Thursday, 17 July 2008

Ten Dutch beers you should try

I've noticed how much people like lists. And it's always been my policy to give people what they want. Except when I give them something else instead and hope they don't notice. So following on from my "Ten Amsterdam pubs to visit this summer" post, here are suggestions for what to drink in them. If you can find them. Dutch pubs have a habit of selling of selling good Belgian beers and crap Dutch beers.

As usual, these are in no particular order.

Christoffel Blond
Christoffel is the only new Dutch brewery to concentrate exclusively on lagers. Not surprising, as it was founde by a member of the Brand family who had studied at Wehenstephan. A pale lager, it's usually classified as a Pilsner, despite its 6% ABV. The first thing you notice is the massive hop aroma. It's one of those beers I could just sit and sniff all day. The aroma is that good. Should you manage to get it into your mouth, you'll be greeted by more abundant hop flavours and a scorching bitterness. (Here's an alternative description for American hopheads: there's a little a hoppiness in the aroma and a slight trace of bitterness in the finish.) Distinctive and very drinkable. That's a winning combination in my book.

Amstel Bock
That's right. I'm seriously proposing that you try a beer brewed in one of Heinken's mega lager factories. Amstel Bok is a surprisingly good beer, that regularly scores well in blind tastings. It's the classic old-fashioned Dutch Bock, malty, but without the tooth-rotting sweetness of more modern versions, such as the sugary Grolsch attempt. In my years on the dole, I drank hectolitres of the stuff, as it's dirt cheap. It demonstrates that Heineken can, when they want, brew something pretty decent. Clearly, they don't always aim that high. You'll have to wait to try it. It's only available October to January.

Van Vollenhoven's Stout
I have a soft spot for classic beer recreations, as you might have noticed. This is a cracker: deep, complex and satisfying. Guus, owner of de Schans, is a talented brewer. And this is one of his best efforts. Van Vollenhoven's was an Amsterdam brewery taken over by Heineken in the 1940's and closed around 1960. Heineken brewed a bottom-fermenting version until about half a dozen years ago. I was told yesterday that it won't be available again until Autumn. So you may have to be very lucky to try it this summer.

De Molen Tsarina Esra
Now I'm being perverse, picking a beer with incredibly limited availability. It's brewed just a few times a year in tiny batches and is sold only at the brewery in Bodegraven. Let's just say it gives you a good reasion to visit the brewery. If you're lucky, you may meet Menno. A great guy and a great brewer. Say "hi" to him from me. He's such a nice bloke that I don't even mind him describing it as an Imperial Porter. Powerful and complex without being overpowering or unbalanced. A top beer by any standards.

't Ij Vlo
Most of 't Ij's beers are firmly based on Belgian examples. Vlo is an exception. Brewed originally for beer shop De Bierkoning, the recipe is supposedly the result of an accident at the brewery. Now where have I heard that one before? It's certainly an unusual beer, dark amber in colour and with more coriander than an Indian spice shop. The coriander stops just short of total craziness and it's surpisingly drinkable and refreshing (what am I saying here, this is like a marketing man's description). Joris, you probably think it tastes like soup. I think it tastes delicious. This one at least is pretty easily avaible. If you're in Mokum. Unsurpisingly, you can find it bottled at Bierkoning. And it's one of Café Belgique's regular draught beers.

SNAB Speculator
Speculaas is a type of spiced biscuit eaten around Sinter Klaas. SNAB, not a brewery but an organisation that gets beers contract brewed, has created a beer featuring the same spices. It took them a couple of tries to get the balance right. Goldilocks. First year too much spice, second too little, since then spot on. A unique beer with a particularly Dutch identity.

Jopen Koyt
It's disheartening that Dutch micros usually draw their inspiration from abroad, Belgium in particular, ignoring their own rich brewing tradition. Koyt is an exception. A modern interpretation of a style of pre-hop beer once common in Holland. Some hops are used in Jopen's version, but they are barely noticeable through the spices. As was usual in medieval and renaissance Holland, the grain bill is a combination of wheat, barley, rye and oats. That adds a particular depth to the malt flavours I just adore.

Bavaria Pils
I've included this for a very special reason. To demonstrate just how disgusting a mass-produced Dutch Pils can be. Best would be to get a less discerning friend to buy it and just take a sip yourself. If it's chilled enough, you'll be spared some of the nastiness. A masochist might want to try it at cellar temperature.

Since the takeover of Grolsch by SABMiller, Bavaria has become Holland's largest independent brewery. Unfortunately, all their beer is crap.

Mestreechs Aajt
You may notice a theme here: uniquely Dutch beers. Meestrechs Aijt has similarities with Belgian styles such as Oud Bruin, where aged, sour beer is mixed with young beer. The twist here, is that Aijt is only 3.5% ABV. There's only one brewery that makes it: Gulpener. There was a rumour that production would have to cease because of EU rules about the use of wood in food manufacture. Thankfully, that hasn't happened yet.

Double Saison de Liège
The De Keyzerr brewery in Maastricht was closed and left intact in 1970. It's recently been opened for tours. This is a recreation of one of their products contract brewed by Den Engel Bierbrouwers. Why did a Dutch brewery make a Saison? Because they owned another brewery across the border in Liege. When they shut that down, production was moved to Holland. It's dry and spicily hoppy, as you would expect from a Saison.

Budels Oud Bruin
It doesn't necessarily have to be Budels Oud Bruin. Any other one will do. Not to be confused with the sour Belgian beer with the same moniker, Oud Bruin is one of a handful of indigenous Dutch styles. (It always makes me smile when I see them lumped together with Belgian Oud Bruin on beer ratings sites. And it's a good one to bring up when someone claims every single style of beer is brewed in the US.) Based on a very cursory look through Amstel and Heineken records, it seems to have appeared after WWII. Very sweet, low in alcohol and with virtually no hop presence. One for the extreme beer fans.


Kristen England said...

I agree with teh Amstel Bock. Had one (read 6) when I was in Schiphol (sp?) last fall. I got one b/c I had never see it before and was pleasantly surprised. Very easy to drink, good malt profile, not sweet, which was the most important thing.

The Christoffel blond is usually off by the time it gets over here which is sad.

The Tilburgs Dutch brown ale is very popular in the MSP area. Its quite butterscotchy for my taste. Im wondering if its usually like this or if it changes this much in shipping. What are your thoughts on this?

Oh, and Im very unhappy you didn't put down La Trappe Quaddruple...the epitome of the quaddruple style (tongue inserted directly in cheek). ;)

John Clarke said...


Tsarina Ezra is spectacular, isn't it? I also see it's apparently to be available in draught on the foreign beer bar at this year's GBBF.

Two of my personal favourites are De Schans Saison and Us Heit Dubbel Tarwe. Speaking of De Schans, someone told me last night that they are ceasing to brew. Surely this can't be true?

Ron Pattinson said...

kristen, Tilburgs Dutch brown ale isn't available in Holland. I had it once in Arend's Nest and I can't remember any butterscotch.

Why no Quadrupel? I was going for beers with a very specific Dutch character.

John, Tsarina Esra is a wonderful beer. I would love to try it draught. Unfortunately, I won't be making the GBBF this year.

Edmund said...

Christoffel's quite nice, and it's got a cool bottle too...I tried to get a case of it for when I finished my physics bachelor's (Christoffel symbols are mathematical objects that come up in Einstein's theory of general relativity) but unfortunately it was not to be.

Derek Deadman said...

Bavaria aye too bad.
Picked up a cheap four pack in Tesco, great malty flavour with the crisp overtones of dog hair.

Sinkas said...

What about Schelde Oesterstout?
love this stuff,

Ethan said...

Have you had De Himel, from Nijmegen? I'm sitting on a bottle, but haven't had it yet. Nijmegen is where I lived in The Netherlands, so I hope it is special.

Thanks for reminding me to look for some of the "other" Dutch beers. Didn't recall if you mentioned it or not, but I found that Jopen yesterday, and look forward to it.

Ron Pattinson said...

Ethan, I quite like De Hemel's beers. The kids liked the pub, too. Have you goy Nieuwe Ligt? I've still not cracked my bottle because it was so expensive.

Ethan said...

Don't know why, but my reply last week didn't post...

anyhoo, yes: Nieuwe Ligt Grand Cru, no less, dated 2005. Awaiting an occasion...

Is Korenwolf still made? good? I remember liking it, but my tastes have certainly changed (improved? who can say?) since then.