The Dutch brewing industry
The ruthless strategy employed by Heineken has left Holland with just a handful of established independent breweries. Only two breweries have managed to muster any sort of serious opposition – Bavaria and Grolsch. Their strategies have been very different; Grolsch has concentrated on quality, Bavaria on price. Guess which I prefer.The current number of active breweries is 72 (well, 57 physical breweries). They break down as follows:Brewery
Has two breweries under the Heineken name in Den Bosch and Zoeterwoude plus the Brand brewery, which operates fairly independently. Contrary to what their labels imply, there is no Heineken brewery in Amsterdam.
Holland’s number two. Concentrates on the cheap and nasty end of the market. Also owns the La Trappe brewery. It closed the tiny Kroon brewery soon after buying it.
Temporarily operated three breweries, until the new brewery in Boeklo (just outside Enschede) was fully up and running. The plants in Groenlo and Enschede have now closed. Bought by SABMiller at the end of 2007.
Dommelsch and Hertog Jan. Its largest Dutch brewery, Oranjeboom in Breda, closed in 2004.
Alfa, Budels, Gulpener, Lindeboom, and Leeuw which is owned by the Belgian brewery Haacht.
Relatively few brewpubs have been started – possibly because of the small size of most Dutch pubs.
Far more common than brewpubs in Holland.
A very Benelux phenomenon – companies who contract other breweries to brew their beers. It isn’t as dodgy as it sounds; some of the best Dutch beers are brewed this way. S.N.A.B. is a good example of how well it can work.
The four largest players control approximately 95% of the market: Heineken (approx. 50%), Grolsch (15%), Bavaria (15%), Inbev (15%). Soundlike a stitch up? Well, it turned out that it was. In April 2007 these four were found guilty by the EU of price-fixing in the period 1996-1999 and were given hefty fines. Heienekn were ordered to pay €219.27 million, Grolsch €31.65, Bavaria €22.85 and Inbev €84 million. Though Inbev were let off their fine for squealing on the others. Not that price-fixing is anything new – as you can see from the brewers’ 1893 agreement.
Centraal Brouwerij KantoorHerengracht 282,1016 BX Amsterdam.Postbus 3462,1001 AG Amsterdam.Tel: 020-625 22 51Fax: 020-622 60 74E-mail: email@example.com://www.cbk.nl/The big boys’ club.
Klein Brouwerij Collectiefinfo@kleinbrouwerijcollectief.nl.http://www.kleinbrouwerijcollectief.nl/Founded in 2003, around 40 smaller, new breweries are members.
Beer Drinkers’ OrganisationThe Dutch beer consumers organisation (an EBCU member) is:PINTPostbus 3757,1001 AN Amsterdam.http://www.pint.nl/PINT (Vereniging Promotie INformatie Traditioneel Bier) was founded 14th October 1980 as one of the first beer organisations in continenal Europe. It has around 3,000 members.
Dutch Beer styles
The beers brewed in Holland can be roughly classified into four groups:Pre-1980 breweries mostly stick to lagers. That’s their bread and butter. All have played around with other styles as beer consumption has fallen and more Belgian ales have been imported. Even Heineken (with Wieckse Witte) have had a try. But it’s clear that they consider top-fermenting beer as no more than a lucrative niche market. Before 1980, the entire Dutch beer industry was bottom-fermenting. Of the micros, only St. Christoffel concentrates on bottom-fermented beers.The microbreweies and (occasional brewpubs) founded in the last couple of decades usually top ferment. Their founders were inspired by Belgian imports and have strived to emulate them. With varying degrees of success, it must be said. Some have fully taken on board the Belgian philosohphy and brew individual beers that belong to no specific style. Again, with varying degrees of success.Occasionally, a new brewery has drawn influences from British brewing. Some in the form of a single beer, others in their whole range. Only the ex-Firkin brewpub in The Hague has ever done the full monty of cask condtioning.Rarest of all are old Dutch beer styles. Only Jopen have made a real commitment to reviving pre-lager types.
Bottom-fermenting beersPils, pils and more pils. The older breweries produce little other than pils. It can get very dull.Browse through old Heineken labels and you’ll see that they used to make a full range of lager styles – Vienna, Münchner, etc. Sadly, those days are long gone. Some of the independent breweries make a Dortmunder Export, but that’s about it for lager styles. Except, of course, for seasonal Bocks in the Spring and Autumn.Lager brewing started at the end of the 19th century, when new, specialist bottom-fermenting breweries were built. Here are a few examples:Year
Koninklijke Nederlandsche Beiersche Bierbrouwerij
Zwarte Ruiter (later Ridder)
Zuidhollandsche Bierbrouwerij (ZHB)
The beer that they initially brewed was a dark Münchener lager. The first pale “Pilsner bier” didn’t appear until around the turn of the century.Style
The standard very pale, vaguely hoppy sort of crap sold everywhere. Of the examples from established brewers, only Grolsch Premium Pilsner, Brand Urtyp Pils and Amstel 1870 are worth drinking. The micro Christoffel brews an outsanding unfiltered pils.Most Dutch beers purporting to be in this style aren’t – they’re more like a Helles.In 2004, Pils accounted for around 93% of beer sales in Holland.
2.5 – 3.5%
A sweet, low-alcohol beer that is totally different from the Belgian style with the same name. Often sweetened with saccharine. Not very interesting, but generally less nasty than Dutch pils.
A pale bock. Usually far too sweet and without the necessary balancing bitterness. A seasonal beer sold in the Spring. Almost all are crap. The style was unknown in Holland before 1990.
Dark bock. Between ruby red and near black in colour. A sesonal beer sold from October to December. These beers have become increasingly sweet in the last decade, as everyone has tried to emulate the success of the ludicrously sugary Grolsch Herfstbok. Amstel Bok remains surprisingly (I have very low expectations of big breweries) good.
Strong pale lagers
Not really true bocks. Amstel Gold, Grolsch Het Kanon and Bavaria 8.6 are examples. Usually pretty crap.
Only one Dutch brewery makes a real Münchener dark lager: Christoffel. Their Robertus is one of the best beers of this type brewed outside Bavaria. Many bottom-fermenting breweries made this style of lager until the 1960’s.
Also known as “Export”. Golden lagers that are stronger, darker and maltier than standard pils. Gulpener Dort is probably the best known example.
Belgian-style top-fermenting beersIn 1980 Dutch breweries were 100% bottom-fermenting, except for La Trappe. The new microbreweries which began to appear in the mid-1980’s found their inspiration south of the border. They mostly tried to emulate abbey-style ales – Dubbel and Tripel.Style
Very pale beers made from around 40% unmalted wheat and flavoured with coriander and curacao peel. Most Dutch versions are inappropriately sweet and have purged any trace of sourness. A style that is brewed by most Dutch breweries, old and new.
The Belgian version of an English pale ale. Malty and (in principle, at least) with a good degree of hop bitterness. The best Dutch example, Grolsch Amber, is no longer with us. A pity the same isn’t true of Vos and Moreeke.
Disgusting pale, sweet beers which try to imitate the revolting Leffe Blond. All beers in this style are crap.
6 – 7%
Sweetish, dark ales with a degree of malt bitterness. One of the styles Dutch micros find it easier to get their heads around.
Pale, powerful ales, where the underlying sweetness should be balanced with massive hopping. Are sometimes spiced (with coriander, for example).
Strong ale (light)
Anything strong and pale that doesn’t have the word “tripel” anywhere on the label. La Trappe Quadrupel is an example – sort of like a Barley Wine.
Strong ale (dark)
As above, but dark.
Pale, spicy dry ales.
A crap name, I know, but the guys at Moortgat have a copyright on “Duvel”. The Dutch are even less successful than rival Belgian breweries at capturing the particular magic. Oh yes, almost forgot – remarkably pale, fresh, dry, devilishly drinkable and hoppy. (Well, that’s what Duvel is like.)
British-style top-fermenting beersBefore bottom-fermenting hit the Netherlands in the 1860’s, many Dutch breweries tried their hand at British styles. In some cases these hung on well into the 20th century.New Dutch breweries have been keener on Belgian stuff than the wonderful top-fermenting tradition (I had promised myself never to use that word again, unless my plums were in a nutcracker) of the British Isles .Style
Amber, malty ales with a fair dash of bitterness.
3 – 4%
A sweetish, low-alcohol ale. The Fiddler brewpub usually has one as a seasonal special in May.
Pale, intensely hoppy ales. Brewed by a couple of micros, most notably SNAB.
The junior member of the stout family, black and roasty with perhaps a touch of malty sweetness. Brewed by a couple of the newcomers.
Once common enough to appear in brewers’ price-fixing agreements. Heienken brewed a bottom-fermenting stout into the 1990’s. The Fiddler brewpub does a very tasty cask-conditioned example. SNAB make a meaty Imperial Stout.
Old Dutch stylesMostly brewed by a single contract brewer, Jopen.Style
Amber, hoppy beer.
Dark ale. Multigrain gruit beer.
A sour brown beer, made by mixing barrel-aged beer with young beer. Related to Flemish Brown and Red ales. Much more interesting than its modest strength implies. Brewed only by Gulpener.