Dutch beer has a long history. From the Middle Ages until now, Amsterdam people have always loved the golden grain juice. In fact, in Holland they drank beer like water. Heineken is Holland’s most famous beer brand. Its aggressive marketing strategy crushed all of Amsterdam’s local beer brewers. Other famous Dutch beer brands are Amstel (also owned by Heineken), Dommelsch, Grolsch, Brand, Bavaria and Hertog Jan. In more recent years brands like Jupiler are becoming more popular.
Especially in Amsterdam it’s now no longer cool to drink Heineken. In Amsterdam it’s popular to drink craft beers and special beers like Belgian beers such as Westmalle Tripel, Trappist, Leffe Blond and Duvel. In summer Dutch people love to drink white beer (witbier). The last 5 years more than 30 new beer brands have started brewing their own Dutch beer, mostly organic and special beers like IJ Bier and these are very popular for the locals to drink.
Here are 10 facts about Dutch beer from Amsterdam.
1. In Amsterdam people drank beer like water
Because of the lack of clean drinking water in the Middle Ages (and milk turning sour quickly), in the Middle Ages, Amsterdam inhabitants drank beer instead of water. Even children. The beer did not contain as much alcohol as today.
Beer was made at home by women and in monasteries and convents by monks and nuns. Every village in Holland had its own beer brewery. A large city like Amsterdam would have over 100 different beer breweries.
Amsterdam played a big role in the beer trade. Only Amsterdam was allowed to import special beers, which gave Amsterdam more or less a monopoly in the beer trade. From the Golden Age of The Netherlands (17th century) Dutch beer has become a major export product.
Beer from Amsterdam: internationally popular, but less character
This commercial focus and international style has made Dutch beer famous all over the world. At the same time, Dutch beer lost its traditional flavour and character.
2. Dutch people drink a lot of (draft) beer
Dutch people drink a lot beer but if we look at the statistics, The Netherlands don’t even make it into the top 10. In The Netherlands a person drinks on average 74 litres of beer a year. You’ll find the worlds biggest beer drinkers in the classic beer countries: Czech Republic (132 litres pp), Germany (107), Austria (106) and Ireland (104).
3. Most of the beer you know is pilsner beer
Traditionally, beer was made by fermenting yeasts at warm temperatures. Yeasts form a foam on the surface of the fermenting beer. This is called top-fermenting beer. Top-fermenting beer is (generally) fruity and sweet with high alcohol concentrations. Examples of Dutch top-fermenting beer are tarwebier (barley beer), witbier (white beer), bruin bier (brown beer), stout and kloosterbier/abdijbier.
The origins of pils
In the 19th century, a brewery in the Czech city of Pilsen started to experiment with bottom-fermenting yeasts in caves using lower temperatures. These modern pilsner beers have a light, clear colour, sometimes golden and taste lighter and more bitter. Concentration of alcohol in pils is around 4,5 %. Most of the beers produced today (75%) are pils/pilsner. Examples of pils are: lager, oud bruin and bokbier. In the 70’s, almost all of the beer brewed in Holland was pils. Beer from Amsterdam became pretty much a synonym of pilsner.
4. Draft beer from Amsterdam has foam for a reason
The famous Dutch layer of foam (two fingers!) protects the beer from oxygen, to make sure gas doesn’t fade. Also, oxygen from the air affects the taste of the beer. When the foam is gone, in Dutch we say that the ‘beer has gone dead’. It is not as tasty any more. To make sure that the beer doesn’t go dead before you have finished it, Dutch beer is served in small glasses.
In Amsterdam, nowadays, pints (half a liter of a liter) are also served, mostly to tourists.
Traditionally, beer in Amsterdam is served in 3 types of glasses:
- Kleintje (a small beer)
- Fluitje or pijpje 22 cl (thin glass)
- Vaasje or Amsterdammertje 25 cl (served outside)
To ask for a normal beer on draught in Holland, you can ask for a biertje or pilsje. In Belgium you ask for a pintje.
5. Amsterdam squat scene revived Dutch beer
In the 20th century the varied beer culture of The Netherlands became a thing of the past.
With its aggressive strategy and smart marketing, Heineken pilsner had conquered almost the entire beer market of The Netherlands. While before WW II, there were some 80 beer breweries in the Netherlands, in 1980 there were only 14 breweries left.
Punkscene refused to drink Heineken
In the 1980’s the squat scene ruled Amsterdam. The anarchists and punkers refused to drink the capitalistic Heineken beer. From this demand of different beers sparked a new incentive for small, independent beer breweries. In recent years, there’s been a wave of new, small beer breweries starting in Amsterdam.
Small local Dutch beer breweries in Amsterdam
Most of these breweries work with biological ingredients. Often, their employees have a mental of physical disability.
These new Dutch beer breweries often open for visitors and for tasting:
Brouwerij ‘t IJ (since 1985), café and brewery at Funenkade 7 (Amsterdam East)
Brouwerij De Prael (2002), café and brewery at Oudezijds Voorburgwal 30 (Centre)
De Snaterende Arend (2002), brewery at Amstel 51 (canal ring East)
Breugems Brouwerij (2007), (Zaandam)
De Bierfabriek (2011), café, brewery, restaurant at Rokin 75 (Centre)
De 7 Deugden, (2012), brewery and tasting at Osdorperweg 578 (New West)
Butcher’s Tears (2013), Karperweg 45 (Amsterdam-South)
De Bekeerde Suster, café and brewery at Kloveniersburgwal 6 (Centre)
Oedipus (2015), café and brewery in Amsterdam North .
6. A Dutch beer for every season
At the moment there are over 125 beer breweries in The Netherlands. 8 of them produce 99% of the Dutch beers. The remaining 1% are small breweries producing beers. There are around 750 different small beer brands, mostly ‘special beers’. In The Netherlands, small and large breweries come up with new beers every year. Many of them are made specifically for the time of year, so called seasonal beers. There are only available during a short period.
Spring beer (Lentebier)
Lentebok is a light, blond, fresh beer served in spring. A famous beer in Spring is Lentebier by Jopen, a brewery from Haarlem. It’s a heavy beer, with 7% alcohol and slightly sweet.
White beer (Witbier)
In summer, white beers (witbier) are popular. Most big breweries serve their version. White beer tastes slightly sour and is cloudy. A favourite Amsterdam witbier is from Brouwerij ‘t IJ, which many local Amsterdam cafés serve on tap.
Herfstbok (Bock beer)
The most popular and famous seasonal beer is herfstbok, a beer for autumn. Herfstbok beer is dark, bittersweet and does not contain much alcohol. Traditionally, bokbier is bottom-fermented, but modern bokbier tends to be a heavier bottom-fermented beer. Beer breweries in The Netherlands vary their herfstbok every year.
7. Famous variation in Belgian beer
Belgian beer is famous all over the world because of their wide range of beers. In many Belgian cafés, there is remarkable large choice of beers on tap and on bottle. Every beer has to be served in its specific temperature, with its own level of foam and served in a glass made for this specific beer. All to get its taste. The taste of Belgian beer is generally heavy, with a sweet-bitter taste.
There is no other country in the world that has so many different kind of beers, though in recent years many small breweries have disappeared. Every year, Belgian beers rank high in the “best beer of the world” competitions. The Trappist beer Westvleteren has won already twice the price for best beer in the world.
8. The success of Dutch beer Heineken
Heineken owns around 50% of the Dutch beer market. It’s the 3rd largest brewer in the world, producing beer in over 140 breweries in over 70 countries. Heineken was founded in Amsterdam in 1864.
Heineken has become big by pursuing an aggressive strategy. After the 2nd World War Heineken bought many small competing breweries and then closed them down, leaving a bigger market for Heineken. As a result, the rich and varied Dutch beer culture disappeared. Also Heineken focused much on export. Heineken beer is one of the most successful imported beer brands in the United States. In 1968 Heineken merged with Amstel. The other two leading Dutch beer companies are Bavaria (NOT from Germany) and Grolsch. Other famous beer brands from The Netherlands (mainly pils) are Brand, Oranjeboom, Budels, Dommelsch, Gulpener, Hertog Jan and La Trappe.
The Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam in the neighbourhood of De Pijp stopped brewing beer in 1980. The remaining main hall is a national monument. Heineken Experience is one of Amsterdam biggest tourist attractions.
9. The kidnapping of Freddy Heineken
In 1983, Alfred Heineken, owner and director of Heineken was famously kidnapped together with his driver Ab Doderer. Though a ransom of 35 million guilders (16 million euro) was paid, they were not released. Later, after an anonymous tip, the two men were found (alive) in the Amsterdam West port area. Part of the money was found later as well.Eventually all of the kidnappers were found and sentenced to prison. The Heineken kidnapping case was followed closely by the media.
In 2011, a film was made about the kidnapping starring Dutch movie heroe Rutger Hauer as Freddy Heineken.
10. The best beer bars in Amsterdam
Most cafés in Amsterdam only have a few beers on tap and a small collection of foreign beers. These Amsterdam café have a wide variation of beers:
De Bierkoning is beer shop which started from the squatters scene in the 80’s. The shop is located near Dam Square and sells around 1200 different bottled beers.
2. In de Wildeman
In de Wildeman serves mainly Belgian beers on draught. Over 40 Dutch beers in bottles, 20 German and 10 British.
Classic brown bar interior without music.
3. ‘t Arendsnest
‘T Arendsnest is a tasting room (proeflokaal) with only Dutch beers. Over 100 different beers and 30 on draught (tap).
4. The Beer Temple
The Beer Temple was opened in 2009 by the owner of Amsterdam beer café ‘T Arendsnest. It’s remains the only place in Amsterdam where you can drink American beers like Anchor, Flying Dog, Great Divine, Left Hand and Southern Tier on draught.
Belgian beers mostly at Gollem, but added with live jazz music, quizzes and cheap meals.
6. Brouwerij ‘T IJ
Brewery and café ‘t IJ has a large outside terrace. It’s located in the East of Amsterdam, next to an old windmill. The brewery and bar is very popular among locals and tourists, who love the tour and tasting of the very varied locally brewed beer.
7. Café Belgique
Small but very popular Belgian bar Belgique has 8 beers on draught and over 50 special beers. Alternative crowd, dj’s.