For three days in the middle of August I attended a summer course to hopefully become a Beer Ambassador. The summer school was held at Fort Everdingen, now the home of the brewery Duits & Lauret. The last time I was here was almost 8 years ago on a slightly cold and somewhat rainy November day. My wife and I walked over the site of Fort Everdingen looking at old 19th century structures and sheds. It sometimes looked closer to collapsing than becoming usable again.
We were invited by Marco Lauret and Danielle Duits to come take a look at what was to be the site of their brewery and tasting room. You can read more about this in the previous article about how it all came to be.
Things have changed. The campground is now up and running: caravans, tents, campervans, there is space for all kinds of camping. And with some much grass and woods around it feels like you are out in nature. How nice is it to wake up, take a short stroll and look out over wide Dutch rivers.
The sheds and structures that looked somewhat downtrodden and had water standing in them have all been rebuilt. One houses a room for classes like the one I took, while the main structure is now both brewery and tasting room. The brewery is somewhat cramped and they can only fill kegs for consumption in bars and a few meters away in the tasting room. Most of the stone structures, the actual fort are still mostly in the same state. It is a monument after all.
The brewery also means they can be more experimental than before. Duits & Lauret is known for a selection of very good, well-balanced and award winning beers. Having your own tasting room means you can try more things and put it on in the tasting room. During the course we were treated to a great schwarz called Swarte Kray (Black Crow) and what I guess we can call a double schwarz in collaboration with De Leckere. But if dark beers are not your thing there you can go even more German with a kölsch or/and an alt. Another example of how brewers are starting to look eastwards across the border for beer inspiration?
When you decide to visit and you are not going by bike there are several routes to get there. By far the best one however is along the river by bike, or better yet on foot along the river. There is 19th century history, World War II history and an impressive number of birds and other animals. It might take two hours to walk this way, but the beer will feel even more refreshing. A faster way is to rent a bike and cycle over the dyke. I felt like a true Dutch boy taking this route and getting rained on along the way. Brouwdok in Harlingen has a great view over the sea, but Fort Everdingen’s location next to the rivers that made Holland what it is, is equally stunning. And what better to enjoy that part of Dutch life with world class beer.
My first beer visit after the reopening of the bars was at Oproer where I was at 12:00 sharp, the exact time when bars and restaurants were allowed to open again. Utrecht is not too far from where I live by bike. My second trip to a beer destination had to be In De Wildeman. Because public transport is still only for essential personnel I again got on my bike and cycled the 20 kilometres to Amsterdam. It was fortunately a nice day. A perfect day for this happy occasion.
In De Wildeman is my favorite bar in Amsterdam and it fortunately opens every day at 12:00. So I had made a reservation by e-mail from 12 till 2. Reservations are only needed inside. You don’t need one to sit outside. You can just sit down if there is space of course. You can still just walk into a bar and ask if there is space, but that can lead to being turned away because of the no-more-than-30-people rule. If you are in luck and there is a seat available inside you have to leave your name, email address and phonenumber. Just in case a contact investigation has to be done later.
When I arrived owner Simon was already outside talking to some customers. Finally, he had been looking forward to this for weeks.
The days before the inside was tuned into a social distancing bar. Immediately at the door you are shown the hand sanitizer station and most people are asked if you are feeling well and if you had any coronalike symptoms in the last 24 hours. A question that every bar and restaurant has to ask, though the awkwardness of the question often leads to not asking it all.
There are now screens everywhere between seats to stay at a save distance from the table next to you. This means a reduction in the number of seats, even though 30 is the maximum at the moment anyway. The big Jever cardboard screens and crates do make you thirsty. There are signs every where warning telling you to keep the 1,5 meter distance.
The legendary menu above the door was not full but only had 11 spots for beer, half of the board is empty. With fewer people it makes no sense to open all of them. Some of the usual standard beers here like a Weizen and Jever but some good sours from Wild Beer and Brewdog too. The book with all the bottled beers and snacks has disappeared from the table. Too many people could touch it and spread the virus. And to wipe a book with a lot of pages every time is a waste of time. But you can always ask what else is available.
Yet some things remain the same. Simon still knows almost everyone and talks to everyone. The beers are still great and the service ditto. It is interesting to see him don the red Wildeman outfit himself again, something I had not seen for a while. And they are also opening the door on Sunday, usually a day when it was closed.
Everyone, both bars and guests, are still getting used to all the rules. Some bars across the country have already run into trouble. People tend to stand and don’t keep to social distancing. Figuring all of this out takes time. But let’s also hope this period will end soon. Not that we should all of sudden abandon all the social distancing rules that try and keep us safe from a horrible disease. Let’s hope we get rid of the disease, I want to see a full board about the door again and even though this helps the bars, they still need more guest. So support your local bar as much as you can.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the southern city of Eindhoven Van Moll has steadily been
working over the last few years to become one of Hollands premier breweries.
And like any brewery that considers itself a big player they have their own
brewpub and festival. This festival has been held for a number of years now. Two
years ago I had the honor of being at Van Moll Fest as a participant when I
poured beer for Oproer. This year I decided to go both days, as a visitor.
The two day setup really works. The international breweries (from
countries like the U.S.A, England, Belgium and more) were there for both days,
the Dutch breweries one day only but the same number every day. That meant more
breweries and of course even more beers to try.
The location is the same, under the shadow of a huge flying
saucer looking building in Eindhoven called the Evoluon. This building was
built in the early 1960’s to showcase technological advancement, with Phillips
at the forefront. This Dutch multinational has had a huge part in shaping
Eindhoven as it is today. It is no longer a museum but a building where
congresses are held. And beer festivals.
Holding this beer festival at the Evoluon is fitting. Van
Moll has been on the forefront of the new wave of Dutch brewing and has never
shied away from innovation itself. And the breweries that were invited are cut
from the same cloth. Forget your Belgian triple and blonde brewers. Beautiful
stouts, IPA’s and maybe the best lineup of wild ales and sours that I have seen
The entire Evoluon area is closed off by a moat and a fence,
which mean that there was a lot of space to walk and sit. Something other
festivals often lack. Even though this weekend the country was again hit by a
heatwave, the third one this summer. There was enough water and people seemed
to take it easy.
The cream of the crop of Dutch brewing was present: De
Molen, Jopen, Kompaan, Nevel, Oersoep and Het Uiltje to name just a few.
Special mention though for De Moersleutel. During the days of my former blog
they weren’t around yet so I never had a chance then to mention that this
brewery from Alkmaar is my new favorite. They surprise you with stouts like De
Molen once did. Their IPA’s and sours are also world class. And some local
pride for me that two breweries from Amsterdam (Walhalla and Butcher’s Tears)
and two from Utrecht (Kromme Haring and VandeStreek) were present.
Some of the best from the UK were here as well. Like
previous years Wiper and True and Siren were here. But of all the newcomers for
me extra praise for the beers of Central Waters. I had been chasing their beers
for a while now and was happy to see more of them in bars and shops here. But
to taste their XX stout was a moment of pure bliss and their other beers were
world class every single time as well.
With the great lineup of breweries and it being a two day
event you cannot help yourself to compare it with Borefts. If I had the option
of only going to one of them the room at Van Mollfest and the fact that is it
held on Saturday and Sunday make me choose a trip to Eindhoven, even if
Bodegraven is right around the corner from me. See you next time you weird huge
Lately I have been doing
some research on Heineken’s increasing influence in the world of Dutch beer. OK,
I am going to say it once for those who don’t understand what I mean: craft
beer. A term that I try to avoid as much as possible. This influence isn’t
immediately visible but is happening in small, incremental steps.
Or so it seemed until
this week when Oedipus announced that Heineken was going to be a minority
stakeholder in this brewery. This has been the most open and blatant move from
Heineken into previously uncharted territory in the Netherlands. They have already
taken an interest in Lagunitas from the USA and Beavertown in the UK but now they
have set their sight on their homecountry.
I will still post the
articles I have been working on so let this be a short introduction of what’s
This online retailer was
started a few years ago by Heineken employees and backed by Heineken money. A
good looking website, great selection of beer and fancy television ads made
this site popular in a very short time. They put the brewers center stage and
don’t have excessive prices. They also claim not to be influenced by Heineken.
But a massive investment is just that. It gets real Black Mirror-y when you
think of the massive amount of data Heineken has their hands on now. Very
similar to InBev buying RateBeer.
When Groningen based brewery Punt won an award at the Dutch Beer Challenge it was as a Heineken beer. This raised some suspicions. A short investigation showed that Punt, and some other breweries including Van Vollenhoven and Oudaen were also operating under the banner of Heineken Local beers. The small breweries on this last have a very small impact so it is as of yet mysterious why Heineken did this. This is worth investigating more.
Heineken in Africa
Looming over all of this is Heineken’s less than decent handlings in Africa and Asia. This has best been documented in Olivier van Beemen’s book Heineken in Africa. Government meddling, bribes, writing legislation about alcohol, fueling the genocide in Rwanda, using girls/prostitutes to try sell the beer, it is all part of it. The latter has made banks like ASN in Holland decide to kick them out of their investment portfolio for example. More about this later as well.
And it’s especially this
that makes Oedipus’ choice for Heineken uncomfortable to say the least. I
appreciate that in the current way the brewing world works the next stop for a
larger brewery is some sort of cooperation with a larger brewery. Lagunitas and
Beavertown are good examples of breweries who were lured by the big ole sack of
money in front of their nose.
Oedipus has always
struck me as a brewery that took a stand against discrimination, racism and
other kinds of inequality. Yet now they are working together with a
multinational that used sex to sell beers in Asia and Africa and did not
nothing to stop genocide. This is a brewery whose first released beer was
called ‘Mannenliefde’ (love between men), a common term for gay love. A type of
love that in many African countries is a death sentence. Countries Heineken
actively invests in.
For now it is a
minority stake and Oedipus will keep doing its own thing. But as most examples
from USA and GB have shown us this will not be the case in 2 to 3 years.
Heineken has been
slowly setting the chess pieces into position for a strike. Their stake in
Oedipus is their biggest step yet. In the second half of the 20th century they
bought all the smaller breweries in the Netherlands to close them. I don’t
think this will happen again but I am curious to see what their next steps will
be. We know this was coming, but happy about it we are not.