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This Is the Comprehensive Atlas to Europe’s Cannabis Capital

Captain Hooter’s Connoisseur’s Guide to Amsterdam Coffee Shops is a must-read for the marijuana-friendly traveler.

Look at Instagram and you might think that travel writing in 2019 consists of superficially attractive young people churning out insipid captions about “living your best life” while lounging in a hammock on an atoll. But sometimes, the best people to convey information about a place really are veterans whose currency is shoe leather. Herbal expert and multi-year Cannabis Cup judge Captain Hooter has published his Connoisseur’s Guide to Amsterdam Coffee Shops (Sunbury Press), and it is a most entertaining read for anyone looking to explore Dutch culture beyond windmills and the Heineken factory.

Just on the sentence level, treat yourself to phrases like the following description of a restaurant called De Librije in the Dutch city of Zwolle: “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience — three-star Michelin restaurant and boutique hotel in a former women’s prison.” But Hooter’s book painstakingly combs through the hundreds of cannabis “coffee shops” that sell cannabis under the Netherlands’ doctrine of gedoogbeleid. That’s the “tolerance policy” by which authorities turn a blind eye to cannabis sales as long as they’re small and unadvertised, which created the decriminalized-but-not-quite-legal pot culture that became famous worldwide, spawning an East Bay bud university called Oaksterdam and even a famous episode of The Wire.

Asked casually to name his favorite coffee shop, Hooter realized he couldn’t properly answer the question without a comprehensive approach, and after the Canadian-Californian and his wife eventually relocated to the Netherlands, he took up the quest in earnest. Chatting up budtenders — and using a microscope and jeweler’s loupe to inspect the various strains — Hooter combines the anecdotal with the scientific, and the result is full of small charms and plenty of unexpected tidbits.

Did you know, for instance, that about half of Amsterdam’s coffee shops have closed in recent years? Customer service may not always be up to American levels of fake cheer, not every place lets you smoke inside, and some are surprisingly dirty. But the best of them shine, from Bluebird to The Stud. While Hooter doesn’t rank them — and admirably so — he talks up their quirky virtues, such as which one offers frozen milk with pancakes and which one has a delicious raclette fondue. One cafe has a library of 5,000 books, many of them signed by their authors as they pass through. It’s an attribute that sounds like the polar opposite of a sterile, Third Wave coffee laptop farm.

While the photography isn’t terribly professional and it will certainly help if you already know the difference between OG Kush and Lemon Bubble, Hooter’s amiable, Big Lebowski-esque voice will inform you without overwhelming you. The Connoisseur’s Guide to Amsterdam Coffee Shops is probably best wedged in your back pocket as you wander as freely as a collegiate backpacker.

Flat, dense Amsterdam is also among the most bike-friendly cities in the world, making a cannabis tour a breeze. And travelers ought to stick to the city limits, since it’s technically illegal to sell cannabis to anyone who isn’t a Dutch citizen except in Amsterdam, where authorities recognized its importance to tourism. (Such a rational country, really.) If you want an exhaustive tome to the blue-and-white pottery of Delft, the postmodern architecture of Rotterdam, or the polderization of the Zuiderzee, you’re going to have to buy another book. But if you want to find the flagship location of Boerejongens in an up-and-coming neighborhood that also happens to be near an Italian restaurant that serves excellent scallopini, the captain will take care of you.

Captain Hooter’s Connoisseur’s Guide to Amsterdam Coffee Shops, $19.95, sunburypressstore.com.