The Dutch have had an enduring love affair with beer that dates back to the Middle Ages, when a lighter version of today’s beer was enjoyed much like water is today. It seems logical therefore, that the Netherlands has since established itself as one of the world's largest exporters of beer.
The country’s is probably best-known for its pale lagers, Heineken and Grolsch, followed by Amstel, Dommelsch, Brand, Bavaria and Hertog Jan. Newer brands such as Jupiler have enjoyed growing popularity in recent years, while lesser-known brands include Oranjeboom.
There are more than 120 breweries in the Netherlands, but less than 10 of these produce 99% of Dutch beer, with the remaining 1% filled by the independents. An estimated 750 small beer brands are sold in the Netherlands, with many created for specific times of the year, earning them the title “seasonal beers”. Lentebok, a light, blond, fresh beer served in spring by Jopen, and Herfstbok, a dark, bittersweet beer sold in autumn, are classic examples.
In the capital, Amsterdam, a variety of craft beer and Belgian beer such as Westmalle Tripel, Trappist, Leffe Blond and Duvel have overtaken the more traditional brands. However, during summer there’s a preference for the lighter brew known as witbier.
As is the trend in other parts of Europe and elsewhere in the world, many fresh brands continue to emerge from artisanal brewers. In Amsterdam this trend was driven by punkers who boycotted “capitalist” beer such as Heineken in favour of independently produced brew.
The craft beers that meet this demand from a younger generation of beer drinkers are generally organic in nature, and brewers traditionally provide employment opportunities for mentally and physically disabled workers. Most of these micro-breweries bolster their businesses by offering tours and beer tasting to tourists.
Dutch beer is purposely served with a two-finger-deep head that is designed to protect the beer from oxidising, to ensure that it doesn’t go flat or lose its flavour. Once the foam layer has dissipated the beer is said to have “gone dead”, which is the reasoning behind beer traditionally being served in small glasses
How to order like a local
In Amsterdam is served in three types of glasses, so you would order a kleintje (small beer, afluitje or pijpe (thin glass) or avaasje or Amsterdammertje (served outdoors). To cater to the tourist market, pints (half a litre) of beer are also served on request.