I hadn't also recently fallen in love with the new Boston-adjacent outpost of Amsterdam Falafel Shop.

I used to work with a bunch of bored and rambunctious young men who liked to while away the afternoons plotting out about how they would handle all sorts of far-fetched emergency scenarios. Most of these fantasies involved which office supplies they would use to subdue an armed intruder or which intern they would eat first should we ever be trapped inside the building for an extended period of time when all the vending machine had left was Twizzlers and baked potato chips. I never had much to contribute to these conversation, because I lack that kind of hypothetical creativity and ambition, but lately I have been thinking about my contingency plan if faced with a more likely and dire situation: What if I were forced to become a fat vegetarian?

I don't care much for sweets and I think I've pretty nearly maxed out what alcohol can do for me, fat-wise, so I've decided that when-not-if this mandate comes down, I will subsist almost entirely on nuts and falafel. There are days when I think cashews might be my favorite meat, and I've loved every single falafel I've ever had. In fact, I'm so fond of all falafel that at first I wasn't too excited by the news that Amsterdam Falafel Shop was coming to town. Their claims to fame are freshness and toppings, but I find toppings to be a distraction and had never noticed other falafel being stale, so I figured this was a place catering to less ardent falafelarians. Well, I was wrong. Amsterdam Falafel Shop is spectacular, so I'm going to book myself on the next train to Holland, as soon as I figure out what to drink while I'm there.

The three biggest Dutch beer exports are Heineken, Amstel Light, and Grolsch. I'm disregarding Amstel here because the Bottom Shelf Beer Olympics are no place for light stuff, which leaves us with Heineken, which I know and dislike, and Grolsch, which has a very cool flip-top cap. I came to this tasting so heavily biased that I had to enlist Emily to slip me unmarked shots of each beer so I could hope to give Heineken a fair hearing.

I didn't care for either. Heineken's worse, with a sharp metallic tinge and a sour cream finish. Grolsch isn't much better, even when awarded points for excellence in naming and packaging. Emily actually thought the Heineken was better, even after I very patiently—and not for the first time—explained that Heineken is worse than everything. We both found Grolsch to be starkly earthy, almost to the point of grittiness. Grolsch is a dirty beer, but it's only about half as skunky as Heineken, so it advances to the next round of the Bottom Shelf Olympics, where it joins Sapporo. Thursday we'll find a favorite Canadian. Any nominees?


About the author: Will Gordon loves life and hates mayonnaise. You can eat and drink with him in Boston or follow him on twitter @WillGordonAgain.

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