Thursday, 16 February 2023


Being trendy is not something I've often been accused of. Having determinedly kept my finger as far away from the pulse as physically possible for five decades. I'm just glad that I still have a pulse.

Not living under a rock and occasionally venturing out, I do sometimes notice things. For example, while Andrew is loading up with this week's special offer Pils, I often run my eyes over Dirk's* beer selection. 

IPA started turning up a few years back. But relatively mainstream ones, in the form of Brand or 't Ij. More recently, crafty stuff has been appearing. OK, Oedipus, now owned by Heineken, isn't true craft any more. Some of the others are more worthy of the description. (If you think that it still means something.)

Great you might say. Not so much for me. Because they no longer sell any Trappist beers. As elsewhere in Holland, the range of Belgian beers available is being trimmed back. There's still Leffe Gulden Draak, Kasteel, La Chouffe, Duvel and Tripel Karmeliet on offer. Even Duvel Tripel Hop. But that's about it for Belgium.

When I was first in Holland, "special beer", as it was called, was all about Belgium. Even if the beer didn't come from there, it was inspired by it. T Ij, and the handful of other small Ducth breweries, mostly brewed Dubbels, Tripels and the like. Though there are still quite a few Belgian beers hanging around, newer Dutch brewers seek their inspiration elsewhere. Mostly the other side of the Atlantic. (Like everywhere else in the world.)

In the last couple of years there's been a big change in the draught offerings from pubs. Once about all you could expect was Pils, Witbier, De Koninck and maybe La Chouffe or an Ij beer. De Koninck, once the most widely available draught beer after Pils, has become a rarity. La Chouffe, which used to be all over the place, is becoming scarcer, too.

What's the current situation? Pils still reigns supreme,, obviously. That's far from displaced as Holland's favourite. But Witbier is increasingly being replaced by Hefeweizen. Usually either Paulaner (owned by Heineken), Augustiner Franziskaner (AB-Inbev) or Grolsch (Asahi).

Popping up everywhere is IPA. Like to guess which one is most common? It's not local favourite 't Ij IPA (now with a non-sexist label). No. Obviously, it's Lagunitas. Belonging to the Heineken stable helps. What with them having so many pubs tied to them.

That sums up what's happening in mainstream pubs, that is, non-specialist craft places. It's very different from the oceans of Pils and few bottles of Trappist on offer when I first arrived here. Craft places. Well, the few times I pop my around their doors, it's all the usual international stuff: Loads of IPAs of varying degrees of sludginess.

One thing hasn't changed, though. Most of the pub trade is still in the hands of big brewers. They've just, wisely in my opinion, broadened their focus. Why do you think people like Heineken have been buying up craft brewers? They need their products for their pubs. And they don't want to have to buy them from someone else. That would be stupid.

* Dirk van den Broek, a fairly cheap supermarket chain.


Matt said...

When it comes to trends in the British beer market, the big question now is whether Guinness becoming the best-selling brand, at least in revenue if not volume, and overtaking Carling Black Label in top spot, means stout is about to become the default beer that most drinkers order in a pub.

The issue for mass market lager is obviously how to replace the older drinkers who started drinking it as teenagers in the seventies and eighties, when their parents and grandparents still drank mild or bitter, when their own children and grandchildren now either don't drink or drink cocktails, wine, spirits or Guinness.

Andy Holmes said...

It's incredible how British pubs have gotten away with selling crap like Carling for so long. There are still very few "quality", even half decent, lagers on offer in the average UK pub. I feel like the corner has been turned with IPAs too, the market has more than been saturated. Interestingly, of 4 beers across 2 pubs last night, the pint of Guinness was the one I enjoyed the most. The others were a forgettable American pale ale style cask beer from a Birmingham brewer who's name I have already forgotten; Budvar Original; and Wye Valley HPA.

The Beer Nut said...

And the big answer is no, it won't. All those people aren't drinking Guinness because they like stout. They're drinking Guinness because it is Guinness, backed by marketing and heritage and ubiquitous distribution. It's also blander than almost any stout you care to mention, so fans who switch from Guinness will quickly switch back.

Steve N said...

Dunno if you have them in Dutch Lidl's (are Lidl in Holland?) but they've been doing these 500ml cans of 'Steam Brew' in imperial IPA, imperial stout and 'German red'. They are 7.8, 7.5, and 7.9% respectively. They added a Session IPA (4.9) and a 'Wheat Pale Ale' (5.6) last year I think. In Italy they are ca. 1 euro 15, but looks like in Germany they are 89c. And they are not bad at all. I mean, nothing that special or likely to win awards but when a 500ml craft beer in the supermarket can be 4 or 5 euros, ABV per euro wins out. And being able to even buy an imperial stout locally is a big win in a veritable sea of yellow lager.

Rob Sterowski said...

Absolutely not. Stout is a million miles away from becoming the default choice. What has happened is that the lager sector has become splintered between Carling, Carlsberg, Heineken, Peroni, Madri, Stella and all the others. Leaving Guinness as the biggest single brand, but still dwarfed by the total lager sector.

A Brew Rat said...

The trend towards increasingly bad beer availability also rings true to the U.S. Twenty years ago, my local pub always had a high end continental pilsner on tap. Urquell, Bitburger, Warsteiner, Kronenbourg....all good when you live in Montana. Guinness on tap as well. Today? No imports at all on tap, only Guinness in a bottle. A Czech pilsner from a local brewery that is always gone because they only get 6 gallon kegs. Yesterday I watched as they changed the tap of a local brewery's kolsch to the third tap of hazy IPA. Yucch.

Unknown said...

I was really bummed when I went to De Bierkoning in late May 2022 and there was a lack of Trappist beers. I did snag a Monchs Export bier though! At least lagers continues to trend up.

Steve D. said...

Agree. I await reading my Japanese beer bar reports on New Belgium Voodoo Ranger IPA & Bell's Two Hearted IPA turning up in Tokyo (| Yokohama) izekayas now that they are owned by Kirin.

Artem Belitsky said...

Steve N, Steam Brew is a brand from Eichbaum — the huge German brewery, that make hundreds of similar beers with different names.

I thought Eichbaum mostly make their beers for Easter European market, never seen it in Italy.