Dutch Beer Tastings
pils - witbier


The Dutch beer scene
In common with many other countries, Holland has seen a dramatic concentration of its brewing industry in the course of the 20th century. The giant Heineken concern, one of the largest brewering groups in the world, has the lion's share o f the local market. Grolsch, Bavaria and the Belgian mega-brewery Interbrew account for most of the rest, with the small number of long-established lager breweries fughting for the scraps.

Concentration brought with it the inevitable accompanying reduction in variety of style and flavour. By the late 1970's, industrial pils had removed pretty well all vestiges of an indiginous beer culture and accounted for something close to 99% of production. Things have improved dramatically since then, in a statistical sense, but pale lagers ranging from dull to positively unpleasant still account for 90% or so of beer sold. In the larger towns there is the choice of a witbier or amber ale, but stray outside the connurbations of western Holland and your options will be pils or pils most of the time.

Since the depressing days when the remaining independent producers were slowly being picked off by Heineken and their rivals, there has been a little improvement. From a low of around 20 in the early 1980's, the number of active breweries has shot up to around the 40 mark. However, when you consider that this total includes half a dozen brewpubs and that the largest of the new micros brews less than 5,000 hl (compared to the 13,000,000 hl + of Heineken), it makes you realise how little impact these changes have really had on the the market.

A more important factor in the revival of interest in stylistic diversity has been the stagnation then slow decline of beer sales in Holland. Faced with a shrinking market, larger brewers have been keen to get into the only area experiencing growth: special beer (this means anything even slightly more daring than crappy pale lager). Even though it accounts for less than 10% of the total, it has been expanding quickly and offers comapanies a greater profit margin than the highly competitive pils market. Their attempts at brewing special beer have met with mixed results and produced a few true monstrosities. The witbiers are pretty OK, but most Dutch versions of amber ales in the Belgian style are disgusting, syrupy muck.

For more details on Dutch breweries and their beers, see Dutch Breweries.

This section contains details - name, strength, type, brewer - of beers brewed in Holland, plus my own highly subjective ratings of them. I hope, eventually, to include most of the beers which are regularly available.One-off celebratory brews which are never likely to be encountered again, will be excluded.

When a brewery closes (as some inevitably will), I will leave its entry in this page for at least 12 months, though with a clear indication that it is no longer active. This seems reasonable, as the beers will still be around for at least a few months, until stocks are exhausted. It's surprising what gets forgotten at the back of a cellar. Odd crates 5, 10 15, even 30 years old (I once tried a Crombé Kriek which had been lying unnoticed in the brewery's cellar for decades) find their way back into circulation more often than you might expect. Bottle-conditioned beers, especially the stronger ones, can remain drinkable for a considerable time. For the same reasons I will not remove the listings for discontinued beers.
Notes on my tasting procedure
I don't claim that the opinions stated below are in any way objective or definitive. They are my own personal views and are inevitably influenced by my own tastes, preferences and what I had for breakfast the day of the tasting. What I have attempted to do, is to eliminate as much extraneous bias as possible. Whenever possible, I have attempted to do the tastings 'blind': that is, I did not know the identity of the beer I was rating. For draught beers, this is not usually possible, but the 'Blind' column in the tables below will indicate this.

This is the procedure for my home tastings of bottled beers:
  1. 4 to 8 beers of the same style per session.
  2. All the beers served simultaneously in numbered glasses of identical size and shape.
  3. All tasting notes and scores written down before the identity of the beers is known.
  4. All beers served, regardless of style, at 16 - 18 C in order to experience the widest possible range of flavour components.
The marks are allotted in 2 ways:
  • range and depth of (pleasant) flavours;
  • degree of adherence to style.
For example, a pils might recieve 15 points for a spicy hop aroma, but the same feature in a witbier would be marked lower. It may well be a very pleasing smell, but it is not appropriate for the witbier style. To make it clear how this operates in my scoring, I have listed what I consider the appropriate features for each type.

In some of the tastings I deliberately included a 'marker' beer, used to give me something to measure the other beers against. I would deliberately choose a beer that I knew to be a good example of the style being tasted. For complete fairness, I was also unaware of which the marker was. In every set being tasted I tried to include at least one beer which I expected to be good (it didn't always turn out to be the case) so I was not able to automatically assume all the beers would be crap and evaluate them accordingly. Just for variety, I threw in a few non-Dutch beers, again to add perspective.

None of this, of course, guarantees complete objectivity or even consistency between different tasting sessions. This is not a defintive evaluation or an absolute rating of the beers listed. It is my opinion and nothing else. I only hope that it may give those who know nothing of the beers involved a little insight into their relative merits.

What do my scores mean?
< 20 cut out the middleman and pour straight down the sink
21 - 30 pretty nasty, gulp down quickly or hold your nose
31 - 40 chill heavilly and pray
41 - 50 can be drunk unchilled without evoking nausea
51 - 60 safe to drink
61 - 70 you might actually enjoy this
71 - 90 can survive a serious examination
81 - 70 don't swallow too quickly
91 - 100 treat like 50 year-old Islay

The world's favourite beer style
Before we start, I'll admit that this isn't my favourite style of beer and not what I would drink, given a choice. Many of the beers below, I had never tried before. After sampling them, there are several I will do my best to avoid in future.

Overall, I found the standard to be disturbingly low. My expectations weren't all that high but I was still shocked at just how bad many of the beers were. There were quite a few which I was pleased to pour down the sink as soon as I had drunk enough to do the tasting. Good to know for future reference.

Distinguishing features of the 'international' pils style:
  • Aroma: spicy, hop
  • Taste: neutral to bitter
  • Aroma: spicy, a little butter
  • Finish: bitter
Features inappropriate for the 'international' pils style:
  • dark malt flavours
  • pretty well any sweetness

Taste Comments Blind? Score
Alfa edel pils (5%)

Aroma:smoke, vegetables, grass
Taste: bitterish, sweetish
Aroma: margarine, celery, smoke, herbal
Finish: celery, cardboard
Aftertaste: bitterish, very short
Unpleasant hop character. Y 23
Amstel 1870 (5%)

Aroma: vanilla, citrus, celery
Taste: sweetish, bitterish
Aroma: malt, smoke, biscuit
Finish: biscuit, malt, hop
Aftertaste: bitterish
Drinkable if not exciting. Y 35
Amstel pilsener bier

Aroma: celery, smoke, citrus
Taste: sweetish
Aroma: smoke
Finish: sweetish, cardboard
Aftertaste: bitterish, very short
Slightly unpleasant. Y 27
Brand Pilsener (5%)

Brand (Heineken)
Aroma: celery, vegetables
Taste: neutral
Aroma: butter, smoke
Finish: cardboard
Aftertaste: bitter, very short
Fairly nasty. Y 20
Brand Urtyp Pilsener (5%)

Brand (Heineken)
Aroma: malt, fruit metallic
Taste: bitterish
Aroma: vanilla, spicy, pepper
Finish: pepper, hop
Aftertaste: Very bitter, lasts long
Pleasant commercial pils. Y 55
Budels Pils (5%)

Aroma: pine, hop, margarine
Taste: bitterish, sweetish
Aroma: fruit, sugar, cabbage, butter
Finish: sweetish, metallic, resin
Aftertaste: bitterish, medium length
Slightly unpleasant. Y 30
Dommelsch pilsener (5%)

Dommelsche (Interbrew)
Aroma:citrus, cardboard, hop
Taste: sweetish
Aroma: vegetables
Finish: stale hops
Aftertaste: bitterish, short
Thoroughly horrible. Undrinkable muck. Y 14
Us Heit Twels pilsener (5%)

Aroma: raisins, pear, smoke
Taste: sweetish, bitter
Aroma: vanilla, hop, grass, honey
Finish: wood, sweet, butter
Aftertaste: bitter, medium length
Something along the lines of the Czech original. Slightly green tasting. Y 47
Grolsch premium pilsner (5%)

Aroma: hop, butter, grass mint
Taste: sweetish, bitterish
Aroma: hop, herbal, grass, butter, pepper
Finish: chicory, pepper, margarine
Aftertaste: bitter, medium length
Good smell of aroma hops and a pleasant spiciness in the finish. Only spoilt by a tad too much sweetness and slightly too prominent butter. By a mile the best of the standard commercial pils beers. Y 60
Gulpener pilsner (5%)

Aroma: butter, biscuit, raisin
Taste: sweet
Aroma: butter, cream, smoke, raisin
Finish: sour cream, celery, grass
Aftertaste: bitterish, short
Very buttery, no hop aroma. Y 37
Heineken Pils (5%)

Aroma: citrus, celery, vegetables, smoke
Taste: sweetish, bitterish
Aroma: smoke, vegetables.
Finish: celery, cardboard
Aftertaste: bitterish, short
Slightly nasty tasting, with an unpleasant rough hop flavour Y 23
Plzen (5%)

Aroma: flowers, rubber, spice
Taste: sweet
Aroma: cabbage, hop, vegetable, smoke
Finish: smoke, burnt, honey
Aftertaste: bitter, medium length
Rough hop flavour and some off aromas. Y 36
Leeuw pilsener (5%)

Aroma:celery, citrus, cardboard
Taste: sweetish
Aroma: smoke, vegetables
Finish: vegetables
Aftertaste: bitter, very short
Revolting. Terrible rough hop flavour. Y 18
Lindeboom pilsener (5%)

Aroma: vanilla, smoke, celery
Taste: sweetish
Aroma: smoke, celery
Finish: smoke, cardboard
Aftertaste: bitter, short
Musty tasting. Not nice. Y 24
Gouverneur (5%)

Aroma: Plum, raisin, biscuit, toffee
Taste: sweetish
Aroma: caramel, apple
Finish: fruit, sugar
Aftertaste: bitterish, short
Fruity with a bit too much sweetness and a thin finish. Not offensive but not very enticing, either. Y 29
Oranjeboom premium pilsener (5%)

Aroma: herbal, cardboard, grass, vegetables
Taste: sweetish
Aroma: sugar, chicory, vegetables
Finish: fruit, metallic
Aftertaste: bitterish, short
Slightly stale hop aroma, too sugary in the mouth and too thin in the finish. What bitterness there is, is rather harsh. Traces of off-flavours. Not very appetising. Y 19
Christoffel bier (5%)

St. Christoffel
Aroma: citrus, spicy, coriander, cream, grass
Taste: very bitter
Aroma: pine, spice, pepper, chicory
Finish: herbal, hoppy, wood
Aftertaste: very bitter, long
Very bitter beer, with a quality hop flavour. Y 72

Orange peel and coriander
I had thought that Dutch breweries generally made a reasonable job of interpreting this style, until I tasted them blind. Overall, the beers were very disappointing, with few reaching an acceptable standard. It was disturbing how few of the beers had the correct flavour profile for the style. Almost none have any sourness, which I would consider intrinsic to the type and most were far too sweet.

Distinguishing features of the witbier style:
  • Aroma: citrus, coriander, wheat, spice, butter
  • Taste: slightly sweet to sour
  • Aroma: citrus, coriander, wheat, spice, butter
  • Finish: dry, bitterish
Features inappropriate for the witbier style:
  • pronounced hop aromas or bittterness
  • excessive sweetness

Taste Comments Blind? Score
Witte Raaf (5%)

Arcense (Interbrew)
Aroma: lemon, coriander, butter
Taste: sweetish, sourish
Aroma: wheat, lemon, sugar
Finish: none
Aftertaste: none, very short
Artificial lemon smell in the aroma, far too sweet in the mouth, no finish whatsoever. Crap. Y 20
Wit Voetje (6.5%)

Aroma: citrus, hop
Taste: very sweet
Aroma: sugar, caramel
Finish: sugar
Aftertaste: sweet, very short
Manages to have almost no witbier features. Far too sweet and no trace of wheat anywhere in the taste. Awful. Y 14
Koornbeurs (5%)

Drie Kruizen
Aroma: wort, malt raisin
Taste: neutral
Aroma: wheat, toffee
Finish: wheat, fruit, dry
Aftertaste: none, very short
Bland, flat beer that doesn't seem to have worked out as intended. Y 24
Zeeuwsche Witte (5%)

De Halve Maan
Aroma: burnt, hops, coffee
Taste: sourish, bitter, sweet
Aroma: burnt, herbal, sugar
Finish: espresso, sourish, sweet
Aftertaste: sweet, long
Weird beer containing ridiculously diverse and inappropriate tastes. It can't taste as intended and something must have gone terribly wrong somewhere. No witbier characteristics. Y 18
Valkenburgs Wit (4.8%)

Aroma: wheat, butter, sourish, spice
Taste: sweetish, sourish
Aroma: butter, spice, wheat
Finish: orange, metallic
Aftertaste: bitterish, medium
Butter a bit overwhelming in the aroma followed by too much sweetness on the tongue. Not much flavour development inb the mouth. At least it bears some resemblance to the style. Y 35
Wieckse Witte (5%)

De Ridder (Heineken)
Aroma: celery, bitter, citrus
Taste: sweetish
Aroma:celery, wort
Finish: none
Aftertaste: celery, short
Disgusting stale hop aroma that overwhelms everything else. Completely wrong for a witbier and revolting, too. Y 12
Witte Wieven (5%)

Aroma: coriander, wheat, orange
Taste: sourish, sweetish
Aroma: coriander, wheat, citrus
Finish: coriander, fruit
Aftertaste: bitterish, short
Good coriander aroma, but a little one-dimensional. OK Y 47
Rabenhaupt (5%)

St. Martinus
Aroma: coriander, lemon, orange
Taste: sourish
Aroma: Fruit, orange, caramel
Finish: curacao, wheat, coriander
Aftertaste: bitterish, medium
Smells a bit like washing up liquid, but fairly complex in the mouth. Tastes as if its still a little green. Quite pleasant. Y 52
Brugs Tarwebier (5%)

De Gouden Boom
Aroma: wheat, butter, coriander
Taste: sourish
Aroma: wheat, lemon, orange
Finish: citrus, coriander
Aftertaste: bitter orange, medium length
A Belgian beer that I included as a benchmark in one of the tastings. Delilcious spiciness complimented by a refreshing citrus sourness. Very tasty and in the correct style. Easily the best witbier I have tasted so far. Y 79

More Dutch Beer Pages
Dutch pub guides
Dutch Brewery Pages
Amsterdam Pub Guide
Rotterdam Pub Guide
Haarlem Pub Guide
The Hague (Den Haag) Pub Guide
Utrecht Pub Guide
Pub Guides to Other Dutch Towns
More Beer Pages

© Ron Pattinson 1997 - 2010