The first record description of the region known as the Netherlands is from the Greek geographer Pytheas, who noted c. 325 BC that in these regions, "more people died in the struggle against water than in the struggle against men." That observation is something of an exaggeration, as the inhospitable geography, while sometimes deadly, was also much contested over by the Celtic tribes that inhabited the region.
While today we recognize the Netherlands as a unified country, through much of its history this region as been more often divided than not, and even when unified under one rule, it was generally that of a foreign prince who took little interest in the internal struggles of the local populace.
The Romans were the first to conquer the region and place it under their nominal rule. However, the official Roman border was set at the Rhine River during the reign of Augustus Caesar, effective dividing the "low countries" into two regions of an area inside the the Empire and under its direct control and an area beyond the border subject to Roman influence, but nominally independent. In modern terms, the nations of Luxembourg and Belgium and the two western most provinces of the Netherlands, the historical region known as Holland were within the Empire and the remainder of the Netherlands was not.
This a distinction that was repeated in future eras. For example when the region was ruled by the Dukes of Burgundy, whose territory included much of the former Roman region, the territory was referred to as les pays de par deçà ("the lands over here") for the Low Countries, as opposed to les pays de par delà ("the lands over there") for their original homeland. Under Habsburg rule, les pays de par deçà developed into the pays d'embas ("lands down-here"), an expression in relation to other Habsburg possessions like Hungary and Austria. This was translated as Neder-landen in contemporary Dutch official documents, thus "Netherlands".
In keeping with the divided nature between their external rulers and their internal governance, the provinces of the Netherlands developed from traditional tribal areas, maintaining their own customs and often their own languages. Even today, the Netherlands recognizes Dutch, West Frisian, Low Saxon and Limburgish as official and distinct languages.
And this brings us to beer. Beer has throughout history been the beverage of the common man (and not infrequently the entire population), preferred not only for its intoxicating effect, but for its nutritional value and the fact that it was often safer to drink than potentially contaminated sources of water. It is sometimes observed that that the distinction between and village and town and a city was that the village had a bakery, the town a bakery and a brewery, and the city a bakery and two breweries.
In the Late Middle Ages, the City of Haarlem, in "North Holland," one of the provinces traditionally "inside" the civilized world, was particularly renowned for its strong, dark and flavorful beer produced in over 100 breweries. The brew of Leeuwarden, by contrast, was considered inferior both in taste and fortifying properties. The rivalry between the two cities was not limited to their competing beverages. Leeuwarden was the capital of Friesland, an "outside" province, and had had various times been the focal point of the resistance to external rule in the Friso-Hollandic Wars of the 13th to 15th centuries. The two cities were also competitors for the burgeoning international trade that in the coming centuries would turn the Netherlands into a world power.
Thus it came to pass in the early summer of 1487 that the town leaders of Leewarden determined that to protect the business interest of the local brewers (and the city's tax revenue from brewing), it would be necessary to ban the importation of all beers not brewed within the city. They further banned the selling of any existing stocks of foreign beers -- a move that did not sit well with the local tavern owners.
Matters came to a head (pun fully intended) on July 24, a market day, when a large number of farmers were in the city to sell their produce who desired to quench their thirst before heading home, prevailed upon a local tavernkeeper to open his stock of Haarlem Beer. When the incident was reported to the authorities, an attempt was made to arrest the tavernkeeper and expel his patrons, who were now well fortified with the strong brew. A general donnybrook ensued, and in the following days citizens from neighboring towns, estimated to number more than 8,000, besieged the city hall demanding that the ban on imported beer end. The city eventually capitulated.
While it did not lead to significant changes in the local government beyond repeal of the beer importation ban, the Leeuwarden Beer Strike can perhaps be viewed as an antecedent of a later act of civil disobedience concerning a popular beverage - the Boston Tea Party. Major beer riots would occur again in Bavaria and Chicago in the 19th century, and, in the late 20th Century on the campus of Illinois State University.