The History of the Alcohol Act

In July 2021, the Netherlands received a new Alcohol Act. This law replaces the current Alcohol and Catering Act. The need to restrict drinking through legislation is not new. Read more about the history of alcohol and alcohol legislation in the Netherlands through the ages here. 

Indulging yourself in alcohol, it already happened in the Middle Ages. Back then, people at annual parties and fairs tapped a little too enthusiastically from a beer or wine keg. But because drinking was limited to special occasions, alcohol did not cause day-to-day problems. Even when drinking beer or wine became more common, there was little alcoholism due to the low alcohol content (2 to 3%). This changed with the advent of liquor.

Alcohol as an age-old coping mechanism

Centuries ago, distilled spirits were only sold by pharmacies as medicine. This changed from the 16e century. Strong drinks, especially jenever, became more and more popular. A development that had a lot of influence on this was industrialization. Machines made the production of drinks easier and cheaper. At the same time, wages rose and many factory workers sought distraction from a depressing existence. So it's no surprise that the addiction problem exploded. On average, one fifth of the payslip was spent on alcohol. Many families struggled to make ends meet.

Liquor Act 1881

To tackle the problems of alcohol abuse, the Netherlands passed its first Drinks Act in 1881. This law only included liquor. Beer and wine were allowed to be bought and drunk as usual, even by young people under the age of 16. The law mainly focused on maintaining public order. Educating people about alcohol or protecting against alcohol abuse was not seen as a government task.

Liquor Act 1931

Public health became more central in the new Drinks Act of 1931. The number of liquor licenses was limited, so that alcohol was no longer available everywhere. There was also a ban on the sale of wine or beer to young people under 16. In the years that followed, there was a lot less drinking in the Netherlands. Although this had more to do with the two World Wars and the rise in raw material prices. Drinks simply became more expensive, so that fewer people could afford it.

Liquor and Catering Act of 1964

The Licensing and Catering Act stated that catering establishments had to meet certain conditions in order to obtain a liquor license. The sale of alcoholic beverages to minors was also prohibited.

From 5 to 10 liters of alcohol per person

In the 1960s to 2000, the average alcohol consumption per person aged 15 and older rose from 5 to more than 10 liters of pure alcohol per year. People had more to spend, more free time and drinking alcohol was increasingly seen as a normal social activity. Rising alcohol consumption caused growing health and social problems. Steps were taken to reduce alcohol use, especially among young people. For example, since 2009 the ban on alcohol advertising has been in effect between 6:00 AM and 9:00 PM.

2013 until now: focus on young people

In reducing the average alcohol consumption, the focus - also in the law - has increasingly come to lie on (the health of) young people. For example, the age at which young people are allowed to drink has been raised to 18 years. Alcohol providers must check whether young people meet the minimum drinking age and municipalities must establish how they want to enforce the serving of alcohol to young people under 18.

2021: the Alcohol Act  

The new Alcohol Act will replace the Licensing and Catering Act as of 1 July 2021. Important changes brought about by this law are:

  • Adults who buy alcohol for minors in catering establishments risk a fine.
  • Checking the age limit when delivering drinks ordered online at home.
  • Maximum 25% discount on alcohol.

Source:, here you will find the extensive historical overview.


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