The Netherlands is one of the world’s most prominent exporters of beer. Who hasn’t heard of the Dutch beer brands Heineken and Amstel? But how did the country’s love of beer begin? And where can you find the nicest breweries in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities? Read on to find out all about beer in the Netherlands!
Beer in Dutch culture
Beer has been pretty important in Dutch culture, starting all the way back in the Middle Ages. Not only is it the most popular alcoholic drink in the Netherlands, but it is also one of the country’s biggest export products, as famous Dutch beer brands are sold all over the world. Let’s take a deeper look into beer in the Netherlands, starting with the history of Dutch beer.
History of beer in the Netherlands
From beer brewed in monasteries in the Middle Ages to the global popularity of Dutch beer brands, such as Heineken and Bavaria, beer has a long history in the Netherlands.
People have been making beer in the Netherlands since year one. In the Middle Ages, beer was mostly brewed in monasteries and was a common beverage. It was generally consumed as a simple refreshment, often with meals. Even children drank it! Of course, during this period, the alcohol percentage was considerably lower.
In the Dutch Golden Age (17th century), brewing beer became more of a profession and commercial breweries popped up all over the country, with Amersfoort, Delft, Haarlem and Gouda becoming important brewery cities.
18th century – 19th century
During this time period, beer got some serious competition from tea and coffee, as well as jenever (also known as genever), a juniper-flavoured traditional liquor in the Netherlands. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1960s that Dutch people would consume more beer than jenever again.
Before WWII, there were 180 breweries in the Netherlands. After the war, around 80 breweries remained. It was around this time that Heineken started buying smaller, existing breweries to become a heavy hitter on the Dutch beer market. This meant, however, that small breweries started to disappear. In the 1980s, there were only 14 breweries left.
Special and local beers gained popularity in the 2000s, causing the number of beer brands and breweries to grow. In 2019, there were over 600 breweries in the Netherlands and more than 150 of these offered beer tastings and tours.
How Dutch people drink beer
Nowadays, beer is the most popular alcoholic drink in the Netherlands. People drink it at home, at parties, cafes, at a borrel etc… If you order a beer from a café, often it is served from the tap. The perfect beer is considered to have a two-fingers thick foam layer. In general, it is custom to serve beer cold in the Netherlands. You can order a beer in various sized glasses; these are the most common ones:
- Kleintje (small)
- Fluitje (19-25cl)
- Vaasje (23-33cl)
Special beers often have their own glasses.
All about Dutch beers
What type of beer is the most popular in the Netherlands? What type of seasonal beers are consumed in the Netherlands? Read on and find out!
Popular types of Dutch beer
Some beers are more popular than others in the Netherlands. A favourite, and one of the biggest export products in the country, is pale lager. Other Dutch favourites include white beer and seasonal beers.
Pale lager (pils)
Pale lager, in Dutch called pils, is without a doubt one of the most popular beers amongst Dutch people. Pale lager is a very pale-to-golden-coloured, bottom-fermented lager beer, developed in the mid-19th century. Heineken and Grolsch especially are well-known Dutch pale lager brands.
White beer (witbier)
White beer, in Dutch called witbier, is a top-fermented beer, traditionally made with 50% raw wheat. It’s called white beer because when the beer is cold it actually looks white or hazy, due to the wheat proteins and suspended yeast. Even though white beers are available throughout the year in the Netherlands, they are most popular in the summertime.
Seasonal beers in the Netherlands
Dutch breweries also make seasonal beers which are only offered for a short period of time. Their flavour often matches the type of weather of their corresponding season. The most well-known seasonal beers in the Netherlands are herfstbok (autumn bock) and lentebok (spring bock). Often, Dutch breweries use seasonal beers to experiment with flavours and ingredients.
The most popular seasonal beer in the Netherlands is herfstbok, which is a dark, bittersweet beer. The perfect companion to the bleak Dutch autumn weather. Traditionally, herfstbok beers are bottom-fermented, however, some breweries also make a top-fermented herfstbok.
The counterpart of herfstbok is lentebok, which is a fresh, pale and hoppy beer; perfect to drink in Dutch spring weather. Whilst lentebok is not as popular as herfstbok, most Dutch breweries have at least one lentebok in their range.
Iconic Dutch beer breweries and brands
As mentioned earlier, there are over 600 breweries in the Netherlands. From beers that are consumed all over the world to cherished local beers, here are some of the best beer brands the Netherlands has to offer!
There are a couple of major breweries that export their beers all over the world. You have probably heard of the following Dutch beer brands and breweries:
Amstel is a Dutch beer brand belonging to Heineken, another famous Dutch beer brand. It was first brewed in 1871 by Beiersch-Bierbrouwerij De Amstel, hence the name. As it was first made in Amsterdam, Amstel beer was mainly drunk there in the beginning. However, the beer was a success and was soon sold all over the Netherlands.
In 1883, Amstel started to export its beer and by 1926, Amstel made up a third of the total Dutch beer export. In 1968, Amstel was bought by their competition, Heineken. Nowadays, Amstel beers are brewed in Heineken’s breweries in Zoeterwoude, Den Bosch and Wijlre.
Heineken, the brand, has been brewed by Heineken, the brewery, since 1873. Currently, there are 125 Heineken breweries, divided over more than 70 countries. And Heineken does not just brew beer, the brewery is also the largest producer of cider in Europe as well.
But, how did it all start? Well, in 1864, Gerard Adriaan Heineken bought De Hooiberg (The Haystack) brewery in Amsterdam. However, it was only after hiring Dr. Elion in 1873 to develop a yeast for Heineken, that Heineken’s Bierbrouwerij Maatschappij was established.
Not long after, in 1875, Heineken won the Medaille D’Or (Gold Medal) at the International Maritime Exposition in Paris. That was the first of four prestigious awards the brewery won in its early years. It also was awarded the Diplome d’Honneurs (Honorary Diploma) at the International Colonial Exposition in Amsterdam in 1883, the Grand Prix (Grand Prize) at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889, and the Hors Concours Membre du Jury in Paris in 1900.
After the first World War, Heineken focussed on export and expansion. It quickly became the biggest beer importer in the US, being the first beer importer after the national prohibition. In the Netherlands, the brewery expanded by buying out the competition, such as Amstel in 1968.
Since then, Heineken has bought foreign breweries as well, becoming one of the biggest breweries in the world in the process. It owns many famous brand names, including Desperados, Murphy’s, Brand, Strongbow, Jillz, Affligem, Wieckse, Bintang, Tiger Beer, Vrumona and Scottish & Newcastle.
Grolsch is one of the oldest beer brands in the Netherlands, as it was first brewed in 1615 in Groenlo by Willem Neerfeldt. Family de Groen bought the brewery in 1895 and held a significant stake in the company until November 2007.
Currently, the brand is owned by Asahi Group Holdings. Known for its flip-top beer bottles, the brewery mainly produces a range of pale lager beers, with Grolsch Premium Pilsner (also known as Grolsch Premium Lager) being its flagship beer, responsible for 95% of all sales. For the European market, Grolsch also produces the Amsterdam brand.
Dutch family Swinkels has been brewing beer for seven generations, making their brewery one of the oldest family businesses in the Netherlands. It all started in 1719 in Lieshout. The family Moorees brewed beer on a small scale. One of the Moorees' daughters married a guy named Swinkels. Their descendants took over the brewery in 1764, and from 1773, the brewery has been the property of the Swinkels family.
Nowadays, Bavaria is the largest independent brewery in the Netherlands, with a yearly production of over 7 million hectolitres of beer. Two-thirds of said beer is exported to over 130 countries. The brewery was able to build such a strong position on the market, as they were the first brewery to export alcohol-free beer to the Middle East. The company Swinkels Family Brewers owns several brands besides Bavaria, including Hollandia, Kroon, Palm, Habesha and Cornet.
Trappist breweries in the Netherlands
Ever since the Middle Ages, monastery breweries have existed across Europe. It was in the Cistercian monastery of La Trappe, France, that The Trappist order originated. The monks started to brew beer to become self-sufficient. Nowadays, Trappist monks brew beer to fund charitable causes, as well as their works.
Currently, there are 14 Trappist breweries in the world, two of them are located in the Netherlands: Brouwerij de Koningshoeven (La Trappe) and Brouwerij Abdij Maria Toevlucht (Zundert). You can recognise a Trappist beer by the ATP-logo (Authentic Trappist Product).
Brouwerij de Koningshoeve (La Trappe)
Founded in 1884, within the walls of the “Onze Lieve Vrouw van Koningshoeven” abbey in Berkel-Enschot, Brouwerij de Koningshoeve is one of two Dutch Trappist breweries. Originally, the brewery was called “De Schaapskooi”. Whilst a subsidiary of Bavaria runs the brewery, the monks of the abbey have the final say when it comes to the brewing process. You can find the beers of this monastery in the shops under the name La Trappe.
Brouwerij Abdij Maria Toevlucht (Zundert)
Founded in 2013, Brouwerij Abdij Maria Toevlucht brews Zundert, a Dutch Trappist beer. Currently, there are two types of Zundert:
- Zundert 8, a top-fermented beer with an alcohol percentage of 8%.
- Zundert 10, a quadruple beer with 10% alcohol.
Amsterdam beer breweries
Since 2001, the number of beer breweries has expanded. Amsterdam especially has seen an increase in breweries. Nowadays, there are around 50 breweries in Amsterdam, of which at least 17 have a tasting room. These are the most popular Amsterdam beer breweries and brands:
Bierbrouwerij De Prael
De Prael isn’t just any beer brewery. It is one with a mission, namely to help people who have difficulties entering the labour market. De Prael has four tasting rooms in total: Oudezijds Amsterdam, Houthavens Amsterdam, The Hague and Groningen. You can enjoy their 11 regular beers there, as well as their special and seasonal beers.
Poesiat & Kater
Situated in an 18th-century building with high ceilings and windows in Amsterdam-Oost, Poesiat & Kater not only brews Poesiat & Kater beers, but Van Vollenhoven beers as well. The Van Vollenhoven Beers are historical Dutch beers with a modern twist, while the Poesiat & Kater beers are speciality beers.
Brouwerij ’t IJ
Brouwerij ’t IJ has been brewing beer since 1985 and is one of the most well-known breweries of Amsterdam. Located in a former bathhouse, next to a charming windmill, the brewery at the Funenkade, where it all started is no longer the main brewery. Nowadays, it is a tasting room, while the brewery is located at Zeeburgerpad. You can also head to their tasting room ‘t Blauwe Theehuis in Vondelpark, to taste one of their beers.
Brouwerij Troost is the largest independent brewery of Amsterdam. Founded in 2014 in a former convent in De Pijp, Troost offers 11 beers, 2 sodas, gin and jenever. They also have locations in Westergas and Oud-West, as their increasing popularity meant they had to expand. If you are just starting as a brewer but you don’t have enough equipment, Troost is able to help you as you can rent a space there to brew your own beer.
For Oedipus, it all started in 2009, with the four founders’ love of quality craft beer and their experiments in their kitchens with homebrewing. Their approach to brewing was a success, and soon they were selling their colourful beers at festivals, including at their own festival, Kimchi Festival.
It wasn’t until 2013 that the guys started thinking about a “serious” location for a brewpub. In 2015, they opened their first brewpub in the north of Amsterdam, and they have been expanding ever since!
Other popular beer breweries in the Netherlands
While Amsterdam has seen the most growth when it comes to beer breweries, it certainly isn’t the only city with a popular Dutch beer brewery. Here are some of the other well-known beer breweries in the Netherlands:
Situated in a former church in the centre of Haarlem, Brouwerij Jopen’s mission is to promote traditional beers from Haarlem. Their beer Koyt is based on an original beer recipe from 1407 and Jopen Hoppenbier is based on a recipe from 1501. Nowadays, they offer 12 regular beers and 5 seasonal beers, and their restaurant offers delicious meals tuned to their beers. Because of their success, Jopen purchased another former church in 2015, this time in Hoofddorp, to function as a distillery and restaurant.
It all started in Arcen, Limburg, in 1915 under the name Stoombierbrouwerij de Vriendenkring. After a lot of ownership changes and name changes, the brand Hertog Jan was finally founded in 1981 by De Kikvorsch who brewed beer at Dommelsch’ brewery.
Again, ownership and name changes occur, with the brand finally being named Hertog Jan again in 1998, after the 13th-century duke Jan I of Brabant, who is said to have liked a beer or two in his time. Currently, there are 11 beers in their product range.
Founded in 1825 by Laurens Smeets, Gulpener is an independent beer brewery located in Gulpen, Limburg. Gulpener attaches great importance to sustainability; their ingredients are sourced locally where possible, their labels are made from recycled paper and the brewery operates on green energy. Currently, the brewery offers three special beers, four collab beers, three organic beers, four seasonal beers, three monastery beers, and three lagers.
Founded in 1744 in the village of Dommelen, Dommelsch is a well-known brewery and brand in the Netherlands. In 1968, it was bought by Brouwerij Artois, later Interbrew. Nowadays, it is part of the Anheuser-Busch InBev group.