Dutch Breweries
styles - history - industry

Hi, I'm Ronald. I've got an obsessive disorder. My therapist has told me not to fight against my compulsion, but to channel it into something constructve.

My first thought was: yes, I know exactly where I want to do some channelling. But I don't want to be locked up again. I've put my anger behind me and built a "webpage". From matchsticks. But they didn't fit too well down the interwebs (they get stuck in the telephone wires). So I've made a "virtual" version, too. I hope you like it.

Dutch brewing industry
Dutch beer styles
Old Dutch beer styles
Dutch beer statistics
Dutch brewery map
Dutch Breweries

The Dutch brewery map

independent brewery
multinational brewery
contract brewer

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 No. Details
Heineken 3 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.
Bavaria 2 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.
Grolsch 1 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.
Inbev 2 Dommelsch and Hertog Jan. Its largest Dutch brewery, Oranjeboom in Breda, closed in 2004.
Independents 5 Alfa, Budels, Gulpener, Lindeboom, and Leeuw which is owned by the Belgian brewery Haacht.
Brewpubs 10 Relatively few brewpubs have been started - possibly because of the small size of most Dutch pubs.
Microbreweries 34 Far more common than brewpubs in Holland.
Contract brewers 15 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.
Brewers' Organisations
Centraal Brouwerij Kantoor
Herengracht 282,
1016 BX Amsterdam.
Postbus 3462,
1001 AG Amsterdam.
Tel: 020-625 22 51
Fax: 020-622 60 74
E-mail: info@cbk.nl

The big boys' club.
Klein Brouwerij Collectief

Founded in 2003, around 40 smaller, new breweries are members.
Beer Drinkers' Organisation
The Dutch beer consumers organisation (an EBCU member) is:

Postbus 3757,
1001 AN Amsterdam.

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 beers
Pils, 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 Brewery Location
1864 Koninklijke Nederlandsche Beiersche Bierbrouwerij Amsterdam
1870 Heineken Amsterdam
1871 Amstel Amsterdam
1872 Zwarte Ruiter (later Ridder) Maastricht
1873 Amersfoortsche Beierischbrouwerij Amersfoort
1874 Heineken Rotterdam
1882 Zuidhollandsche Bierbrouwerij (ZHB) Den Haag
1883 Deli Amsterdam

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 alc. description
Pilsener 5% 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.
Oud Bruin 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.
Meibock 6.5% 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.
Bock 6.5% 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 7-11% Not really true bocks. Amstel Gold, Grolsch Het Kanon and Bavaria 8.6 are examples. Usually pretty crap.
Münchener 6% 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.
Dortmunder 6-7% 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 beers
In 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 alc. description
Witbier 5% 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.
Amber 5% 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.
Blond 6-7% Disgusting pale, sweet beers which try to imitate the revolting Leffe Blond. All beers in this style are crap.
Dubbel 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.
Tripel 8-9% Pale, powerful ales, where the underlying sweetness should be balanced with massive hopping. Are sometimes spiced (with coriander, for example).
Strong ale (light) 8-11% 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) 8-11% As above, but dark.
Saison 6-7% Pale, spicy dry ales.
Strong Golden 8-9% 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 beers
Before 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 alc. description
Pale Ale/Bitter 4-5% Amber, malty ales with a fair dash of bitterness.
Mild 3 - 4% A sweetish, low-alcohol ale. The Fiddler brewpub usually has one as a seasonal special in May.
IPA 5-6% Pale, intensely hoppy ales. Brewed by a couple of micros, most notably SNAB.
Porter 5-6% The junior member of the stout family, black and roasty with perhaps a touch of malty sweetness. Brewed by a couple of the newcomers.
Stout 5-8% 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 styles
Mostly brewed by a single contract brewer, Jopen.

Style alc. description
Jopenbier 7% Amber, hoppy beer.
Koyt 8% Dark ale. Multigrain gruit beer.
Mestreechs Aajt 3.5% 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.

Dutch Breweries
Old Dutch Beer Styles

Dutch Beer styles 1880 - 1900
There's a fascinating document hidden away in an appendix of "Korte Geschiedenis der Heineken's Bierbouwerij Maatscappij N.V. 1873 - 1948". It's the draft of an 1893 price-fixing agreement between Amsterdam brewers.

What's so interesting about it? Well, it gives us a glimpse of the beer styles then being brewed in Holland.

beer type max. º Balling minimum price per litre
Hollandsch Bier 7 cents
Nieuw Hollandsch Bier 7 cents
Lager Bier 11º 9 cents
Extra Lager Bier 11º 9 cents
Pilsener 15º 9 cents
Münchener 15º 9 cents
Dortmunder 15º 14 cents
Brown Stout 16º 16 cents
Extra Stout 19º 20 cents
"Korte Geschiedenis der Heineken's Bierbouwerij Maatschappij N.V. 1873 - 1948" (p.421, 422)

Heineken products in 1864
beer type
Versche bier
Oud Bruin
"Korte Geschiedenis der Heineken's Bierbouwerij Maatschappij N.V. 1873 - 1948" (p.42)

Heineken wholesale prices (per litre)
beer type 1886 1904-1914
Gerstebier 10 cents 8 cents
Lager - 8 cents
Rotterdamsche Gerste - 11 cents
Münchener 14 cents 14 cents
Export - 14 cents
Beiersch (donker) 13 cents 13 cents
Pilsner (licht) 13 cents 13 cents
Bock - 15 cents
1886 - "Korte Geschiedenis der Heineken's Bierbouwerij Maatschappij N.V. 1873 - 1948" (p.117)
1904-1914 - "Korte Geschiedenis der Heineken's Bierbouwerij Maatschappij N.V. 1873 - 1948" (p.218)

(Labels courtesy of Felix Groenewoud)

Gerste No. 1 and the even lower quality Gerste No. 2 formed a major part of Heinken's output in the late 1880's. Both were bottom-fermented beers, using the Heineken D-yeast. Stronger beers and those intended for export used the A-yeast - still used by Heineken today. They were isolated in Heineken's Rotterdam brewery in 1885. The A-strain was sold on to breweries in Belgium, Denmark, France and Germany. Apparently, the Heineken yeast was used by many Munich breweries because they were unable to propagate single-strain cultures as effectively.
(Source: "Korte Geschiedenis der Heineken's Bierbouwerij Maatschappij N.V. 1873 - 1948" (p.110-113))

In 1875 Heineken exported beer slightly differently during the winter months. Their Lagerbier (or Bière de Conserve as it was called in French-speaking countries) was delivered in two forms: with or without yeast. The reason for this was that, in cold weather, beer could freeze in transit. Evidently this destroyed the flavour. The presence of yeast in the barrel helped to prevent the beer freezing. The beer with yeast was intended for immediate consumption, whereas that without could be kept longer. Other brewers (according to Heineken) produced a lighter beer in the Winter that was sold 3 or 3.5 weeks old - very young. I wonder how long your average Heineken today spends between mash and stomach?
(Source: "Korte Geschiedenis der Heineken's Bierbouwerij Maatschappij N.V. 1873 - 1948" (p.73))
More breweries, more beer styles
This excellent site of old Dutch beer labels gives a good impression of the range of styles once brewed in Holland.

Dutch Beer Styles in the 20th Century

1930's beer types
brewery Town beer type % age alc.
Heineken Amsterdam Lager Bier  
Heineken Amsterdam Tafel Bier  
Heineken Amsterdam Gerste No. 2  
Heineken Amsterdam Beiersch Bier  
Heineken Amsterdam Gerste Bier  
Heineken Amsterdam Münchener Bier  
Heineken Amsterdam Pilsener Bier  
Heineken Amsterdam Bokbier  
Nederlandse Bieretiketten

1950's beer types
brewery Town beer type % age alc.
De Valk Eindhoven Lager Bier 3%
De Valk Eindhoven Dubb. Gerste Bier 3.5%
De Valk Eindhoven Tafel Bier 3.5%
De Valk Eindhoven Donker Lager Bier 3.5%
De Valk Eindhoven Oud Bruin 3.5%
De Valk Eindhoven Dortmunder 4.5%
De Valk Eindhoven Dubb. Lager Bier 4.5%
De Valk Eindhoven Munchener 5%
De Valk Eindhoven Pilsener 5%
De Valk Eindhoven Extra Stout 6%
De Valk Eindhoven Bock Bier 6.5%
Heineken Amsterdam Donker Lager 3.5%
Heineken Amsterdam Lager Bier 3.5%
Heineken Amsterdam Licht Lager 3.5%
Heineken Amsterdam Oud Bruin 3.5%
Heineken Amsterdam Münchener Bier 5%
Heineken Amsterdam Pilsener Bier 5%
Heineken Amsterdam Bokbier 6.5%
Heineken Amsterdam Extra Stout 6.5%
Heineken Amsterdam Meibier 6.5%
Heineken Amsterdam Pale Ale 7%
Nederlandse Bieretiketten

1960's beer types
brewery Town beer type % age alc.
Heineken Amsterdam Donker Lager 3.5%
Heineken Amsterdam Oud Bruin 3.5%
Heineken Amsterdam Pilsener Bier 5%
Heineken Amsterdam Münchener Bier 5%
Heineken Amsterdam Bokbier 6.5%
Heineken Amsterdam Extra Stout 6.5%
Nederlandse Bieretiketten

Dutch Breweries
Dutch Beer Statistics

Beer production by type
1976 1986    
Pils 99% 97%    
other 1% 3%    
Het Nederlands Bierboek, Dave Vlam, 1987

Beer Consumption, Imports and Exports (1,000 hl):
1575 1650 1800 1900 1916 1918 1949 1976 1981 1983 1984 1985 1986 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
imports                           654* 771* 528* 554* 545* 614* 900* 940* 950* 995* 945* 785+ 900+ 1,288+ 1,834+
exports                       5,674b
(3,344 to USA)
  7,209+ 7,025+ 7,495+ 7,966,+ 9,489+ 10,467+ 11,118+ 12,166+ 11,713+ 12,188+ 12,888+ 13,095+ 12,913+ 13,491+ 12,976+
consumption                           13,449+ 13,639+ 13,692+ 13,019+ 13,231+ 13,265+ 13,276+ 13,475+ 13,225+ 13,309+ 13,129+ 12,922+ 12,885+ 12,921+ 12,687+
production         1,739a 722a   11,600@         17,988# 20,004+ 19,893+ 20,659+ 20,431+ 22,175+ 23,118+ 23,494+ 24,701+ 23,988+ 24,502+ 25,072+ 25,232+ 24,898+ 25,124+ 23,828+
consumption per head 200$ 300$ 40$ 42.1b 26.8a 10.8a 10+ 73a 89.1b 87.5c 83.4c 84.5c 86# 85+ 83.6+ 82.9+ 79.9+ 81.3+ 82.3+ 82.4+ 84.2+ 82.4+ 82.7+ 81.3+ 79.2+ 78.75+ 79.5+ 77.9+
+ Centraal Brouwerij Kantoor
* calculated from the other figures
# Larousse la bière, 1988
@ World Guide to Beer, Michael Jackson, 1977
$ Bier! Geschiedenis van een Volksdrank, 1994 (p. 76 - 79)
a Bier in Limburg, Sef Derkx, 1990
b Het Nederlands Bierboek, Dave Vlam, 1987
c Bier in Belgie, Geert van Lierde, 1992

Number of breweries by province
1819 1858 1874 1885 1890 1900 1905 1907 1910 1913 1915 1920 1921 1925 1930 1936 1940 1945 1950 1960 1970 1979 1980 1985 1986 1987 1989 1990 1991 1993 1995 1998 2004
Noord-Brabant   240* 201* 186*   241a 207*
  182# 191a 174#   72a -   65a - 37a - 24a 13a 9a 6@ 8a 6@
6@     8a     14a 15$ 16b
Gelderland   92* 23* 21*   42a 28*
  - 27a -   13a -   10a - 4a - 2a 1a 1a 1@ 1a 2@
2@     3a     3a 5$ 5b
Zuid-Holland   27* 29* 24*   35a 20*
  - 24a -   14a 13a   - - 6a - 5a 4a 2a 2@ 1a 2@
2@     1a     4a 6$ 11b
Noord-Holland   12* 11* 13*   22a 12*
  - 17a -   12a -   10a - 3a - 3a 2a 1a 3@ 1a 4@
4@     2a     5a 5$ 10b
Zeeland   28* 19* 16*   36a 24*
  - 31a -   25a -   25a - 11a - 3a 2a 0a 0@ 0a 0@
0@     2a     4a 5$ 2b
Utrecht   11* 7* 8*   12a 5*
  - 7a -   4a -   3a - 1a - 1a 1a 1a 0@ 0a 0@
0@     2a     2a 3$ 3b
Overijssel   29* 10* 4*   10a 2*
  - 7a -   3a -   3a - 2a - 2a 2a 2a 2@ 2a 2@
2@     2a     1a 2$ 2b
Friesland   48* 8* 7*   2a 6*
  - 2a -   2a -   2a - 0a - 0a 0a 0a 0@ 0a 0@
2@     1a     1a 1$ 1b
Groningen   39* 23* 24*   20a
  - 14a -   1a 1a   1a - 1a - 1a 1a 0a 0@ 0a 0@
0@     0a     2a 1$ 1b
Drenthe   20* 3* 1*   1a 0*
  - 1a -   0a -   0a - 0a - 0a 0a 0a 0@ 0a 0@ 0@     1a     0a 0$ 0b
Limburg   132* 132* 185*   190#
  181# 201a 177#   94#
79#   51#
25# 33a 27# 19a 13a 8a 6@ 6a 8# 7@
8@     8a     8a 8$ 11b
Flevoland   n/a n/a n/a   n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a   0@   0@ 0@             1$ 3b
Total: 678*
530c 657a
462* 453# 522a
- 418* 223a
- 219* 198a
- 98a 83c 60a 39a 24a 20@ 19a 23@
26@ 23* 27b 30a 29b 34b 44a 52$ 65b
* Het Nederlands Bierboek, Dave Vlam, 1987
# Bier in Limburg, Sef Derkx, 1990
@ Biersmaken, Peter Crombecq, 1985
$ PINT homepage, 1998
a Nederlands Etiketten Logboek, 1998
b my calculation
c Centraal Brouwerij Kantoor

Heineken beer production (hl) and %age of Dutch total
  1874 1875 1876 1877 1878 1879 1880 1881 1884 1893 1914 1918 1929 1936 2001 2002 2003 2004
output share output share output share output share output share output share output share output share output share output share output share output share output share output share output share output share output share output share
production 28,047a   38,292a   46,010a   49,911a   60,063a   60,400a   64,104a   62,368a   98,245 6.5%     300,000b                              
Heineken domestic sales                                     175,000e   350,000e   182,650d   611,064d 28.4%     6,500,000c 50.3% 6,300,000c 48.9% 6,000,000c 46.4% 5,900,000c 46.5%
Total Dutch beer sales                                                 2,150,000d   1,165,000d                  
a - "Korte Geschiedenis der Heineken's Bierbouwerij Maatschappij N.V. 1873 - 1948" (p.75)
b - "Korte Geschiedenis der Heineken's Bierbouwerij Maatschappij N.V. 1873 - 1948" (p.197)
c - Heineken annual report 2002
d - "De Magie van Heineken" Jacobs & Maas, 2001 (p. 4.11)
e - "De Magie van Heineken" Jacobs & Maas, 2001 p. 2.11)

Largest breweries
Location Ownership Production
Heineken Brouwerij
Zoeterwoude Heineken 7,500,000
Heineken Brouwerij 's-Hertogenbosch Heineken 7,500,000
Bavaria Brouwerij
Lieshout Independent 4,600,000
Grolsche Bierbrouwerij N.V.
Groenlo Independent 3,000,000
Dommelsch Brouwerij
Valkenswaard/Dommelen Interbrew 650,000
Brand Brouwerij
Wijlre Heineken 500,000
Alfa Brouwerij
Schinnen Independent 175,000
Brouwerij De Leeuw Valkenburg Haacht 150,000
B.V. Gulpener Bierbrouwerij
Gulpen Independent 130,000
Brouwerij Lindeboom Neer Independent 50,000
Hertog Jan Brouwerij Arcen Interbrew 50,000
La Trappe Brouwerij Tilburg Bavaria 22,000
Budels Brouwerij B.V.
Budel Independent 20,000
Friese Brouwerij Us Heit Bolsward Microbrewery 5,000
St. Christoffel Bierbrouwerij Roermond Microbrewery 5,000
Brouwerij De Halve Maan
Hulst Microbrewery 3,000
Brouwerij het Ij Amsterdam Microbrewery 2,000
De Drie Ringen
Amersfoort Microbrewery 1,250
Maasland Brouwerij Oss Microbrewery 1,000
Texelse brouwerij
Oudeschild Microbrewery 1,000
Brouwerij Erve Kots
Lievelde Microbrewery 1,000
Brouwerij De Leckere De Meern Microbrewery 1,000
I have assumed Heineken's production is split evenly between its two breweries.

Sales in the Netherlands (1,000 hl)
brewery group 1999 (hl) 1999 (%) 2000 (hl) 2000 (%) 2001 (hl) 2001 (%) 2002 (hl) 2002 (%) 2003 (hl) 2003 (%) 2004 (hl) 2004 (%)
        6,500 50.3% 6,300 48.9% 6,000b 47% 5,900b  
Bavaria Brouwerij 1,900a 14.3% 1,900a 14.5% 1,900a 14.7% 1,900a 14.7% 2,000a 15.7%    
Grolsche Bierbrouwerij N.V.
            1,770c 13.7% 1,670c 13.1% 1,704c  
Total top 3             9,970 77.4% 9,670 75.7%    
Total sales
13,309+ 13,129+ 12,922+ 12,885+ 12,771+
Dommelsch Brouwerij
+ Centraal Brouwerij Kantoor
a Bavaria website
b Heineken website
c Grolsch website

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This page was last updated 11.01.10

© Ron Pattinson 2010