Heineken buys Texels

Last year Heineken took a step into the Dutch craft beer world by buying into Oedipus. This raised some eyebrows. Not necessarily from Heineken’s side because it makes business sense but more from Oedipus’ side, as written about before. This and Heineken’s datamining company/online beer store BeerWulf means they are taking big steps into the craft beer market. They are also working together with a few smaller breweries like Oadaen but also Rotterdam’s Noordt, a bigger brewery.

Display in the Texels brewery

This week they struck again by buying the Texelse Bierbrouwerij. Yes, they bought the entire brewery, not just a stake. Texels has been brewing excellent, yet middle of the road, beers since 1999.  Their market is mostly in the western part of the country and on the heels of their Skuumkoppe, which is an undeniably nice beer. A dunkelweizen that Heineken doesn’t really have in their portfolio.

This deal is not part of the expected wave of takeovers of small breweries by bigger breweries when the small ones start to falter during Covid. This deal was about a year in the making and considering Texel’s position in the beermarket with Skuumkoppe and Heineken’s strong position in bars it was something that to me seemed only logical to happen one day.

Of course in the press releases you hear the same old stories about expertise, distribution and ‘the best possible partner’. Just like the facts that the brewery is staying on Texel and all employees will keep their job. For now… history has shown in the USA and the UK that this is not always the case.

Details about the money changing hands have not been released. Sure, it is sad to see an independent brewery leave for the money, but after 21 years it does make some sense.

Sad? Absoutely, but Texels beer occupied the market between the big pilsner breweries and people who are slightly more adventurous. It is when the good IPA brewers, sour blenders and stoutmakers get calls from the green giant that we should be more frightened.

Lockdown Part 3: a bar owner’s response

The bars and restaurants have been closed now for about two weeks. It was another blow for an industry that wasn’t doing too well since the reopening earlier this year. Some anger has been aimed towards the government for closing these places, but not shops or schools. On Facebook on Saturday I read remarks about the closed bars but very crowded streets. This is not helping. The Dutch people still think their right to move about is more important than someone else’s right to live and breathe. The hospitals are getting full and we started moving people to Germany already.

Last week I read a post from Jeroen Carol-Visser. Former chairmain of PINT (our version of Camra I guess) and now owner of the wonderful bar De Goudse Eend in Gouda. His post was exactly who I, and many others with me, think of the whole situation. With his permission I translated it for you to read:

“Fine. Again we are forced to close closure.

The bar and restaurant industry is once again a victim of stricter measures.
As an entrepreneur again I have to look for a way to survive.
And why?
Because people just don’t want to listen.

I would like to thank you very much for that.
Thanks for not listening to the five feet (1.5 meter) rule.
Thanks for not meeting in groups.
Thanks for not having a party at home,
Thanks for the “yes we 12 are all part of the same household”.
Thanks for the “oh I’ll grab a chair, so you can still get in between”

Thank you, you who think that rules do not apply to you.

Rules have always been drawn up. And YOU only had one job. STICK TO THE RULES.

Was it so difficult to keep that 1.5 meter distance for a while?

Or YOU colleagues in hospitality, did you really have to sit those 8 guys together at a table on that larger terrace? You understand that that was not a household, don’t you?

And do you own that large business with a mega terrace extension? Wasn’t that good enough? Why were guests allowed to sit shoulder to shoulder with you?

Using and implementing the rules is not difficult. All you need is discipline. Just do it.

For now we are closed again. We have to. Sitting in a corner and crying isn’t going to help my business.

Soon, someday, we may open again. And may I hereby make an appeal to you? Just stick to the rules. Not for me, not for you, but for society.

If together we can give the virus such calm waters that it is not gone but let it be infected now and then, we can continue living. Everything van run again and we can have a society where we learn to live with a deadly virus.

If we all just keep paying attention we can do this.

Thanks.”

This is a sentiment shared by me and others. The freedoms we enjoyed and have taken for granted have brought this country a lot. Now people don’t want to give it up. A form of selfishness that at this stage is not helping us beat this virus.

And oh, if you are in Gouda getting cheese and stroopwafels, make an effort to visit Jeroen’s bar. Whenever I am in the position to do so again you will find me there.

So stay home if you don’t have to and follow the rules!

Lockdown Part 2

On Tuesday (October 13) the government decided to once again close all bars and restaurants for at least four weeks. The number of corona infections has risen rapidly in the last few weeks. So rapidly in fact that the Netherlands (and Belgium) are now among the nations with the highest number of daily infections. For two weeks the government tried to curtail it by adding a few minor restrictions. They did not help. To prevent the hospitals  being swamped by corona patients everything is done to not have too many people in the same space.

Bars and restaurants already had a difficult time during the spring when everything closed. The intervening period wasn’t great with fewer tourists and people who were still apprehensive to show up. Sure the government will try and help out but some owners will decide to pull the plug after this new setback.

Blame

So who is to blame for all of this? The government could have been more strict in their decisions. They were not very clear about what needed to be done. Where other countries have strict lines of number of infections that when crossed will lead to new restrictions we decided not to. Prime minister Rutte seems to rely on the common sense of people. But the people let him down. Where in most countries people just did what they needed to do we flaunt the rules and social constructs and just do what we want. Seemingly without any regard for those around us. We complain that we are restricted in our freedom. Yet no other country in Europe has as much freedom to move around as we do.

Breweries

The  breweries seem to have done ok. The first lockdown period made them aware that setting up online shops and pickup points would help and it did. The sales of bottles went up as well with people opting to drink more at home and not in bars. They will likely survive the next phase as well, though the breweries with pubs will have it harder.

Prohibition?

The police union has suggested that the best thing to do would be a complete prohibition of alcohol sales. Alcohol seems to play a part in the spread of the virus. Bars closed at 10 at night for a while and huge lines formed in front of supermarkets for people to get beer and continue drinking and partying at home. And yes, it seems alcohol at the moment is doing more bad than good with huge outbreaks happening during parties, sometimes in cafes. Sure, not the more thinking people of IPA and sour drinkers but still. And if you read this and are afraid you won’t have enough alcohol for the coming weeks then maybe you should get help first before raiding the supermarket for some Schultenbrau.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to the total ban of alcohol sales. This would mean that many more people will lose their jobs. With around 600 breweries in this country (not all professional) many depend on the income of selling beer. And let’s not even start thinking about all the liquor store owners, employees, suppliers etc. With bars closed shops are the only remaining thing.

How can you help

Stay the f&#* at home! And if you do have to leave the house wear a facemask. The sooner we get the hospitals empty again the better. In the meantime buy your beer directly from the brewery or from a local liquor store. Some (beer) distributors have opened the doors too for private buyers. Check out in your area what is available. And think of those around you. We can do this!

Buying Beer Online

Buying Beer Online

Corona has changed the way we consume. Beer is no different. Bars are not open as long as before and many of us have opted to drink more beer at home.

The shops have remained open so we were always able to get our beer. However for those living outside of the bigger cities, like me, it has been harder. I am fortunate that I have an excellent beer store in the tiny 5000 people village I live in, that’s De Zwart in case you are interested. Without a car and not wanting to lug around heavy bags of bottles I decided to order beer online.

I randomly picked 7 different stores, all small and independent. Of the shops six were from the Netherlands, and I bought beer from the U.K. on one occasion.

At first I thought I would review all the stores separately. But I am sticking to some points that I noticed or have made me thing about the whole process. And let’s say some things might need to change if the independent stores want to fight Beerwulf (Heineken) or Hopt (InBev).

The stores I have bought beer from were Bierloods22 in Woerden, Sterk in Amsterdam, Little Beer Shop in Utrecht, Just In Beer in Groningen, Lekker Bier Bier Winkel in Friesland, Specialbierpakket in Leiden and from the United Kingdom Premier Hop.

Here are some of the things that caught my eye:

Personal Touch

With the box of beer I ordered beer from Bierloods22 in Woerden came a postcard with a  handwritten note. It might be a small thing but it means they took some time to do so. It also had my name on it so you know they wrote it on the spot. It makes you feel appreciated as a customer.

Another personal touch is letting your customer know that the delivery will be delayed. Premier Hop, the only UK store I bought from, did this. Not that I even cared one bit but it is nice to see they are thinking of you. The order came days sooner than a delivery from a Dutch store I placed on the same day. One of the cans I bought from them exploded. A combination of some carbonation problem I think and extremely hot temperatures. I let both them and the brewery know and within minutes the money was refunded. Classy.

In one other case I had to email what was happening with my order and it felt as if my email restarted the process again. Let’s just say I would order beer from Bierloods again and not from this store.

Speedy

All orders came on time. With one order the store was waiting for one of the bottles to be delivered. Fine but I would have preferred knowing this in advance so that I had the option to either pick another beer. With smaller stores you have to take into account that if you place on order on Sunday it might take longer. Stores are not always open on Monday so they may only start making the orders on Tuesday. A good store should mention this on the website. Most did. The Speciaalbierpakket store in Leiden made the promise that any order before 21:00 would be delivered the next day. And it was. This was the second time I ordered beer on their website and I would happily do it again. And as I mentioned in the previous paragraph an order from the UK arrived here days before an order made on the same day at store in the Netherlands.

Everything I ordered with Premier Hop was available

Have what you say you have

Too often it happened that I ordered beers online that were not available after all. I would get emails back either with the question of picking other beers and getting the difference back, or a list of beers I could choose from with the same value as the ones that were not available. Fine by me because I am not too picky. A CMR system that automatically subtracts both store buys and online buys and corrects this on the website can be a hassle and a investment. However it offers a lot in return. Better for the store, better for the customer but also for the suppliers.  But I also admit it is a small thing and I was happy with the way the stores handled it. 

Local

From Just In Beer. Great American things but also a good selection of local Groninger beers

I bought beers from stores in Friesland and Groningen and was very happy that they stocked beers from local breweries. Things that never will make it to the stores in Amsterdam and Utrecht. Even stores in Leiden tend to have very local things too that don’t make it over here. And buying local is more important than ever these days to keep the beer culture all over the country vibrant.

Webpages

Not all webpages worked perfectly. In some cases after putting one bottle or can in the basket going back a page made you end up on the front page again. Annoying if you were only looking for beers from a certain country or in a certain category. One store was brazen enough to email me back saying ‘well it works on my phone’. Sure, but it should work on all platforms. The store will remain unnamed, but I won’t be buying beer there.

Social Media

Some stores have been very good on social media showing what is new. Little Beer Shop and Just In Beer for example pepper Instagram with cool, self-made, shots of new beers. Keeping the name of the store in the minds of people and showing you constantly renew is only a good thing.

Better for brewers

Buying at smaller independent stores is also better for the brewers. Webshops owned by multinationals (Heineken is 100% owner of Beerwulf, InBev owns hopt.nl and more in the UK) often ask for a bigger discount than the smaller stores. So breweries might sell a bit more in bulk, but get less per bottle sold. By supporting the smaller stores you are also helping the brewers.

In Conclusion

A good store should I think have the following: a good selection with plenty of local options. Good personal communication that makes you feel valued and a good working website. I will keep buying beer from most of these stores.

Stores I bought from, with one positive note

Bierloods22 in Woerden. Great selection and the personal touch is awesome

Little Beer Shop in Utrecht. Great and fast service and a good selection too, rotates.

Just In Beer. Happy to see a lot of local stuff and other cracking IPA’s.

Specialbierpakket winkel Leiden. Best website , fast service, great selection, fair prices.

Premier Hop. Fast in both service and delivery. UK beers not available here.

Specialbierwinkel. Lot of local Northern beer.

Sterk. Varied selection, some local Amsterdam beers and amazing selection.

A Decade of Beer Blogging.

Someone asked me the other day how long I have been writing about beer. Some sleuthing online and rummaging through some old files leads me to believe that the first time I published something on what was then still the Dutch Beer Pages was ten years ago. Probably about Wispe. So this means I can celebrate my decade long beer writing anniversary!

Things have changed dramatically in this decade. In the beginning I could just send a couple of questions through email and get great answers back. Breweries then were often still one man operations and the brewers were often very enthusiastic about their craft and just very happy someone had shown an interest. For some I was apparently even the first interview. I remember some of the very first ones being Wispe and Vat 13. The former now has a great brewery in a church in their hometown Weesp while Vat 13 no longer exists. And these are two examples of how it has gone the last ten years. Almost all the breweries I interviewed either started their own brewery (many were gypsy brewers) or folded. Some of the most successful stories I wrote about for example are ‘t Uiltje, Bax, Rooie Dop (now Oproer), VandeStreek, Kompaan, Oersoep and Gooische. The better the brewer, the more passionate the replies I got.

Writing about beer has brought me to cities and towns I would never have dreamed of visiting. Every short trip or vacation became a trek to find local beer. And by looking for that beer I discovered a lot more in my own country as well. And made friends along the way.

Yet is was never my intention to write about the breweries alone. You can brew all you want but you need fans of your beer and they need to get the beer from somewhere. That is why I have always tried to also write about the bars and shops that sell the beer. They have also seen the changes happening.

The quality of the beer has gotten better significantly. The time of exploding bottles and weak beer seems to be mostly over. The standard of Dutch beer has gone up, but the influx of beer from other countries is bigger now as well. Every bar or restaurant I go to now has at least something local. Utrecht then was already a hub for great beer and it still is today. Other cities have also caught on but I am lucky to live between Amsterdam and Utrecht.

I have enjoyed writing and chronicling the Dutch “craft” beer revolution. I have put craft in quotation marks because I don’t really think this is the right term anymore. That is why you won’t see me use it a lot anymore. Another thing you won’t see me do is write about what I think of a certain beer. Flavor is something personal. A nicely made tripel or blonde might be great but I will likely never enjoy it as much as a double ipa or an imperial stout. I will leave that to others. My blog is not about me but about the great and varied group of people that has worked hard the last ten years to make beer into the multi million euro business that it is today.

And I will keep writing about it and inform you about the people and places that make up Dutch brewing. And in English so that everyone can understand what great beer we make here.

It has been a blast these last ten years, let’s add at least ten more.

Anthony Bourdain visits In De Wildeman

I don’t know exactly when I first saw Anthony Bourdain on TV. It must have been one of the first episodes of No Reservations on the Discovery Channel. He visited Iceland and even though it wasn’t much for food I kept watching having once been to this country. His somewhat sarcastic outlook, his willingness to try everything and his fondness for 70s punkrock struck a chord. When I started writing about beer he was a big influence. I knew that a slew of food allergies would prevent me from ever writing about food as he did, but I could tackle beer at least. The shows turned me onto his books. Both his television work and books were about more than just the food, they were also about the role that food played in the culture, sometimes he even went as far as to completely forgo the food and just talk about the history and culture of a part of the world. And my aim has always been to show the role beer and everything related to it plays in the world.

Then came the sad news that he took his own life while filming in France.

He never visited The Netherlands for an hour long episode of any of his shows and I can understand that. His only visit to Amsterdam was in 1970 when he, like so many other around that time, slept in the Vondelpark. Living here is great and the food is great too, but the local delicacies are few and not really worth a trip for. He did record an episode of The Layover where he stays in a city for 36 hours and eats and visits places. And in those 36 hours he basically ate what all tourists though. Some snacks but nothing earth shattering. Some cafes, pancakes, herring and yes even the FEBO. If you like fried stuff and have never been here visit one of these. It’s a wonderful smorgasbord of fried stuff with influences from Indonesia, America, Germany and more.

But there is one part of the episode that is very exciting. For a few hours he visited In De Wildeman. He sat outside with Dutch actor Cees Geel and drank beers. And for once he actually seems to enjoy sitting somewhere and not be part of the touristy nightmare that it most of Amsterdam. No more talk of prostitutes, herring and drugs.

A person on the local production staff always liked In De Wildeman and somehow got it into the show. And he really is as long as they say in the city. No fancy editing or lying. 36 hours is 36 hours. If you seem him tired and cranky, it is because he is.

Beer is a common thread throughout all of Bourdain’s work. When you watch an episode, notice that he is usually drinking a beer at a meal. Whether this is in Europe or his beloved South-East Asia, a bottle of cold beer is usually standing on the table. Wine and spirits only when the item in the show is particularly about it.

After the episode aired, and especially after his death, people who visit Amsterdam sometimes try and visit all the places that Bourdain went to on his short trip. And of course In De Wildeman is part of that pilgrimage. Quite often people come up to the In De Wildeman staff to say they are there because of Bourdain.

The few hours spent there is what every traveler to Amsterdam should do. A quiet oasis of bliss in an otherwise overcrowded city.

Oh, and about that smoking of the weed you are probably wondering about? Throughout the episode he jokingly abstains from doing it, because of television rules and regulation in the US. But legend has it he did go smoke afterwards. And that it wasn’t a short time…

Walhalla, a boat ride to ‘beer’ heaven

My second destination my first day back in Amsterdam was Walhalla. The trip from In De Wildeman to Walhalla is a short one, but does include a 5-minute ferryride across the IJ river. Because this is public transport a facemask is obligatory. Life is turning back to normal slowly but there are small signs everywhere that the corona pandemic is not over, the mask being one of those.

When I was at In De Wildeman earlier that day I saw Walhalla’s Loki being poured the most. Proof that Walhalla has turned into one of Amsterdam’s premier breweries, when a world-renowned bar serves your beer in these quantities.

The moment I step through the door I recognize that familiar smell. The thick, slightly sweet odor of brewing. I am in Amsterdam-Noord to fulfill a wish and promise I have had for over two years now: to visit the Walhalla brewery. Owner Aart looks on while two employees are brewing. The Loki is on the schedule today it turns out.

Corona

I move into the adjoining taproom and look around. About 15 minutes later Aart joins me. Inevitably the conversation turns to how Walhalla faired while all the bars were closed.

Almost immediately after the bars closed they put their webshop online. This turned out to be a great move. The staff that usually took care of the bar now made the packages that they themselves delivered all over Amsterdam. Fans also came by to pick up beer, fans who really supported their locals. Through a deal with BeerWulf they were able to turn their kegs of leftover beer into two liter growlers that were sold for hometaps. A nice cooperation that benifits all.

Of course he, like every other brewer, feared in the beginning how it would end but things went more than fine. Shops and supermarkets kept ordering and people kept drinking Walhalla beer. But having the doors open is the best.

Brewery

Let’s return to the brewery for a second. 6 smaller tanks line the wall and a beautiful wood-finished mashtun immediately catches the eye. Walhalla only brews beer for kegs and cans at this premise. A mobile canning company comes by every so often from Luxemburg and cans the beer. Corona postponed this one time and Walhalla was able to use fellow Amsterdam brewery Poesiat + Kater’s canning machine. Once again showing that breweries are colleagues and not competitors.

This is not the first brewery Aart has made beer in. Before this he occupied a refurbished changing room of local football team. This was when he was still half of brewery De Vriendschap (The Friendship). It was even before this location that I interviewed him first and to see this amazing progress is wonderful. When this brewery folded he made a restart as Walhalla. From being a musician he is now a full-time brewery owner. The theme of gods is also part of the entire look of the labels and the names of the beers. There are names like Loki, Heimdall, Osiris and Aphrodite to name just a few. And he barrel ages too under the Daemon line with excellent results already 11 different versions through the years.

Walhalla Taproom

While Aart and I were talking the staff was slowly setting up the bar and the tables outside for the 4pm opening. The 1.5 meter taped lines still visible on the floor inside and ground outside. They got permission to use a piece of barren land across the street which should be great during nice warm summer evenings. And if you want to sit inside you need to leave a name and email address, just in case something corona related happens again. It is one of those things to get used to, just like asking if people have had coronatype symptoms in the last 24 hours.

But don’t let the ferry or the social distancing rules hold you back. Walhalla is a great spot for beer lovers. Oh, and make sure to get a tasting paddle. Not just for the great beer but the board itself is already a small work of art. The W of Walhalla lends itself for this perfectly. I really should have visited a lot earlier…

My next time definitely won’t take another two years.

Here is a video our friends over at Tasty Tales made a while ago

Corona and the Specialty Beer Café

In the last article I wrote about how the corona crisis affected the breweries. Today I want turn your attention to how it is affecting the Specialty Beer Cafés. It might be slightly different in other bars but because I have always considered these to be one of the engines of the Dutch Beer Revolution they deserve special attention.

When corona hit

The government’s decision to close all bars and restaurants meant that the doors had to close and personnel sent home. For the bars with personnel on the payroll there are ways of keeping them on the payroll with the 90% funding, but that still means different costs for vacationtime for example. And let’s not forget the rent and utilities, even though they will not have spent much on electricity.

Some bar owners only have employees with so-called 0-hour contracts. You work for the number of hours assigned to you that week and that is. There are fewer attachments to an employer for example. If you are sick for two days you don’t get paid for those two days. This is one difference with the full contract workers. If you have a bar and also a number of full contract workers you are in a bigger bind. Most owners can run the bar themselves for now, especially because many of the specialty beer bars are not huge places and there will only be a maximum number of guests.

Two weeks ago there was some good news. Restaurants and bars can now open again but with only 30 people max and with social distancing of 1,5 meters, or 5 feet. This is great news of course but it does mean some changes and new ways to do this.

Making money while shut

The closure has led many an owner to come with some inventive ways to still generate some income. The most often seen wat was to sell beer packages. Bring the beers a guest cannot have in the bar to the guest at home. Sometimes including bar nuts and a deck of cards like De Koffer in Groningen has been doing. The owner and maybe one or two employees could be seen driving all over the city to deliver these packages.

In some cases they could still make around 20% of the usual income, but it also meant still paying employees in some cases and having them be busy with a delivery for parts of the day. But it did keep them busy, in contact with other people in the business and it kept the name alive. This last fact could be a very important one down the line.

The near future: 30 people max

I spoke to Rob Alphenaar for some general insight, about what he will do in the near future and how he sees the role of Specialty Beer Cafes in this. Why Rob? Well, apart from being the owner of Haarlem beer bar Het Lokaal (and before that the fairly legendary Café Briljant) and owner of gypsy brewery Briljant he is also the chairman of the ABT (the alliance of beer serving bars), a group of Specialty Beer Café’s all over the country. Being a part of this means a certain standard of excellence and knowledge. 

Bar owners can only reopen when they can be sure that opening will be more beneficial than staying home and use the money that the government can give you. So things need to be done to be sure that opening the bar for the day or night makes the most sense.

Bars can only have a maximum of 30 people in the establishment at once. These 30 people have to sit at least 1,5 meters away from each other, apart from people who live in the same household. So meeting a friend in a beer bar? Sure, but he better sit 1,5 meters away from you.

The government has also decided that you can only enter when you make a reservation. Rob is thinking of having sessions. Guests can book a table and in some cases will get a tasting menu. This way he knows there is guaranteed income. One guest taking 2,5 hours to finish an Imperial Stout is all fine and well, but won’t pay the bills. A reservation, maybe partly prepaid, could solve part of that. Another advantage of this that you can thoroughly clean the place between shifts. It also takes care of too much movement in front of the cafés.

Then screens need to be put up. Plastic screens between people and maybe at the bar as well. If there are no screens you need to figure out what 1,5 meters exactly is and cordon certain areas off.

Many of the specialty beer bars are often small tiny and can only fit 30 people while full anyway. For them it’s going to be harder. Bars will have to offer something special. Not just drinking a few beers but an experience of beer. This is something Rob says the ABT café’s can really offer. Every ABT café has the knowledge, and the beers, to make sure guests will have a pleasant evening with great beer and stories about that beer. They are not the type of bar where people try and break the world record for drinking lager in one hour. In face, whenever I ask owners if they have to throw drunk people out the answer is almost always: hardly ever.

Safety

Are the people working in the bars safe? That remains a question because for them it is impossible to keep to the 1,5 meters and will have to come close to the guests.

The national group of bar and restaurants have some guidelines but they are confusing at times. Not everyone I have talked to is completely certain what to do so they will have to do the best they can. But Rob sees this crisis having some positive side effects, like showing the customer what extra things a specialty beer bar can offer.

So when you are thinking of visiting a bar again, let the specialty beer café personnel give you 2 or 2,5 hours that will be unforgettable.

Corona and Breweries, Part I

This is part I of a hopefully not too long series of how the corona virus is affecting the world of Dutch breweries. Starting with the breweries, I will also discuss how it influences bars and shops.

It has been over a month now since the bars and restaurants in the entire county closed. Everyone involved with beer has been hit hard. The bars are of course completely closed and they try to make a bit of money by selling beer and food for takeaway. Shops other than supermarkets have in some cases seen losses of 50% or more. But hardest hit seem to be the breweries.

Breweries have lost most, if not all, of their primary sources of income. The bars are completely closed, the sale of kegs down to 0. Sales of bottles have gone down as well to the specialty stores. Only those selling to supermarkets seem to be doing ok but tanks are empty, in many cases for the first time in years.

Times like this ask to be inventive. Many breweries have started selling beer directly at the brewery. Something that in normal times is not allowed but this government has decided not to interfere in most cities and counties. But you can only sell so much, and only to people who really want it. It doesn’t make up for all the other sales. Often it is the only way to generate at least some income. Sure, it might take a tiny bit away from the shops, but most people buy one bottle from a brewery together with bottles from other breweries. Here the brewery can sell a box of beer at once. These small sales though can only recoup about 20% or less or regular sales. Yes, you read that correctly, many breweries have lost 80% of their income.

Government Help

The government is providing some help, but this is not reaching all the breweries. The government works with a list of business that they deem need help in this crisis. Breweries at the start were not on that list. They will get some deferrals for income taxes and the government can pay a large chunk of the salaries if employees cannot work anymore, this up to 90% if a company has lost 100% of its business.. But this is not including other parts of the salaries like labour costs, pensions and paid vacation. These costs keep adding up.

Restaurants and bars are on the list. Brewpubs in most cases are not. If your entry into the Chamber of Commerce mentions a brewery first and a brewpub second, you are not on the list so you don’t get the money a restaurant would get. It was only on the 28th of April that it was decided that businesses could get help (a one time sum of € 4.000) for their second type of business, like a brewpub/restaurant.

Bars and restaurants have closed, meaning nearly 100% of all kegs from breweries are not being sold at the moment. The distributors of this beer are getting government support, breweries luckily now get some as well. But the distributors don’t get paid anymore by the bars, so they cannot pay the brewers, leaving the breweries without money from that side.

Deferral

Income tax has been postponed for a while so breweries don’t have to worry about that just now. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have to be repaid. There’s a big chance this will have to be done again when the bars and restaurants are up and running again. The question for the government now is how the breweries are going to repay it and in what time period. With a looming recession we don’t really know if people will start going to bars and restaurants again like they did before.

The Catch-22 of bank loans

If you were a healthy company before corona hit you can get a loan. But because the economic outlook at the moment is not great they are hesitant to just give you a loan, unless you hook up with a company that offers loan but against staggering interest. And the costs that are not being paid right now (taxes for example) will have to be repaid later, adding another figure of money a brewery won’t be able to pay back. The government is pushing the banks to offer loans, the banks say ‘but they cannot pay it back’. The government and brewers say: ‘yes dear banks, that’s the problem and that’s why they need the loans’. And so the cycle continues. Breweries in most cases also have nothing to put up for the loan, another reason banks are hesitant.

Rent

Big breweries often also lease properties in exchange for their beer being served there. These bars are trying to get discounts on rents. In some cases this has already gone down 50%, in other cases breweries (like Haacht) have decided not to ask for any rent during this period. Smaller craft breweries don’t have constructions like this and will have to pay the rent of the brewery space.  So the small brewers are not helped in this scheme and breweries with brewpubs are doubly hurt.

The brewery landscape in one year

It is undeniably true that some breweries won’t be able to come through this. CRAFT, (the organization where all craft brewers are part of) issued a statement that 50% of all breweries are in grave danger.

Michel Ordeman of Jopen, also the head of CRAFT, says that small breweries provide a lot of work as well. Not only in the breweries but also in the brewpubs and restaurants.

First of all we don’t know yet how long bars and restaurants will be closed. So far until at least May 20, but it could be longer if we as a nation decide to go outside en masse again and not stick to social distancing. And if everything does open again nothing is sure as well. Some breweries are going to offer free beer or heavily discounted beer to bars. This could lead to a new price war and might force some breweries who cannot afford this to fold.

50% of all breweries left after all this is over? A shakeup was bound to happen, but like this? The beer shops, bars and festivals will look very different in a year.

Drink One for John Prine

It was a tough day for music fans all over the world when we heard that Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne had died because of corona and that the legendary John Prine was placed on a ventilator because of the same virus. On April 7th he passed away.

John Prine wasn’t a very known singer to the larger public. He was however a legend for the people that did know him, including his peers who placed him on the same level as Bob Dylan. In fact Dylan admired Prine a lot. My first introduction to him was about 12 years ago when someone I worked with suggested that I listened to him after we talked about Bob Dylan for a while. This was in the time of burn-your-own-CD’s so he handed me a copy of John Prine’s debut album a week later.

His music is best described as on the border of folk and country. It was the folk element that brought some protest themes to his music. There were songs about large corporations destroying the countryside (Paradise) or veterans returning from the war (Sam Stone). But mostly they were songs about life in midwestern America, heartache and pain included. Hello in There for example is about a couple growing old, and in just one sentence he managed to let us know the pain that they have gone through and that has stayed with them: “We lost Davy in the Korean War, and we still don’t know what for.” Where Dylan’s song were literary and cryptic, Prine’s songs were literary but it was very clear what the subject was.

Angel from Montgomery is often touted as his masterpiece, but for me it is Sam Stone. The song about a Vietnam vet returning home after having picked up PTSD, a wound and a drug addiction to ease the pain of that wound. His life back home now revolves around the addiction and this leads to him becoming a thief and he is estranged from his children who notice “there’s a hole in daddy’s arm, where all the money goes”. This line could very well be the most heartbreaking line ever sung. He ends up dying of an overdose and is buried as a soldier in a local cemetary. The song is a beautiful and gutwrenching. The pipe organ tones in the beginning make if feel as an eulogy, not only to Sam Stone, but to the thousands of veterans who returned home in a similar state. Prine himself told Marc Maron in 2016 that he thought this song would be topical for a few years after it was released in 1971, but that even now it is as topical as it ever was  

So we raise a glass of good beer to John Prine, A Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. Prine was born in Chicago but his family was from Kentucky. Only the best for Mister Prine. You will be missed.