To be perfectly honest, I started this quest for the lost beers of Holland mainly looking for recipes of the 18th and 19th century. Why? Two reasons: they are easier to find and to interpret, and nobody had really written about them before. So far, every new beer recipe feels like a lost treasure found after deep digging. Still, the 19th century is not exactly the heyday of Dutch beer. The Middle Ages were. For a few centuries Holland was the leading beer exporting country that taught even the British and Belgians how to brew beer with hops. But we’ll get to that.
The Middle Ages, then. Forget the perpetually repeated tale that this was such a dark, gloomy, wet and muddy era: in the 13th century, at the start of this story, the climate in Europe was actually a few degrees warmer than it is now. And that without a greenhouse effect. The beer though, was not the drink we are used to now. Everybody drank it, mainly because there was nothing else: milk was for children and old people, and water was sometimes dirty but mostly boring. Beer was the drink of choice. However, it was then mainly made out of oats, with a bit of wheat thrown in from time to time. No barley. And no hops either: the beer was flavoured with herbs. Or, in proper mediaeval Dutch: gruit.