Name of beers: Grolsch Premium Pilsner; Brand Pilsner; Kompaan Kameraad
Beer descriptions: All of them are 5% pilsners
Dutch word for beer: bier
Date joined the EU: Founding member
Have I visited? Yes
So we have arrived at the final founding member – the Netherlands. Out of all of Belgium’s neighbours, it is the country that I don’t yet feel I have seen enough of. Asides from Amsterdam, I have only visited Maastricht, where I partied like it was 1992, and Breda, which was celebrating its annual redhead day at the time. I felt slightly out of place. I am keen to see a lot more of the Netherlands, with Rotterdam and The Hague both featuring highly on my admittedly long railtrip to-do list.
As a Yorkshirewoman, I appreciate Dutch directness. You certainly know where you stand with a Dutch person. Sometimes literally. On a crowded street in Breda, an elderly resident whose personal space I was apparently invading, calmly said to me: “I don’t like you standing there.” Fair enough.
The Dutch Parliament is bicameral and is called the Staten-Generaal der Nederlander – the States General of the Netherlands. I love the feudalistic nomenclature. And the word nomenclature. Fun parliamentary nomenclature fact: Staten Island is named after the Dutch Parliament. I learnt this from last week’s University Challenge.
The Staten-Generaal meets in The Hague, the seat of the Dutch Government. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is the only EU Parliament not based in the country’s national capital. And I want no arguments about the European Parliament and Strasbourg, thank you very much.
The upper house is called the Eerste Kamer, or the Senate in English. It has 75 Members chosen by the Dutch provincial parliaments every four years. The more powerful and politically significant Tweede Kamer, or the House of Representatives, consists of 150 directly elected Members. Both chambers meet separately (apart from once a year for the monarch’s annual address), but within the same building complex: the Binnenhof. The Dutch Parliament has met at the Binnenhof for an impressive 431 years.
For this tasting, Gareth and I were joined by my friend and former parliamentary colleague, Thomas. We had three Dutch beers to get through, none of them Heineken, but all of them 5% pilsners. Despite this lack of diversity on the face of it, each beer definitely had a distinct character.
First up was one of the big guns: Grolsch Premium Pilsner. It has a bubbly golden appearance and a pleasant malty aroma. I found the carbonation a little too high, with the sharpness masking the beer’s flavour. Overall, we liked it, describing it as “nicer than Heineken”, which is praise enough if you ask me.
Next on the menu was Brand Pilsner. Brand is the oldest brewery in the Netherlands, brewing beer in the south-western province of Limburg since 1340. The Brand brand was taken over by – surprise surprise – Heineken in the 1980s, but it is still brewed solely in Limburg and its bottles bear no reference to its conglomerate owner.
When poured, we all agreed that the beer was the colour of apple juice and smelt like a classic pilsner, albeit slightly sweeter. However, the taste divided us. I felt it was too flavoursome to accompany food, but not interesting enough as a standalone drink. Thomas was more of a fan, describing it as drinkable with a delicate, fresh flavour. Gareth was perturbed: “I can’t work it out. The more I taste it, the stranger it becomes.”
Moving swiftly on, the final beer was Kameraad from Kompaan – a craft brewery based in The Hague. As soon as it hit our glasses, we immediately and unanimously made the same observation: this beer smelt of weed. Genuinely. Not smelt “a bit like” weed or with weedy notes, but full-on cannabis.
After we got over that surprise, the taste was much more conventional for a pilsner. There is a strong initial burst of flavour, but this quickly disappears and is replaced by a bitter, almost smoky aftertaste. So much so that Thomas observed that it felt like he had smoked a cigarette. Gareth remarked that he felt slightly high, but then again, I’ve heard him say something similar about his hemp hand lotion.
Overall, a pleasant trio of pilsners, each with their own unique, and sometimes delightfully Dutch, twist.