In five years information has become better and sites are now often in both Dutch and English and in some cases only in English even. I got an e-mail last year that made me decide to write this article. A gentleman from abroad now living in Haarlem wanted to know what Cat II and Cat III meant on the labels of the beer bottles he had at home. So I grabbed my beer label collection (yes, I have one too), looked at them and here it is: a description and translation of Dutch Beer Labels, Part I. Part II will be about what the government dictates should be on them.
If you have heard or read any Dutch at all you will notice that with a good grasp of English you can translate most of the words. If for some reason you also have knowledge of German this will be even easier. The Dutch language is like on the map, stuck between English and German. This also explains why tourists coming here have a hard time finding anyone who doesn’t speak English. We are not known as a people that give foreign words Dutch translations. Computer, Manager, Smartphone all mean the same. In beer lingo it isn’t any different. Stouts, porters, IPA’s, DIPA’s, Saisons, Russian Stouts are the same here as they are in most of the brewing world.
But here are some of the words you will almost always find on a label, with the translation.
Bier = beer. Surprising isn’t it?
Brouwerij = brewery. See the resemblance now?
Ten Minste Houdbaar Tot literally translates as ‘at least preservable until’. It is the best before date.
Another pointer for storing the bottle is ‘koel en donker bewaren’, keep cool and dark.
Statiegeld = bottle refund. Most bottles now can be thrown in the glasbak (glass container found often near supermarkets), certain types of bottle still offer a ten cent refund and in rare cases 25. The bigger craft breweries like Jopen, Uiltje, De Molen and Emelisse use non-refundable bottles. If you live here, take all your bottles to the supermarket and try feeding them to the bottle return machine. Even labels that say there is no statiegeld might give you a return of 10 cents. After a while you will figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Bier van hoge gisting = is a beer with top fermentation. If the description is lage instead of hoge it means the opposite.
Kan gluten bevatten = May contain gluten.
Beer in Holland is mostly bottled in 33cl bottles. That’s little over 11 oz for you on the other side of the ocean. Occasionally you will find larger ones like 50cl and 75cl. Some of the more commercial bigger breweries may have smaller bottles of 25cl. The size will be translated as ‘inhoud’.
Good labels will have IBU (bitterness) and EBC (color), the same as in most countries these days. More about this in Part 2.
Cat I, Cat II, III and Cat S
Now this was the main reason for the e-mail. What does this actually mean? This is a purely Dutch categorization and done for taxation purposes. Taxes are paid according to the height of the Plato, but the actual Plato cannot be mentioned on the label. Why is a different story and will be talked about in the follow-up to this article. The four categories are:
- III = Plato 1-7
- II = 7-11
- I = 11-15.5
- S = 15.5 and upwards
It is here that the words start to become a different. Water and hop are Water and hops. The grains used are different.
Gerst = barley
Tarwe = wheat
Rogge = rye
Boekweit = buckwheat
Mais = corn
Spelt and Emmer are the same.
Mout = malt. A good brewer will mention the specific malt or malts used, but these are almost always directly taken from the country of origin. Same goes for the hops by the way, no complicated Dutch translations of Saaz or Cascade. Only pilsmout is Dutch as far as I have seen, but it won’t take a 160+ IQ to translate that.
Suiker = sugar. Rietsuiker = canesugar and kristalsuiker = crystallized or granulated sugar
Yeast may be the hardest beer word to pronounce in Dutch and it is gist. It is pronounced like ‘jist’ if that was a Spanish word.
Other ingredients I have come across:
Zeewier = seaweed
Zoethout = liquirice root
Sinaasappel = orange
Geroosterd = roasted
Jeneverbes = juniperberry
Korianderzaad = coriander / cilantroseed
Kruiden = herbs
Specerijen = spices
Citroengras = lemongrass
Honing = honey
There are of course more ingredients that are used in certain beers. If you want a translation let me know, or check google translate.