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How to order a beer in Amsterdam

Woman enjoying a beer at Café Tabac in Amsterdam’s Jordaan district

Order Beer Like An Amsterdammer

Ordering a beer is simple enough, of course. But knowing the Amsterdam lingo for doing so can certainly help prevent unwelcome surprises.

After all, you wouldn’t be the first tourist who, after ordering a beer in English, gets its served in a much larger quantity than imagined — and at a much higher price.

Speaking of which: If you’re used to drinking a pint of beer at a time in England, Ireland, or America, you’re in for a bit of a shock. The Dutch usually serve their beers in much smaller glasses.

Sidewalk terrace at Cafe Kalkhoven in Amsterdam
The sidewalk terrace at Cafe Kalkhoven in downtown Amsterdam

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How to Order a Beer in Dutch

There’s a funny book titled, The Undutchables. It is a highly popular caricature of the Dutch.

Aside from over-the-top observations, the book (considered essential reading by Holland’s large expat community) includes useful information generally not found in tourist guides.

Consider the following insight into ordering beer in the Netherlands:

Dutch beer (bier, pils) is sweet, tasty and strong.  Ordering a beer can be confusing for foreigners who attempt to do so for the first time in Dutch.

No matter how you refer to a “beer” in Dutch, the bartender will respond by using a different term. Here, the obsession with diminutives comes into play:

Mag ik een biertje? (May I have a beer?) Een biertje? (A beer? Lit. “a little beer,” doesn’t refer to size)

Mag ik een pils? (May I have a beer?) Een pilsje? (A beer? Lit. “a little beer,” doesn’t refer to size)

For a small glass of beer, use the double diminutive: Mag ik een kleintje pils? (May I have a small beer? Lit. “May I have a small little beer?”)

Een kleintje? (A small one?  Lit. “a small little one,” refers to size).
The UnDutchables

More about that in a moment. But first, this brief look at a Dutch language oddity will help you better understand the beer lingo:

The Dutch obsession with the Diminutive

In the above quote, The UnDutchables refers to the Dutch obsession with diminutives. That is because the Dutch refer to nearly everything in the diminutive.

For example: “Ik doe mijn schoentjes aan om met mijn hondje een blokje om te gaan” That means, “I’m putting on my shoes to take my dog for a walk around the block”. But literally the Dutch say, “I’m putting on my small shoes to take my small dog around the small block.”

‘Terrasje pakken?” (Dutch shorthand for ‘shall we sit on a terrace for a while?”

Likewise, you’ll hear Amsterdammers suggest to each other, terrasje pakken? — Dutch shorthand for ‘shall we sit on a terrace for a while?’ (Literally, ‘Grab a small terrace?’)

Why? Some say this emphasis on the diminutive is rooted in the Dutch psyche. Ostensibly it stems from an obsession with soberness as inspired by Calvinism. Fortunately, that goes way beyond the scope of this article.

Fluitje, Vaasje, or Just Biertje?

Just to make things more interesting, different bars may have different customs for ordering.

For instance, if you ask a waiter or bartender for a biertje, he or she may respond with, ‘vaasje?’ or ‘fluitje?’

Both a vaasje and a fluitje come in slightly different sizes — and those sizes often differ from bar to bar, since they increased over time.

Suffice it to say that a fluitje (‘thin whistle’) is a smaller beer glass than a vaasje (‘small vase’). You’ll end up with anywhere from 20 cl (centiliter) to 33 cl. By comparison, a UK pint contains 56.83 cl. A US pint converts to 47,32 cl.

Just order a Biertje

But frankly, most of the time all you need to know is “biertje,” which will get you a small glass of beer. Don’t worry too much about it.

A biertje is usually the house beer on tap, from whichever brewery the pub has a contract with.

Draft or bottled

Most bars and pubs in Amsterdam tend to have a relatively small number of beers on tap, in addition to a reasonable selection of bottled beers.

Some pubs pride themselves on offering a much larger choice.

And then there are microbreweries, such as De Prael or Brouwerij ‘t IJ.

Amsterdam Beer Tours

But hey, this is Amsterdam — hometown to one of the world’s top beers: Heineken. If beer’s is your thing, don’t miss the Heineken Experience.

Tip: Combine your visit to the Heineken Brewery with a fantastic canal cruise.

Take the canal cruise first, then enjoy the Heineken Experience. From there it’s only a 15 minute walk to Museumplein, where you’ll find the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and the Stedelijk Museum.

Want to get off the beaten beer path instead? Beer aficionados and ale appreciators alike highly rate the Amsterdam Beer Walking Tour with a Local.

Amsterdam café Marbella at Amstelveld

How to Visit an Amsterdam Café

The Dutch use cafes and their outdoor terraces like an extension of their living room. They’re comfortable places where you can relax, people watch… [more]

Dutch Beer Comes With a Head of Foam

Dutch draft beer comes with a head of foam. At times a beer lover who isn’t used to that wrongly assumes the barkeeper is cheating him out of gulp or two.

The two-fingers deep layer of foam serves a purpose: to trap the taste, and thereby to keep your beer fresh.

Is that really Heineken?

Heineken beer boat
Not every barrel that says Heineken actually contains Heineken beer

Several years ago the Heineken brewery discovered that much of the beer sold in pubs as ‘Heineken’ was, in fact, not Heineken at all.

By secretly letting unbranded beer flow through their Heineken taps restaurant- and pub owners savde 25 to 50 Euro per barrel — on top of the extra income derived from selling inferior beer at premium prices.

We have encountered switched-out beer ourselves. We’ve also been served watered-down Irish beer, admittedly at a tourist trap bar on Leidseplein.

Anyway, at the time insiders in the drinks trade estimated that some 60 percent of the hospitality businesses were involved in the Heineken switch deception.

The Heineken brewery hit back by hiring many additional investigators and ‘secret shoppers’. Word is that they catch a few dozen swindlers a year. The company actively pursues legal actions against them.

That said, while Heineken is still the top-selling beer in Amsterdam (and the rest of the Netherlands), nowadays the popularity of craft beers is rising as well.

 

By the way, here’s how to visit an Amsterdam café

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Category: Cafes & Pubs, Dutch customs
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Last updated: Tuesday, July 14, 2020 at 3:06 PM, Central European Time (CET)   
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