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What to drink in the Netherlands

The legal drinking age is 18. Beverages with alcohol content lower than 0.5% aren’t counted, anybody can buy them, and they may be called “alcohol free” or in the case of beer “malt bier”.

It’s illegal for youth under 18 to buy alcohol in liquor-shops or supermarkets and they can ask for an ID before buying. Usually if you are below 20 you are required to show an ID. For most festivals people between 18 and 20 need to get a wristband before buying alcoholic drinks.

Beer

Although the Dutch beer “Heineken” is one of the world’s most famous beers, it is just one of the many beer brands in the Netherlands, and many Dutchmen consider it to be only a second-rate pilsner. You can get all kinds of beers from white beer to dark beer. Popular brands are Heineken, Grolsch, Brand, Bavaria, Amstel etc. There’s a certain regional variety in the beers you’ll find; whereas, in the Western Netherlands, many pubs serve Heineken or Amstel, pubs in Brabant will generally serve Bavaria or Dommelsch, in Limburg Brand and in Gelderland Grolsch.

In addition to the usual lagers, try Dutch white beers (witbier), which are flavored with a spice mix called gruit and thus taste different from the better-known German varieties. Fruit-flavored varieties (such as Kriek) are also available.

Traditional beers come from monasteries in the Southern Netherlands (Brabant and Limburg) or Belgium. You can visit a traditional beer brewer in for instance Berkel-Enschot (just east of Tilburg) at the ‘Trappistenklooster’. It needs to be said that the brewery is now owned by the big brewer Bavaria, so it’s not so traditional any more.

There are also a lot of excellent small and microbreweries (Brouwerij ‘t IJ, Brouwerij de Molen, Brouwerij de Prael etc.), if you’re a beer lover in Amsterdam consider visiting the beer shop “De Bierkoning” near “De Dam” (central square of Amsterdam), it has over a thousand beers, about half of it is Dutch and “Brouwerij ‘t IJ”.

Most breweries nowadays also produce a non-alcoholic variant of their beers, like Bavaria Malt or Amstel Malt, which contain sometimes 0% or less than 0.5% alcohol and are very suitable for people who would like to drive and don’t drink (or sometimes called “de Bob” as promoted in its campaign) or pregnant women.

Travellers coming from the British Isles and hoping to find a decent pint of ale will be sorely disappointed; unfortunately the Dutch beer market is utterly dominated by pilsner.

Bitters and gin

Also popular in winter are alcoholic bitters. Originally from the province of Friesland the bitter called Beerenburg is served in the entire country. Most other regions also produce their local, less famous variants of a bitter.

Orange bitter (Oranjebitter), this bitter liquor is drunk only on King’s Day.

Dutch gin (jenever or genever), the predecessor of English gin. It’s available in two types, called oude (old) and jonge (young), which have nothing to do with aging, just the distillation style. The more traditional “old-fashioned” oude is sweeter and yellowish in color, while jonge is clearer, drier and more akin to English gin.

Beerenburg (Beerenburg) is an alcoholic drink, made by adding herbs to jenever. It has an alcohol percentage of around 30%. The original Beerenburg was made halfway through the 19th century with a secret mixture of spices of the Amsterdam spice merchant Hendrik Beerenburg, to whom it owes its name. Despite it being “invented” in Amsterdam, it is considered typically Frysian.

Tea and coffee

Dutch drink black or green tea and it comes in many different tastes, from traditional black to fruit infusions etc. Luckily, if you’re British, you get the teabag served with a cup of hot (but never boiling) water, so you can make your own version. Milk in your tea is almost unheard of and given only to children. Sugar or occasionally honey is often served with it to add by you.

Coffee is almost compulsory when you are going to visit people. One of the first questions when coming through the door is often “Koffie?” and it is served in small cups (a half mug) with cookies.

Hot chocolate

Hot chocolate with whipped cream is a winter tradition in the Netherlands. It really fills you after a cold walk. In the summer you can also get it in every decent bar, however sometimes it’s made from powder as opposed to the traditional kind (regular chocolate melted and mixed with hot milk), and tastes like the best drink you’ve ever had.

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