In the Netherlands, a similar article is running titled “Australian Breweries that aren’t Fosters.” To us, it’s obvious – we have an amazing craft beer scene behind our mass-produced exterior. Unfortunately, this is something Europeans don’t really know about; because our beers hardly ever make it over there (I was actually asked in a Dutch pub, while wearing a Batch t-shirt, if we have a craft beer scene at all). Similarly, most Australians don’t know much about Dutch beer culture, save for a few mass produced Euro lagers.
When any beer lover visits the Netherlands, there’s two places they must go. Neither of those include Heineken Brouwerij in Amsterdam. These are internationally popular, well-known breweries that receive so many foreign visitors each year, they’re tourist destinations in their own right. Brouwerij de Koningshoven (better known to anyone who browses the shelves at Dan Murphys as La Trappe) and Brouwerij De Molen both dominate the “Best Beer of the Netherlands” lists on BeerAdvocate and RateBeer. This is largely in part due to part ownership and distribution by Bavaria, the second largest brewery in the Netherlands (behind, you guessed it, Heineken). Ignoring the can of worms that this opens up about the definition of “trappist” and “craft”, here’s the lowdown on (probably) the two best known “craft” breweries in the Netherlands.
Brouwerij De Koningshoeven, which produces the range of La Trappe beers, is one of only eleven Trappist breweries in the world. Established in 1884, the monks brew beer in order to fulfil their vow of a life dedicated to “ora et labora” (prayer and work). Profits from the beer are used to fund maintenance of the monastery, with any excess given to charity.
The brewery is housed within the walls of Onze Lieve Vrouw van Koningshoeven Abbey, in the south of the Netherlands, a few kilometres from the Belgian border. Guided tours of the abbey take you through the old and new (Bavaria owned) breweries and end at the Proeflokaal (tasting room), just outside the abbey walls.
Currently, the La Trappe range includes nine beers, including the standard abbey Blonde, Dubbel and Tripel, as well as the world’s only Trappist Bock and Trappist Wheat. All the beers are brewed with water from the abbey’s well, which one can only assume is bottomless, given the quantity of production.
Brouwerij de Koningshoeven is also credited with inventing the quadrupel beer style, first producing the 10% ale in 1991. On the 19th anniversary of its creation, in 2010, batches of the beer were barrel aged in port casks and oak barrels, then blended to create Quadrupel Oak Aged. Nowadays, this is the brewery’s most famous output, with each batch matured in a different liquor barrel. In the past, this has included Kirsch-schnapps, single malt whisky, cognac and brandy.
In the complete opposite vein to the traditional brewing styles of La Trappe, De Molen is known throughout the Netherlands as a boundary pushing, modern craft brewery. Beer lovers from all around the world make the pilgrimage to the quiet town of Bodegraven, equidistant from the major cities of Amsterdam, Utrecht and Rotterdam, making it literally in the middle of nowhere. The brewery is easy to spot, the name “De Molen” (The Windmill) might give a hint as to what kind of building to look out for.
Starting out, head brewer Menno Oliver attempted to brew beers the religious residents of Bodegraven of would like. Quickly giving up on that, he decided to brew beers that he liked instead. Now, his range of barrel aged ales, barley wines and imperial stouts (often clocking in at over 10%) are famous around the Netherlands and overseas.
De Molen beers are recognisable by their black and white paper labels, typically with badass names like Hel & Verdoemenis (Hell & Damnation), Mooi & Meedogenloos (Beautiful & Ruthless) and Bommen & Granaten (Bombs & Grenades). We had the honour of trying one of the weirdest beers they’ve ever produced – a collaboration with Spanish brewery Laugar named Txapela & Klompen (this Hat & Clogs). Smoked malts are fermented twice – once with saison yeast, halted with salt, then barley wine yeast – followed by infusion with bourbon chips in teabags. It cost us €5,50 ($8) and according to the bottle, is good to age until February 2041.
If you’re interested in trying either of these fantastic Dutch brands, you’re in luck that Bavaria’s “craft” distribution capabilities extend as far as Australia. La Trappe can be found in bottles at Dan Murphys and De Molen in bottles at Beer Cartel and often on tap at Bitter Phew. This article was not directly sponsored by Bavaria, but they did give me a bunch of free tokens at the Nederlandse Bierproeffestival in Den Haag if I promised to write about them.