The Bars are Open Again!

Monday June 1st, the day a large part of the country was looking forward to. The day the bars and restaurants were allowed to open again. They were in luck. Monday was a holiday and the weather turned out to be great for sitting outside.

I decided to go to Oproer whose doors opened at noon sharp. Because public transport is still only meant for people in important jobs I took my bike. Something I will forced to do more in the coming weeks.

Bars had been working hard the days before to get things ready. Heavy use of rulers and tape was needed to divide the inside part and outside terrace to make sure there would be distance between seats and to make sure that when you walk you don’t run into each other thanks to the assigned walking routes.

City officials had come by a day earlier to see if everything was correct. In Oproer’s case it was. The police won’t actively patrol to see if everyone follows the 1,5 meter rule. Only when they get a credible call that something is not ok will they come. This has happened a few times in the Netherlands on Monday. Maybe having a conga line through your restaurant is not the best idea, as the owner of a restaurant in the south had to admit.

The 1,5 meter rule is a hard one to adhere to but people are at least trying. If it was not 1,5 it was not very close together. Although I don’t know how it would be after several people had a big glass of double stout. Staff also has to ask visitors if they had symptoms in the last 24 hours. A weird question to be honest. People will either not go out when they are sick or when they have been sick won’t answer truthfully. There was cleaning stuff all over the place to wash your hands. Staff was wearing gloves and dirty glasses had to be deposited in blue boxes.

From what I heard downtown Utrecht took a little longer to fill up. People might still be somewhat cautious. But it is great to see people laughing while drinking a beer. Hopefully this will last for the time being and the second wave of corona won’t hit it so hard and that the bars can stay open.

The weather turned out to be beautiful, I even got a sunburn sitting outside. This was needed because even though the bars are open again the owners still need the income to recover some of the losses of the last three months. Oproer turned out to have a good day, indoors there were reserved signs on most of the tables, which is good. You did not need a reservation to sit outside but that got fuller as well by the time I left.

It is still a situation everyone is getting used to and bars will have run into problems they had not thought of. In good Dutch ways the government won’t immediately start. Let’s hope for more good days like this to restart the Dutch brewing world.

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.

Bar Talk #1: Quarantine Songs

How are you doing over there at home? Missing going outside? Missing the chats with total strangers in your favorite bar? Well I do! So here’s something I came up with it. Something that happens quite often when I am out is that me and a friend try and come up with certain songs that fit within a certain subject. This here is the outcome of a fictional talk about songs that are about being in quarantine. Sure, there are hundreds more that you can come up with, but here are mine.

Queens of the Stone Age – Go With the Flow

It’s better not to be stubborn. This is what the world is now and you are not really in a position to change anything. You could go outside of course and don’t care about the new rules but that you are a selfish asshole. IT’S NOT FOR YOU!! Stay inside to keep others safe. This is the world now for at least a few weeks. So sit down, open a beer and go with the flow. It makes life a lot easier.

White Stripes – Seven Nation Army

Apart from this being a song about a large army trying to stop one man it seems that it is going to take a while to stop the virus. Oh, and also, the song is infectious. An indie hit that is being hummed in football stadiums all over the world.

Minutemen – My Corona

Legendary band from the 80’s. Sure it’s about the beer but it has the name corona in it and every chance you have to drop the name Minutemen should be taken advantage of.

Joy Division / Therapy? – Isolation

If you are depressed about being stuck at home for most of the time the classic Joy Division track ‘Isolation’ is the song for you. If you are angry about the whole thing listen to the Therapy? Version.

CNS&Y – Teach Your Children Well

We, like so many other parents, are now burdened with the task to teach or young son things he was supposed to learn in school. Not that a 5 year old has much to learn already but we do our best to teach him well.

Billy Bragg – There is Power in the Union

The slowing economy is completely changing the world in many ways. Millions of jobs are lost and others try to do their job as save as possible. Just this week an Amazon worker was fired for expressing concerns about this. Governments are trying to help as much as possible but many workers still need representation. Billy Bragg can point the way again. This is a reworking of an older folk song but we need the unions to save jobs, work and lives.

Elbow – Lippy Kids

A song about young people standing on street corners growing up. The standing together in groups has been postponed for a little while. It is also a song about the dreams you can have when you grow up before the reality of adulthood sets in. We are going to have a generation of people changed by this experience. But let’s still dream of building rockets.

Presidents of the United States of America – Peaches

“Millions of peaches, peaches for me”

And the best line in a popsong ever written by someone not called Dylan: “peaches come from a can, they were put there by a man”. Yes hoarders, you have 20 cans of peaches now, time to look up recipes.

Tom Petty – I Won’t Back Down

In one of the most poignant episodes of televion in the last couple of years Jason Aldean played this Tom Petty song on Saturday Night Live. A week before during his show in Las Vegas a shooting killed over 80 people in the audience. That same week the legendary Tom Petty died. A song about perseverance, something we all very much need right now.

“No I’ll stand my ground, won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin me down”

R.E.M. – It’s The End of the World as we know it

It really is!

I was at heat wave stricken Werchter festival in 1999. It was hot and I didn’t drink enough. Metallica, Blur, Pavement, Marilyn Manson and many more I saw while it was scorching. The closer was R.E.M. and just before the started an epic thunder and rain storm provided relief to thousands.

We have more time now to listen to music for emotional relief.

If you have any songs to add, feel free to add them.

Support your local brewer, especially in these strange times

On Sunday afternoon, March 15, the Dutch government took the unprecedented step of closing all restaurants and bars and to keep children home. What followed was a frantic hour-and-a-half to give customers their last meals and drinks before closing the door at 6 pm. This will last until at least April 6th although no one seems to believe things will open again a day later. Corona is here and it will stay for the time being.

That night instagram and facebook were full of pictures of unlit, empty bars. Chairs and stools on tables, not a customer in sight. The streets in Amsterdam and Utrecht, always busy with locals and tourists, are now mostly empty.

No customers means no income. The government is now trying to everything in its power to try and keep all businesses running. People will still be paid and businesses will not have to pay their taxes immediately. Banks are not asking small businesses to pay back their loans straight away but have halted this for 6 months. I will never vote for any of the political parties in the cabinet right now but they are trying to keep the country running. Sometimes it is a good thing to live in one of the richest countries in the world.

This governemt is also not standing in the way of any ideas to keep getting an income. Many breweries are now selling beer online or are driving around the city delivering beer. Or you can just drive to the brewery and buy it yourself directly from the brewery. This has to be done to keep things running, some breweries had 0 orders last week. If you don’t have bottles in a supermarket things are going to get very tough. Beer festivals have all been canceled until at least early May.

This crisis is going to change the world where we live in. We don’t know when it will be over and we don’t know how we are going to get out of this. But it is going to be naieve to think that in a year the same breweries and bars will still be around. Some tanks will fall dry and breweries will end operations.

And what can we do? As has been the mantra these last few years: support your local brewer! Bring your favorite bar to you! Some bars offer packages that they can bring to you, peanuts and games included. Order some beer at a local brewery and have them deliver it. The big guys will be fine once this corona thing is over (including Corona), but it is the smaller ones that will suffer. Support them now if you can. Let’s beat this together and keep beer culture alive.

I cannot visit places in the coming weeks, but I will see if I can still post things online now and again.

Take care my friends and hold on. Most of you will be fine, but you can seriously hurt others around you. And remember that the party that will happen once live has returned to normal will be epic.

As local as can get: Klinkert in Blokzijl

At the end of February I spent a few days in Blokzijl. Blokzijl is a tiny town in the region where the provinces Overijssel, Flevoland, Friesland and Drenthe come together. It is one of those Dutch towns built with a strategic purpose. It still has part of the old walls, now adorned with some canons and a view over the mostly reclaimed land. Once built to defend that part of the country against the Spanish troops or bishops from Germany with a hunkering for expansion westwards.

It then became a fishing town with a comparatively huge inner harbor from which the boats sailed to the Zuiderzee to fish for herring. It is also where my family has lived for centuries before my great-grandfather decided to leave Blokzijl and look for a brighter future for him and his family in Amsterdam. It was this fact that brought me here.

Deze afbeelding heeft een leeg alt-atribuut; de bestandsnaam is img_77891.jpg
The Brouwersstraat in Blokzijl

Like any town Blokzijl needed food and drink. Water was unsafe to drink so the brewers got the task to brew beer for the entire community, including the children. The brewers were all located in the Brouwersstraat, which yes, means Brewersstraat. But then the town lost importance, people left and other liquids replaced beer as the number one source of hydration.

And so it remained for decades.

Until 2018 when Grytsje and Kees Klinkert decided to start a brewery. Kees’ parents once owned a vegetable store in the Brouwersstraat so it seemed only logical to start one in this street. The building itself is old, very old. You can still see parts of the walls and roof from centuries ago. Apparently it was even a brewery once called De Zwaan (The Swan). Apart from the brewing installation it also houses a sort of tasting room and a small store selling local food stuff and a few other local beers.

The brewing installation is tiny, just 100 liter. They brew once a week and they can easily get rid of the 300 bottles in Blokzijl in the restaurants and supermarket. And the restaurants that serve the three Klinkert beers are good ones, like the Michelin starred restaurant Kaatje bij de Sluis, located a few doors down.

This is not their job. 300 bottles is not enough to make a living from for a couple with 4 children. Grytsje works as a caregiver for handicapped people while Kees is a car mechanic. This is a hobby which is not (yet) making money.

Klinkert is a great example of a small local business adding something to the community. And not with a beer that seems local because it was commissioned by a store or a restaurant or bar but by an actual beer brewed in the town. It adds something to a city like Blokzijl. It might not ever reach beyond the town limits, making it more special. We need more small local breweries like this all over the country. It makes visiting a new part of the country a bit more interesting to the menu. The big international breweries will still have a huge chunk of the market and smaller national breweries are also carving out their piece, but please support your local brewer. And it doesn’t get more local than this.

So if you do decide to visit the beautiful Blokzijl and it’s harbor be sure to visit the store/brewery when it is open. Check the openings times if you want to visit. If not go to a restaurant nearby that does have Klinkert beers.

Klinkert Bier & Delicatessen Website.

Facebook Page.

Brewing with a View

As I stand on the dike that I can see for miles in all directions. There’s the Afsluitdijk to the left of, the 30 mile long dike with a highway on it that connects Friesland to Noord-Holland. Built in the 1930’s and making what was once a part of the sea into a lake. Far ahead I see the lighthouse of Vlieland and next to it Terschelling. The ferries taking tourists to these to popular vacation destinations both leave here. A bit closer I see modern yachts, older sailboats and every other kind of ship that you can think of. Behind me is the town of Harlingen, one of those typical Dutch villages that once was a city, walls and moats and all. And below me is the main reason for my visit: Het Brouwdok and it’s brewer Gerard.

Gerard is a proud product of Friesland, even though he has lived in the West working in IT he returned to his homeland to brew. He also started studying the one thing that is only taught in Friesland and that is the Frisian language. If the brewing doesn’t work out he can still do that. But so far, the brewing is high one and only profession.

As far as locations got it doesn’t get any better than this. It was also here, in the back of this huge structure, that Gerard started brewing. And with success because the brewery quickly grew and now there is this big, modern installation. Italian made and with a bottling line. It all looks beautiful and brand new. And with the huge ceiling and the light it shines.

Here are the Brouwdok beers (meaning Brewdock) brewed. But not every bottle and keg that leaves the brewery has a Brouwdok label. He also makes beer for others because this is unfortunately still needed. Good as a source of income, but it also means making beer for local breweries that sell it to bars and shops where his beer would fit as well. Because the beer is good. No brewing mistakes, nice and clean with good flavors.

The brewing side of Brouwdok really is a one man operation. He often does everything himself, including the bottling which I know from experience is better done with two or more people. He has one companion who takes care of the sales.

These beers that he does make are for the local market. And the local market is not as adventurous as the more populous Western part of the country. They love their blondes and triples here, so this is what he usually makes. There is no national distribution yet on any large scale. You can get the beers in Friesland and some other parts of the north but that is about it.

Name

The name might lead to a little confusion though and could turn out to be a slight problem in the future. The name was chosen because there was a big change they could move into the nearby Entrepotdok, the building used by customs to get goods into the country. This didn’t pan out however though they are still close to the sea. Another problem is that the new Brouwdok in Dutch sounds very much like Brewdog.

Tasting

If you don’t want to trek through all of Friesland to search for Brouwdok beers I suggest visiting the brewpub that is next to the brewery. Beautiful, wooden and light with direct access to the water. There are tables, couches to fall asleep on and a dog.  This is the real winner with all the beautiful views and most of all good beer. Tasting paddle is possible and the best way to sample the many taps of goodness. Of the beers that I have tried the Baltic porter and a smoked beer were my favorites.

It might take a while for Friesland to catch up but BrouwDok has the most exciting beers in Friesland that are made by a brewer himself. That alone should be worth the trip to Harlingen, the tasting room with amazing view is just a great extra.

Website of Het Brouwdok

Hardcore UFO

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 lately.

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 UFO!

a magnificent Central Waters stout

It’s the Data Stupid!

You can get anything you want online these days. What started with books, CD’s and clothing turned into online stores selling everything. You really don’t need to leave the house anymore for your needs. Beer is no different. Across Europe multiple shops have started sending beer through the mail. Saveur Bière (Hopt.nl here in the Netherlands) has been doing this for a while, with the help of AB InBev. And talking about these Belgian giants, they also bought UK seller BeerHawk not too long ago. It is an interesting move. Sure it brings some money into their wallet, but that is peanuts compared to one single day of selling Budweiser.

Heineken showed up a bit later to the party. Three years ago Beerwulf bursted on the online beermarket with a slick website, good customer service and a nice selection of craft beer. One that did not include the basic Heineken beers. Beerwulf has always tried to maintain a form of independence from Heineken but let’s be honest, if you can afford television commercials around football games you know where the money comes from. From the outside they appear to be completely independent from Heineken. Or as two people who started it says in this rather baffling interview: it is 100% funded by Heineken, but other than that the cords are cut.

They then go to say that they offer more beers from different breweries to maintain credibility. Even more striking is the line “there are two disruptions Heineken wants to play a role in: the digital revolution and the craft beer revolution”. So if they practice what they preach shouldn’t it be Beerwulf that wants this instead of Heineken? No strings attached right?

But why are AB InBev and Heineken interested in these companies? If you can afford expensive commercials with celebrities and sponsor the biggest sporting leagues in the world why do this?

The answer likely is not that different from AB InBev interest, and now 100% ownership of, RateBeer.

What is the 21st century most important economic commodity:

DATA

There was a job listing a while ago on the Beerwulf website where they were looking for a data engineer. The single job being to delve into the data and get the interesting information. Or as the listing says : “Attention to detail and high conscientiousness, because you’re working with our gold: all our data sources and you manage our data lake.” So that is pretty clear that you the buyer is not the gold, your data is.

Mark Schouten, co-founder, even says “They get direct feedback about their craft beers and indirectly, it gets experience on how to create an online craft beer platform, which may extend to other types of alcoholic beverages”. The ‘they’? Heineken, that company that supposedly only funds them. Strings go both ways.

All big companies deal mostly in data so they can sell their wares. Amazon, Facebook and Google may offer something different, but what makes them the size that they are is big data. Where do people live, what do they consume, how old are they and what is their income. And that is just a selection of available data points.

The more Beerwulf is being used, the more information it hands over to Heineken. Oh, this part of Friesland likes IPA’s? Let’s push Lagunitas a little more in the local cafés and shops. Everything we as consumers do can be turned into an algorithm.

The problem is that BeerWulf is a great way for brewers to sell beer, it is direct and they can maintain the prize they want for their beer as well. But they are also handing the competition valuable data about where their beer is sold.

AB InBev and Heineken have stepped up their attempts to regain the beer world. Buying stakes, or sometimes complete, breweries is one step. Getting a hold of your consumption patterns another, maybe even more substantial one.

In 1947 Heineken bought the entire address book of Maggi, a still existing company that makes a spice/herb condiment that has become synonymous with the brand name. With this data they got a complete insight into the market of groceries. This was at a time Heineken was working on entering the shops and up-and-coming supermarkets where before they only sold to cafes. 70 years later, they are doing the same thing, just in a different form.

Heineken’s Stake in Oedipus, Part of Something Larger?

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 to come.

Beerwulf

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.

Heineken Local

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.

What will Heineken’s next step be?