“B.O.B”s (Bewust Onbeschonken Bestuurder / Consciously Sober Driver) all over Netherlands really are spoilt for choice on alternatives drinks to alcohol these days. I’ve picked out 5 of the best breweries championing ‘AF in the Lowlands’ and some of their best options.
The craft beer scene in the Netherlands has gone from strength to strength in recent years with one category becoming harder to ignore by cicerones, breweries, hospitality, bottle shops and ‘beerfluencers’ alike – alcohol free (AF). Before I get stuck in, I should say there are some notable brewery omissions in the main article who all have at least one option that tickles the tastebuds and is well worth trying; Oedipus, Oersoep, Van Moll, 100 Watt, Jopen and Uiltje to name but a few.
We’re inevitably starting in Amsterdam, the Dutch capital and where I call home. It was here that Brothers in Law set up shop in 2010, releasing their 0.5 Hoppy Lager in 2018 which was one of the first AF beers I had in the wild, spotting a shelf full of them at Foodhallen.
Recently adding the delicious caramel flavoured, tropical and complex Pacific IPA to their range was a great move - solidifying their commitment to AF beers and providing another luscious option for fans.
Brouwerij ‘t IJ can be found just a few canals away and they arguably boast the most recognisable craft label in the Netherlands, with their iconic windmill brewery perched on the banks of the Nieuwevaart the east of the city. It’s fair to say these iconic brewers were a bit late to the game only releasing their first effort in 2020 – better late than never! Kicking off with their fresh and hoppy Free IPA they quickly added the softer and subtler Vrijwit. In my view the latter is a little lacking in flavour but does offer welcome variety to wash down snacks with whilst evading seagull divebombs out on a terrace.
Another Amsterdam brewery that captured my imagination upon settling here was Lowlander. Brewed with reclaimed lemon and orange peel from hospitality partners, their sharp 0.0% Wit soon found its’ way into restaurants and bars across the city in the main due to its’ 0.0 appeal. They quickly followed up with four 0.3% options; a Blonde, Lager, Tropical Ale and IPA.
The latter is influenced by Sri-Lankan flavours, packed full of mango, cardamom and bitter orange which don’t hide at all in this gorgeously crafted and refreshing brew. It also happens to be my favourite of the bunch. Lowlander are putting a lot of stock into their AFs and it´s paying off. Late last year and early 2021 saw both a shift to cans from bottles and the appearance in one of the top supermarket chains in the UK. Big moves.
A short drive west of Amsterdam you will find the picturesque town of Haarlem. I encourage you to take a wander through the cobbled streets and when you do, you’re bound to happen upon the stunning ‘Jopenkerk’ which is home to the Jopen taphouse. This dazzling converted church is undoubtedly the most spectacular of tap rooms I have ever visited. In it you can find the highly successful and now canned Non(netje) IPA which like many other AFs uses a ´lazy yeast´ to keep alcohol conversion down, yet continue to give a full and juicy flavour profile. Their second AF option is a ginger version of this IPA which not only brings a really welcome sharpness and spicy bite to proceedings, but also offers a lovely fresh alternative to the reliable if now slightly saturated AF IPA market.
To complete the tour, Bob´s driving south east, swinging past the capital towards Utrecht to find VandeStreek on an industrial park in amongst the car shops, furniture stores and driving schools. Don’t be fooled by the location – this brewery is an absolute diamond and it’s hard to argue they aren’t leading the way with their now world famous (at least in AF circles) Playground IPA. Found in bars, stores and online bottle shops as far away as Australia and winner of the AF Beer Cup in November 2020 it’s widely considered as one of the best across all categories. Through 2020 and into 2021 VandeStreek added to their range introducing a NEIPA, Grapefruit IPA and Sour bringing their non-alcoholic offerings to six in total with more to come over the rest of the year. Recognizable, playful, attractive and most importantly full of flavour – in my view the Playground IPA is the true AF king of the Netherlands… For now.
Matt Chauhan - @Guiltfreepints