Due to the country’s booming craft beer scene, visitors to the Netherlands are never far away from an independent brewery. There are dozens of craft brewing companies based in Amsterdam alone, which offer everything from standard pilsners to potent Belgian-style trippels. As many other towns, cities and villages feature independent breweries, it is possible to discover hundreds of different beers while travelling through the Netherlands, including rarer regional varieties that aren’t produced anywhere else in the world. Thankfully, there’s a very easy way for newcomers to learn more about Dutch beers, namely: drinking everything that looks good!
Pilsner still reigns supreme in the Netherland and has remained the nation’s beer par excellence for almost a century. Waiters and barkeepers generally assume that patrons want pilsner when they ask for ‘een biertje’ (a beer) and will probably return with either a glass of Heineken, Amstel or Grolsch. These simple, refreshing beers are very easy to drink and are served in the large majority of bars, cafes and restaurants in the Netherlands.
Dutch bars tend to serve pilsner in small glasses called vaasjes (little vases) or fluitjes (little whistles) that hold 33 cl and 20 cl respectively. Even though some establishments keep larger, pint-sized glasses behind their bars, these vessels are nowhere near as common as their smaller counterparts and are rarely used by locals. It is often said that vaasjes or fluitjes preserve the taste of beer better than heavier glassware and keep bubbly brews like pilsner from going flat. Hence, their popularity in the Netherlands.
Breweries in the Netherlands release special beers throughout the year that are tailored to specific seasons. For instance, fruity witbiers are generally associated with warmer weather, whereas dark, heavy bokbiers are reserved for autumn and winter. These beers arrive en masse in supermarkets during their corresponding seasons and are often available on draft at bars. Although most watering-holes only serve one or two seasonal beers, others specialist establishments stock bottles from several different breweries and regularly change their selections in response to the weather. It is easy enough to learn the ins-and-outs of seasonal brewing in the Netherlands by asking barkeepers for recommendations and then, sampling their current stock.
While it’s wise to approach this custom with caution considering the large alcohol intake it entails, it is totally normal to order a beer with a small glass of jenever on the side in the Netherlands. This combination is called ‘een kopstoot’ in Dutch, which translates to ‘a head butt’ in English. As jenever is made from juniper berries, it shares many similarities with gin, but has a slightly mellower flavour than its British cousin. Dutch bars serve this tasty spirit in special, tulip-shaped glasses and fill these vessels to the brim, meaning that patrons must bow when taking their first swig. It is worth mentioning that jenever isn’t usually drunk as a shot, but instead savoured over time, like a fine whisky.
Dutch pubs and cafes often have sections on their menus dedicated to tasty bar snacks known as ‘borrelhapjes’ (little drink bites). These snacks range from deep-fried dishes like battered bitterballen or cheese-filled kaasstengels, to lighter appetisers like cheese platters or bowls of mixed nuts. Many borrelhapjes seem as though they were specifically designed to cure booze munchies and taste amazing alongside a fresh round of beers.