More than a Heiny: the rise of Dutch beer abroad

Hello reader. Can you do something for me? Look up. Just a little. Right there under the name of this blog. See that little line ‘a blog about Dutch beer, in English’? I bet you already knew that, but let me tell you why. I decided to write about Dutch beer in English because I had friends with whom I often shared a good Dutch beer. Back then, and this only 4 years ago, information in English about Dutch breweries was scarce. I often translated the simple websites or labels on the bottles to give them some more information.

Even now the majority of brewery websites are in Dutch only. The ones that are bilingual, in some cases tri-lingual, are often the breweries that sell their beer abroad. Left are the tens of thousands of non-Dutch speakers in the country with access to local beer, but with no direct access to more information.

The following article is about 5 lovers of Dutch craft beer who do not live here, yet got interested in it in one way or another. This will only be about fans of Dutch beer, I do not attempt at all to get a fair and balanced view of how the rest of the world sees Dutch craft brewing, but hopefully it will show a growing group of lovers of Dutch beer.

First impression: a Zatte as the gateway beer

For almost everyone who comes into contact with Dutch craft beer, ‘t IJ in Amsterdam is the first. Most trips to Holland start here and brewery ‘t IJ is in every tourist guide to the city, if not for the beer then the iconic windmills it’s located under. They make the gateway beer, that one glass of Zatte or Columbus that makes people realize there is more than Heineken and Amstel.  The second step often is that one place a tourist should never miss: ‘t Arendsnest in Amsterdam with its selection of only Dutch beer.

The people who love us

John Clarke lives in Stockport, England and while he doesn’t work with beer as such he edits a regional beer magazine for CAMRA and writes a column for a local paper. He started to become interested in Dutch beer in 2000 when he visited the Bokbierfestival in Amsterdam. At that time his favorites were ‘t IJ but the first real specialty beer he had was the De Schans Saison, though he admits that these days De Schans isn’t what it was anymore.

I met Michele while sitting at a table on the first day of Borefts this year. He is a student living in Rome and e turned out to be quite to connoisseur of lowlands beers. His interest, or maybe knowledge, of Dutch brewing started as it probably does with everyone: Heineken. So it was here he went during his first trip here. It was a few years after that during a trip to Belgium he found his love for beer again. At home he tried to find good craft beer and ended up just outside of Rome in a town called Marino. The owner here suggested him to try a De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis: “that has been my first love with imperial stout and I cannot forget how I was surprised and pleased by the unique taste and overwhelming power of a stout (I was used to Guinness)”. It was this man he claims started his love for the Imperial Russian Stout and De Molen.

Chris Bettini does work in beer, and made his first trip to the Netherlands in 2008. “I was on a group beer tour put on by the owner of the bar(s) where I work. It was through our German Bar called the Huber Haus German Bier Hall, and was a 10 day trip through Bavaria. I also bartended in his Belgian Bar, Max & Joe’s Belgian Tavern, so I wanted to explore Belgium as well. As a group we flew from the states into Amsterdam, then to Munich. On the way home I booked my flight back out of Amsterdam, and rented a car to spend a week in Belgium. I had 3 days in Amsterdam, and realized then I had NO idea about the Dutch beer scene.” After a visit to ‘t IJ and ‘t Arendsnest he was hooked.

If you ever end up in Omaha, Nebraska Chris is your man, he is “bartender and the Social Media Coordinator for Beer Corner USA home to the Crescent Moon Ale House, Huber Haus German Bier Hall, Max & Joe’s Belgian Tavern, and Beertopia (Beer Retail Store). I also am on our Beer Corner USA’s Beers of the Week beer review show on YouTube and teach our Beer School twice a year. Recently my boss opened Infusion Brewing Companay where I am a tour guide once a week.” Impressive resumé huh? And this guy loves Dutch beer and he knows what he is talking about.

Last but not least are Joel and Sara. They lived really close to ‘t IJ for a number of years before moving to Heidelberg, where sadly no Dutch beer can be found.

Molen "De Ster" where the Utrechts Beerfestival is held, maybe a new travel destination

Molen “De Ster” where the Utrechts Beerfestival is held, maybe a new travel destination

Trips to Holland

All of the people I interviewed have made trips to Holland solely for beer related reasons. The Borefts festival in Bodegraven is the main reason they fly or drive over. This trip is often combined with other destinations like ‘t Arendsnest or Jopen, or a small vacation through Holland and Belgium.

Dutch beer at home

Craft beer is still something you have to go out and look for in that one special bar or shop that sells it. Chris in Nebraska tries every day to get De Molen and Emelisse to his state. The distributors who shipped this have left Nebraska again. Jopen now exports to the U.S. so he tries to get that too.

When my friend Joel returned to the town he grew up in November he was pleasantly surprised to find De Molen beers in the local supermarket. Surprising since Carroll in Iowa isn’t exactly a sprawling metropolitan area. As he himself said: De Molen has now definitely reached the end of the world.

John gets his beer in a store called Beermoth. This store is on importing Dutch beers. As a start they already had a ‘meet-the-brewer’ night there with a visit from the guys from De Rooie Dop and Oersoep. So not only does the beer cross the border, often the brewers as well.

International Power Rankings

Emelisse at Borefts, one of the better known breweries around the world

Emelisse at Borefts, one of the better known breweries around the world

The interviewees rank Dutch brewing around the 4 or 5 spot. The U.S., Belgium and Germany still reign but Holland is close behind. I myself am completely biased of course but I think this is a good spot, though Scandinavian and Italian beer is developing at an even faster, and more adventurous speed.

Favorite breweries?

It is no wonder that the big two, De Molen & Emelisse, are mentioned the most as favorite beers. But the list is growing with ‘t IJ, Jopen, Rooie Dop, Oersoep being mentioned the most. Even in the rest of the world it is starting to dawn that Utrecht has some great breweries too, so who knows what the answers will be.

In conclusion

Who do have to thank for the rise of Dutch craft beer abroad? Firstly there is ‘t IJ, being a tourist destination. Secondly is De Molen, not only for the amazing beer but also for the festival that brings people to Holland just for that reason. That they then go on and visit other beer shops and breweries I a great secondary result. Their distribution is also good, so more and more fans can get their beer. The Dutch wave of beer keeps going, and isn’t about to end soon.

Martijn Buisman


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