Brews known the world over

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 April, 2006, 12:00am


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BEER IS TO the Netherlands what wine is to France. In common with neighbouring Belgium, the country produces a huge variety of brews, and consumers tend also to be connoisseurs.

Heineken is the country's best-known beer internationally, although the contents of its signature green bottles, when sold outside the Netherlands, tend to be produced by breweries controlled by the giant company in various locations around the world. Heineken ranks as the world's fourth-largest brewer.

In Asia, the company controls Asia Pacific Breweries, which brews in nine countries, producing Tiger and Anchor as well as local versions of Heineken.

In Holland, it also owns the country's second-best-known beer brand, Amstel, which it acquired in 1968. Both beers are pilsners with 5 per cent alcohol by volume and are known for their clean refreshing taste.

Heineken's consistency of style, wherever it is brewed, is partly to do with the use of its unique 'A' yeast, specially developed by the brewer in the late 19th century.

The company was established in 1864 by Gerard Adriaan Heineken, and during the 20th century came to dominate the Dutch brewing industry by buying up competing breweries.

Nevertheless the Netherlands' other beers retain their diversity, and many different brews and styles enjoy a substantial following. The best-known Dutch beer after Heineken is made by the country's second-biggest brewer, Grolsch, founded in the town of Groenlo in 1615.

Grolsch produces a range of lagers, wheat beers and low alcohol brews, most of which are premium priced and sold in a distinctive green bottle known as a 'beugel' with a swing-top stopper.

Traditionally, the stopper has been made from porcelain, but in recent years this has been largely replaced by plastic. Some of its brews are also sold in more conventional packaging.

Grolsch is no longer widely available in Hong Kong.

Easy to find on Hong Kong's supermarket shelves, however, are Oranjeboom, Skol and Royal Dutch Post Horn, all marketed locally as low-cost rather than premium brews.

Beer was first sold under the Oranjeboom (Orange Tree) name in 1528, and for many years it was brewed in Rotterdam.

Oranjeboom Premium Pilsener, Oranjeboom Oud Bruin and Oranjeboom Premium Malt are now brewed at Dommelsch, and the brewery there is owned by Belgium's InBev. The popular Dommelsch Pilsener, Dommelsch Ice and Dommelsch Dominator are all produced there, and the brand is well known throughout the Netherlands.

InBev also owns Royal Dutch Post Horn, and Skol, which is the leading beer in the Brazilian market and one of the top selling Dutch brands internationally. At 4.7 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV), Skol is slightly weaker than Heineken - which has a strength of 5 per cent ABV - and is known for its slightly bitter taste.

In the Netherlands, pubs and bars are expected to stock a wide range of local and imported beers, and the country has about 100 independent breweries. Among the most notable are Alfa, Bavaria, and the Trappist monastery brewery De Konigshoeven.

In Hong Kong, Heineken, bottled or on draught, is a popular order at The Orange Tree Dutch and Continental restaurant in Shelley Street.

Chef/patron Pieter Onderwater recommends the house's famous 'bitter balls' as an ideal accompaniment to the beer. Bitter balls are deep-fried beef salpicon dumplings, served with mustard.

Another favourite is the seafood platter, which consists of grey shrimps, smoked eel fillets and matjes herring.

Cheers, or as the Dutch say, 'Gezondheid'.