Not Just Heineken

I recently re-visited Holland, the country I grew up in.

I have learned over the years, in speaking to fellow ‘Dutches’, that how I experienced things in my childhood – or, for that matter, when I go back to the place I spent my childhood – these are just my experiences, not necessarily something uniquely Dutch.

I can’t claim to be an expert on beer, nor even to have an interest in it, other than to drink the occasional Yukon Gold. So when my brother took my son, Alexander, to see the Heineken factory in Amsterdam, I opted not to go with them.

Yet, I think you might find the way I experienced beer in Holland at least entertaining.

The fact is that, as far back as 30 years ago when I lived there, and even now when I visit, some things are still the same. So, they must be ingrained in at least part of the population.

Most people’s choice of beer is Heineken, but not to the extent where one would only drink Heineken. It is just the most obvious brand to buy. And in most garages that I peeked into, invariable there were one or two crates of Heineken.

A crate, very much like our milk crate, has 24 bottles of beer in it. The crate and bottles have a stamp on them, ‘Statiegeld’ (deposit), and the bottles are reusable.

I found people of my hometown are now more inclined to drink a different kind of beer when they go out for a drink. As well, they will offer more than just Heineken in their homes.

So, there is that. At our farewell gathering, the crate stayed in the garage, but the bottles were brought up and we drank beer on the balcony.

What I experienced again, as I did when I lived in Holland, is that a lot of beer is consumed outdoors, on ‘terrasjes’ (patios at bars or restaurants).

When I lived in The Hague, we sometimes just drank on the ‘stoep’ (sidewalk), a practice looked down upon by the feigned aristocracy that lives there.

On my recent visit, we went to an organic food restaurant in Schipluiden, called Indigo, which serves food grown in its own greenhouse. I recommend it.

The restaurant had two kinds of beer available. As I discovered, this is often the case in restaurants. They have an agreement with beer companies to only sell their beer, with one house beer on tap.

I did travel outside of my own province, Zuid-Holland, and happened to end up in the province of Brabant. My sister and I went into an establishment in the campground where we stayed to have a drink, and I asked about their beer assortment.

Brabant is more akin to Belgium, in that people are more inclined to drink many different kind of beers. Indeed, even in a campground they have a whole assortment, as many as twelve different kinds of beer.

However, they also have a principal beer called Beerze, or Dommelsch pils. It is produced in a local brewery and the name, Beerze, is the name of a little river in the area.

According to my nephews – all within drinking age – you have to show ID when you are under 25 years of age, even if you buy beer in the supermarket. Yes, all supermarkets sell alcohol.

The drinking age in my day was 16; now it is 18. In my good ol’ days, some kids started drinking quite early – around 15 – but I think we could buy it even younger; for example, if we were doing errands for our mothers.

I suppose drinking among youngsters in the Westland region still starts around age 16. They first come together in ‘het hok’ (the shed), a place I have not been invited to.

At least one person among a group of friends has such a place in their garage, or some other private place where they gather to drink.

The older ones of the group who are of drinking age go out later in the night, around 11 p.m. Alexander came back one morning at 6 a.m. Here, he just stays overnight whenever he goes out drinking. In Mendenhall, it is kind of far to take a taxi home.

My nephew told me about an evening of drinking with Alexander. They had lots of fun, which seems to be the universal reason to drink beer.

They started at home, as they were also too old for ‘het hok’, and later visited several bars in Delft, including The Beer Factory.

I liked the description he gave me of that one. Each table has its own tap and you just help yourself. I suppose it is similar to stopping at a self- service gas pump.

Another night, another nephew took him out to go to a dance gathering on an island in Amsterdam. I didn’t know there were islands in Amsterdam, but what do I know? I am not from there and I don’t drink that much.

The evening was all about dancing. It cost money to get in, and the alcohol was included in the price. I don’t know what kind of beer they drank, but I think they told me. I also forget what kind of music was played.

When I looked at the Facebook page of a girl that went with them, the page for that particular day says, “stamp party?” and “ jaaa decade”.

Well, if you know what that means, then you know more than I do.

So, to sum up the beer scene in the Netherlands? Maybe it is all in who you know and where you go.

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