by Rick Kempen Beer Sommelier at Het Bierplein
Developments in beer: nearly 500 Dutch brewers in 2017What do brewers think of the growing number of breweries?
According to the latest count of the Stichting Erfgoed Nederlandse Biercultuur [Dutch Beer Culture Heritage Foundation], the Netherlands currently has 482 breweries. By comparison, in 1980 there were just 18! In 2000 we counted 66 and only in 2008 did we surpass 100. From 2013, the growth was astronomical: by the end of that year, the Netherlands had a little over 200 breweries and four years later, that number has doubled.
It’s a well-known fact that not all breweries have their own kettles: they rent from third parties and are known as brewery tenants. They make up more than half of the total, which can only be a good thing. The likelihood of all 482 breweries still existing in five years is probably around 40%; the likelihood of being able to acquire a relatively inexpensive second-hand brewing installation is higher. But more interesting is how brewers are looking to colleagues who aren’t manning the kettles themselves. Emotions can run high on this topic, with opinions roughly divided into two sentiments: those who see brewery tenants as respected colleagues, and those who have few good things to say about them.
Starting a brewery requires capital: count on anything from a few thousand to several million if you want a decent brewery of any size. Not everyone can raise that sort of cash. Add to this the fact that few breweries can reach their full production capacity and it no longer seems unthinkable to test the water before you find yourself burdened with debt. Respected brewers, such as Michel Ordeman from Jopen, once began as brewery tenants.
Owning versus renting kettles
Brewers see colleagues who start slowly and utilise others’ overcapacity as respected colleagues. They know how risky it is to start a business with your own hardware and they’re conscious of unused brewing space. They see the potential advantages of the interaction between tenant and brewer: they can learn from one another. And in any case, not everyone wants to become a full-time brewer. But there are also those who see it quite differently.
Some see brewery tenants as cowards who aren’t brave enough to take on the investment. If you haven’t learned to brew with your own kettles and vats, if you don’t know how great the impact of the installation on the end result is- then in their eyes you’re like an athlete on the Wii or the Playstation. Especially if you come up with bold recipes using daring ingredients with a result that isn’t balanced, many brewers with their own kettles will conclude that you’re not really playing the sport and therefore shouldn’t interfere with the rules of the game.
Quality is the deciding factor
There’s a lot to be said for both arguments. I’m still undecided: it’s tough to balance the benefits of utilising optimal capacity with total control and investment. I do understand the frustration of brewers with their own businesses and kettles towards their kettle-free colleagues who behave in a ‘look at me’ sort of way. But ultimately, quality is the decisive factor. You, the consumer, are responsible for deciding the outcome of the ‘brother’s battle’. I wish you wisdom in the task!