Dutch beer in the 19th century

A very large part of Dutch breweries disappeared in the 19th century, many crafts and skills were forgotten and the quality of beer became worse than ever before. There were many reasons for this and combined they had a devastating effect. In the article below and especially in the sources below I'll elaborate on these reasons. The bankruptcies and decline had already begun in the 17th century (1) and finally virtually only industrially manufactured beer would remain. The 'under-fermenting method' would be judged superior untill only recently.

Regents, troubles and revolution
A class of regents that had inherited enormous wealth had completely ruined the Netherlands socially and economically in the 18th century. They invested their money abroad and in luxurious living while their offspring could get handsomely paid jobs sometimes beginning at birth. The 4th English-Dutch war (1780-1784) meant the final blow for the Dutch East India Company as well as de Dutch Republic itself. They both staggered and then fell in 1795. After the French Revolution things started to change but then Dutch money was invested into Napoleons wars under French rule.

Battaille Gondelour 1783 gravure hollandaise imaginaire 1783
The final years of the Dutch Republic

By the 19th century Dutch beer brewing had gotten into a severe crisis. Labour intensive and inefficient craft brewing ran into ever more problems. Beer was taxed high traditionally and a growing population became ever poorer and drank more of the new and cheap alternatives (2). Crafts disappeared and one became factory worker, office clerk, or even unemployed (3).

Cheap beer
Beer was necessarily attenuated to this market and became cheap above all (4). The growing population had to be fed and there were steep fluctuating grain prices. Attempts were made to brew 'beer' out of peas and mashed potato and alternatives to hops were tried. Hops were still cultivated in the Netherlands early 19th century and in 1795 one wrote: 'At Rhoden, Eelden but mostly Peyzen (in the north) there's much cultivation of hops' (5). In the Bommelerwaard and around Schijndel there was still the last remains of hop cultivation early 19th century while in Peize it was already gone. In 1860 very little beer was made in the few remaining Dutch breweries and consumption had also become lower compared to most surrounding countries (6).

Domesticated and wild hops (1543)

Lost skills and trade
The reverse situation has existed from 14th through the 17th century, the golden ages of Dutch brewing. A small population of craftsmen and merchants had enough time and money to drink heavy hopped beer. Brewing in the 14th and 15th century was based on local ingredients and was supplemented by hops and grains from neighboring regions. Later what was called the 'mother of trades' meant cheap grains came from large estates in the Baltic, where they were cultivated by serfs (7). Grains and hops were traded and transported over fair distances in those times. Hop cultivation, around Brunswick for instance, was so massive that measures where in place for restrict it to one-third of total available surface area (8).

Dutch beer had been brewed with lots of local oats in gruytbeer, hoppenbeer and koyt. Another beer-type was made largely with malted spelt. Dutch brewers generally used various types of grains in their beer but over time there was ever more use of barley and wheat. This had to do with a selection based on maximizing profit. Taste, quality or health aspects had never been part of this equation. A kind of special 'Dutch brewing oat' or 'Dutch brew' still existed in the 18th and 19th century and was exported by that time to England and can still be found in seed catalogues of the time (9). Ultimately this 'heirloom crop' finally disappeared.

Beer made with malted spelt in Dordrecht (1790)

The Little Ice Age very gradually came to an end and the relative cold had been beneficial for storing beer. Amsterdam and others cities had no cellars and the new warmth caused problems that were solved very slowly, at first with blocks of ice and later with refrigerators.
The chemist Erdmann saw the reason for the decline in the quality of beer in changes in the build environment of his days. The enlargement of cities, the cutting of trees, the demolition of fortifications and large buildings. Doctor Vrancken and chemist Lacambre wrote on the same subject and the noted change led to a alteration in the micro-climate and thus a changed process in brewing (10).

High taxes
Ages ago people had wondered about the extraordinary taxes levied on beer in the Netherlands. And not only on the beer itself, but also on vending, transport and source materials (11). It is safe to suppose that the rise of the Netherlands as a country and the associated costs of war were financed significantly by incomes from taxes on beer. Especially annoying was a 19th century tax on the volume of the brewing vessel that hindered any up-scaling and expansion. And even today those taxes are much higher than in surrounding counties.

Elevation of a Porter Brewery (1813)

The steam engine was invented 17th century but in the course of the 19th century foreign beer came around by steamships and trains. The world had gotten ever smaller and the Dutch situation was gradually exposed to an international perspective. In England factories producing beer on a industrial scale had been developed and elsewhere more efficient practices had evolved also (12).

Meager beers
Extract values of domestic as well as foreign beers are mentioned in various 19th century publications. 'There is sufficient alcohol in these beers' the Dutch chemist Gerrit Jan Mulder writes in 1857 and it is clear domestic beers were of a rather poor quality (13). We can't say all beers were meager and thin but this was certainly the perception of many and in the advertisement underneath one can see the huge price differences between foreign and domestic beer. Comparison was indeed unfavourable and people with some spending power bought the new foreign beers.

Significant price differences in de Leydse newspaper (1867)

Factory workers
The new era meant an industrial and efficient workflow and mass production with the brewer as a factory worker. Craft breweries were closed or 'incorporated' which meant the same. Selling beer to millions of Dutch could be profitable for sure, and the owners of the factory were able to 'cater to the taste of the times, and brew Bavarian beer' (14).

Forgotten craft beer
We're used to things gradually improving but the remarkable Dutch craft beers had declined over the centuries and had gotten so bad they finally faded away. Two world wars in the 20th century made sure any remembrance also disappeared.

Frederik Ruis

Political situation
Economical situation
Abolition of Guilds
Changed measurement systems

Grain prices
Population growth
Climate change

Cheap and bad beer
Expensive beer hard to sell
Lost quality and terroir/character
Reduced biodiversity

Increase in scale
Industrial production
Dulling of taste and character

De Pilaren Ende Peerlen Van Groningen: Tractaet, betoonende waer op de Welvaert van in die Stadt is staende, ende waer door zy meest is geciert
Volume 1 (Google eBoek)
Bernhard Alting
Van Velsen,
1710 (eerste druk anno 1648)

Verminderinge van de oude Brouwerye.
Te handts en is de Brouwerye te Groningen niet so goet ende groot als zy wel geweest is; zijnde die neeringe eerst door de troubles gediverteert.

'Today the Breweries in Groningen are not as good and big as they were before; their trade has been diverted by the troubles.'

verminderinge-brouwerye-1710 doprgb50-455

The English and Dutch affairs
Printed by Thomas Mabb,
for Edward Thomas,



Scheikundige verhandelingen en onderzoekingen
Deel 1 (Google eBoek)
Gerrit Jan Mulder

en zag met velen met leedwezen dat gebruik afnemen, noodwendig het vaderlandse bier in dezelfde mate slechter worden

'And wearily saw that custom decline and therefore domestic beer getting worse and worse'

'imports of foreign beer climb from 1826 till 1854...'



Het bier beschouwd als volksdrank
(Google eBoek)
Adriaan Marinus Ballot
H.A. Kramers,

Vooral aan de laatste wet op de bieren schrijven velen het geheele verval der bierbrouwerijen bij ons te lande toe; men verweet aan die wet, dat zij de industrie belemmerde en haar belette gelijken tred met het buitenland te houden.

'Especially on the last law (of 1822) about brewing beer the whole decay of brewing in this country was blamed, it hindered the industry and prevented it from keeping up with foreign brewing.'



Population growth in the Netherlands

Population growth: from 2 to 5 million in the 19th century.


H. Goeman Borgesius (1847-1917)
vader van de verzorgingsstaat
een halve eeuw liberale en sociale politiek in Nederland
Bert Wartena
Het Spinhuis,

dat was de kern van de sociale kwestie in de negentiende eeuw

de vreselijke armoede en slopende ziekten van paupers en bedelaars, losarbeiders en zwervers, maar ook van gewone fabrieksarbeiders

'This was the core of the 'Social Issue' in the 19th century'

'Terrible poverty and debilitating diseases of paupers, beggars and loose workers, but also of ordinary factory workers'



Zierikzeesche Courant
p. 2/3

Den Brouwer de KANTER verwittigd, dat, vermits den Impost op de Kolen aanmerkelijk is verhoogd geworden, en die op het Bier van Stads wege blijft voorduren, hij zijne Faro en Garste Bieren niet meer verminderen kan

'The brewer KANTER states, that, because the taxes on coal have been raised substantially, and those on Beer keep on increasing by local policy, he cannot decrease his Faro and Barley beers any more'



Middelburgsche courant
Uitgever: Wed. J. Abrahams & Zoon

Intusschen zijn de vreemde en nagemaakte vreemde bieren voor den ambachtsman nog te duur.

The international exhibition

'Meanwhile the foreign and copied foreign beers are to expensive for the craftsman'



Tegenwoordige staat der Vereenigde Nederlanden
behelzende de inleiding der beschryving van het landschap Drenthe
(Google eBoek)
J. De Groot

Te Rhoden, Eelden, maar voornaamentlyk te Peyzen, wordt veel Hop verbouwd.

'Roden, Eelde, but Peize especially, there is much hop cultivation'



Les merveilles de l'industrie
ou Description des principales industries modernes
Volume 4 (Google eBoek)
Louis Figuier
Furne, Jouvet et Cie.,

Number of inhabitants - Number of breweries - Beer production in hectolitres - Consumption per year per inhabitant



A Beautiful and Fruitful Place
Selected Rensselaerwijck Papers
Volume 2 (Google eBoek)
Elisabeth Paling Funk
SUNY Press,

moeder negotie (mother of trades)



Die Hanse und ihr Bier
Cristine von Blanckenburg

 'In (14th century) Brunswick producing raw materials for beer production and trade was more important than the brewery itself '

 Hop cultivation was so extensive that it was limited to one third of the Field Mark by the City Council '

In Braunschweig waren zunächst die Herstellung der Ausgangsproducte für die Bierbereitung und der Handel damit bedeutend wichtiger als die Brauerei selbst. Etliche Artikel der ältesten Überlieferungen Burspraken aus der mitte des 14. Jahrhunderts befassen sich beispielsweise mit dem Hopfenanbau, der so ausgeufert war, dass er vom Rat auf ein Drittel der städtischen Feldmark beschränkt wurde.

p.196 - 197
Aus Stadtbüchern die seit dem 13. Jahrhundert überliefert sind, wissen wir, dass es in und um die Brauersstädte Hamburg, Kiel, Braunschweig, Lübeck, Bremen, Rostock und Wismar Hopfengärten gegeben hat. In Braunschweig entstanden aus dem übermässigen Hopfenanbau sogar gewalttätig ausgetragene Konflikte zwischen Hopfenhändler und Bevölkerung…

Die bedeutendsten Anbaugebiete im hansischen Verkehrsraum waren Mecklenburg, die Altmark, die Mark Brandenburg, Pommern und Thüringen.

Im 14. und 15. Jahrhundert sind Danzig und Rostock die wichtigsten Ausfuhrhäfen, aber auch in Stralsund, Lübeck, Köningsberg und Wismar wurde Hopfen verschifft.


Communications to the Board of Agriculture
on Subjects Relative to the Husbandry and Internal Improvement of the Country,
Volume 4 (Google eBoek)
Great Britain. Board of Agriculture
W. Bulmer & Company,


Early Essex.
Dutch brew.

catalogue seeds -1805 doprgb50-455

Little Ice Age


Journal für technische und ökonomische Chemie

(Google eBoek) Vierten band
Otto Linné Erdmann
verlag von Johann Ambrosius Barth,

So hat sich der Localeinfluss sich ganz geändert, der Luftzug ist ein andrer geworden

[So the local influence has changed completely, the wind has changed]



Antwoord op vraag 81: Daar het genoegzaam bekend is, dat men bij het brouwen van bieren, eenzelfde handelswijze volgende, sommige bieren overal en andere niet dan in den omtrek van bepaalde plaatsen kan brouwen, zoo vraagt het genootschap: eene opgave van de scheikundige theorie van het bierbrouwen in het algemeen en van de Nederlandsche bieren in het bijzonder.

Volume 1
J. van Baalen,

Jean Baptiste Vrancken
Reponce sur la Question proposée sous le nr. 81
par La Société de Physique Experimentale
de Rotterdam.

p.1 - 254

[Answer to question 81: Because it is well known, that in brewing beer, following the same method, some beers can be brewed anywhere and some just around certain places, soo the society asks: an overview of the chemical theory of brewing in general and that of Dutch beers in particular.]


Traité de la Fabrication des Bières et de la Distillation des Grains
Volume 1 (Google eBoek)
G. Lacambre

p.403 - 406
Influences des localités sur la nature et la qualité des bières.

[Local influences on the quality of beer]



The present state of the United Provinces of the Low-Countries
as to the government, laws, forces, riches, manners, customes, revenue, and territory, of the Dutch.
In three books (Google eBoek)
Volume 2
William Aglionby
Printed for J. Starkey,

p.141 -146
Of the Tributes and Imposts; of how many sorts they are; and of the manner of levying them in Holland.

2. The Exicise upon Beer, which all the Citizens pay without distinction, comes to twenty pence a Barrel; except small Beer, which is not worth above half a crown a Barrel; payes nothing.
3. Another Excise upon Beer, paid by the Brewers, which comes to twelve pence a Barrel.
4. The Victuallers, and those that sell Beer, pay other twenty pence for every Barrel.
6. The Impost upon Beer, five pence.
16. The impost upon all Corn that is ground in the mills in Holland, which every body payes without exception, comes to five pound, one crown, and twelve pence for every quarter of Wheat; to half as much for the quarter of Rye; to five and thirty schillings for Barley and Oates.



Pantologia: A New Cyclopaedia
Comprehending a Complete Series of Essays, Treatises, and Systems
Illustrated with Engravings (Google eBoek)
John Mason Good, Olinthus Gregory, Newton Bosworth

Porter brewery



Scheikundige verhandelingen en onderzoekingen
Deel 1 (Google eBoek)
Gerrit Jan Mulder

Aan alcohol ontbreekt het dus in deze onderzochte bieren niet

'There is sufficient alcohol in these beers'




Alcohol, extract and Co2 values of foreign beers, 1857



Algemeen Handelsblad
Uitgever: P. den Hengst en Zoon


en door den smaak van den dag te huldigen, en Beiersch bier te brouwen, heeft hij Nederlanders in de gelegenheid gesteld zich een uitstekenden volksdrank, op eigen bodem gebrouwen, aan te schaffen

'and by catering to the taste of the times, and brew Bavarian beer, he has given the Dutch the opportunity to buy a perfect peoples drink, brewed domestically.'