From Bok to primordial soup – a 10-day celebration of Dutch beer

Everyone has heard of Grolsch and Heineken, but what about Frontaal, Rockcity Beers or Brouwerij de 7e Hemel? They are just three of the dozens of breweries taking central stage at a special celebration of Dutch brewing.

It might be called Dutch Beer Week, but the festival runs for ten days and is the largest beer event in the Netherlands.

Started in 2012, the festival has grown considerably since its inception – as have the number of breweries. ‘In 2011, there were around 120 breweries in the Netherlands,’ says the event chairman Henri Reuchlin. ‘This year there are 208.’

Pilsner

Though most beer produced and consumed in the Netherlands is a traditional pilsner, craft beer consumption and production has soared over the past 20 years.

The new breweries focus on special beers and have names like Oersoep (primordial soup) and Oedipus Brewings. ‘We’re seeing a lot of small breweries doing interesting things,’ says Chelsea Oostdijk of Bierproeflokaal In De Wildeman in Amsterdam, one of the bars participating in the event.

The largest of the craft brewers, De Molen, exports a substantial amount of the beer it produces and the brewery has worldwide recognition. Despite that, an estimated 95% of the beer produced in the Netherlands is a product of one of the large brewers such as Heineken.

History

Even so, craft brewing has a strong history in the Netherlands. Often less thought of than its neighbours Belgium and Germany, the Netherlands is home to two of the ten Trappist breweries, including La Trappe which has been in operation since 1884.

The other Trappist brewery, Zundert, was started in 2013, and is one of only five breweries to be permitted to use the Trappist label which was founded after the 1800s.

The Netherlands has even evolved its own style of bok beer, distinct from the variety found in Germany, where the style originated.

Beer week

The hotspots for the Week are clustered in Amsterdam and The Hague but there are events from Limburg to Groningen. ‘But with 89 participating breweries and countless pubs and restaurants, you won’t need to travel far to find an event,’  says Reuchlin.

Several brewers have brewed special beers just for the week and many beer pubs will feature them on tap. Restaurants have also devised beer and food pairings.

‘I don’t want to give away too much but we’ll have some interesting beers on tap and on bottle at Bierproeflokaal In De Wildeman,’ says Oostdijk.

Trophy

It’s more than simply drinking beer though. Workshops on topics ranging from the brewing process to how to pour a perfect beer are also on offer. There’s even a beer hike. On Tuesday, May 20 event coordinators will announce the winner of the Beer At The Table trophy, an award given to a restaurant with the best food and beer pairing.

A number of Dutch breweries will open their doors to the public on May 24 and 25 for tours and tastings. Although larger breweries typically have tasting rooms and offer tours, many smaller breweries do not and open brewery day is one of the few times the public will have an opportunity to see inside.

‘The Dutch are too humble about their beer,’ says Reuchlin, who helped launch Dutch Beer Week. He and other Dutch beer aficionados hope the event will bring more attention to the quality beers being produced in the Netherlands.

‘Small breweries are more likely to try new styles. They started doing
American-style beers and now the larger breweries are trying them as
well,’ says Roel Buckens of brewery Frontaal. ‘This event showcases the Dutch beer scene, not just to people involved in the Dutch beer market, but to a much wider audience.


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