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Traditional Belgian Brewers in uproar over proliferation of ‘fake’ brewers

Leboucq

Leboucq

Van Roy

Van Roy

Herteleer

Herteleer

A group of traditional Belgian brewers are in an

uproar over the proliferation of contract beers now being produced in a nation where beer has long been revered as

Minne

Minne

part of its national heritage. They claim consumers are being defrauded and the image of artisanal Belgian beer is being tarnished.

In a letter published by the Le Soir newspaper, the brewers group blasts contract producers as “fake brewers” and warns that “one of the last of our national treasures, is in great danger” as a result of their proliferation.

The brewers also issued a call for laws requiring beer labels to state the name of the brewery where a beer was produced and to allow only producers with brewing equipment to use the term brewery.

The Belgian brewers’ protest is similar to the complaints often aired by American craft brewers and comsumers who have made contract brewing a hot button issue

The text of the 1,200-word letter, written in French, was translated by the Belgian Beer and Food magazine. The original can be found here.

The protesting brewers, some well known, described what they called “fake” brewers as “marketing enterprises, who sell beers they have not themselves produced, while passing themselves off more or less openly as real brewers.”

The letter writers, including the owners of Brasserie de la Senne, Brasserie Cantillon, Brasserie de Bastogne, and Brouwerij De Dolle Brouwers, claimed that a new brewery opens every 15 days in Belgium, but that three-quarters of these producers are breweries only in name. They claim these new beer producers lack experience, training, or both and are supported by “splendid” websites and social media that have garnered a wealth of TV coverage and press. Some of these new brewers buy equipment, ostensibly for show, they alleged.

The letter writers said they are shocked that the contract brewers deny the notion of craft. “The world they inhabit has no need of the brewer in the traditional meaning of the word.” They said these brewers simply are about marketing.

Contract brewing, the protesters noted, is hardly a new phenomenon. “Beers with names that are familiar to the general public have been sold by fake brewers for years,” they said. But, “the situation has become more serious in recent years, with the manipulation of the consumer through the media reaching unprecedented levels.”

Indeed, Corsendonk, a brand long imported into the U.S.— currently by St. Killian Importing— hasn’t had its own brewery since 1953. Brasserie Du Bocq produces Corsendonk.

Moreover, the brewers group said, because only a few contract brewers produce so much of the new beer, the taste of Belgian beer could be standardized. The breweries who produce these contract beers “inevitably put their own stamp on everything they produce,” the letter stated, adding, “In time, the words “Made in Belgium” on a label will be stripped of all meaning, since the beer in the bottle may well have been manufactured by experts who might as well be situated anywhere on the planet, and marketed by salesmen who have turned impersonation into an economic model.”

Belgian contract brewers include Heineken owned Affligem, Verhaeghe, Abbaye du Val Dieu, Brasserie Silly and Brasserie Dupont, according to Belgium-Mapped-Out.com.

The brewers said regulators in their so-called beer paradise have done nothing to protect traditional brewers and called on politicians to enact laws requiring transparency on beer labels listing the brewery in which a beer is produced and that only businesses owning brewing equipment be allowed to use the term brewery.

Sébastien Morvan and Olivier de Brauwere of Brussels Beer Project

Sébastien Morvan and Olivier de Brauwere of Brussels Beer Project support the brewers’ legislative aims.

At least one upstart contract brewer has responded. The Brussels Beer Project, a crowd-funded brewer that currently constructing a micro-brewery, but now produces its beers are Bier Anders in Liege, said it supports the traditional brewers’ legislative aims. But, writing on its their home page, the brewery’s owners, Olivier de Brauwere and Sébastien Morvan, also said, “We do not believe that the sector is currently in ‘serious danger’, particularly not from new brewing initiatives. To the contrary, we are gladdened by the renewed energy they bring.”

The start-up brewers said they make no apologies for doing contract brewing or using crowd funding for financing or for their reliance on social media, which they described as being “a fresh, contemporary and interactive medium, on top of being free! … we are proud to convey our message about beer in a different way.“ Moreover, they said, “We create recipes inspired by Belgian tradition just as much as New World influences.”

The letter was signed by Yvan De Baets and Bernard Leboucq, Brasserie de la Senne; Jean Van Roy, Brasserie Cantillon; Catherine and Philippe Minne, Brasserie de Bastogne; Kris Herteleer, Brouwerij De Dolle Brouwers; Pierre Tilquin, Gueuzerie Tilquin; Alexandre Dumont, Brasserie Jandrain-Jandrenouille; Pierre-Alex, Marie-Noëlle and Kevin Carlier, Brasserie de Blaugies; Jef Van den Steen, Brouwerij de Glazen Toren; Pierre Jacob, Brasserie Saint-Monon, Marc-Antoine De Mees, Brasserie Brunehaut; Luc Festjens, Brouwerij Den Toetëlèr; Pierre Gobron, Brasserie Les 3 Fourquets;  Gregory Verhelst, Brasserie de Rulles; Kristof Vandenbussche, Brouwerij Fort Lapin; Laurent Agache, Brasserie de Cazeau, and  others.

Where do you stand on this issue?

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New Yorkers offer Jan. 15 toast to beer import pioneers Vanberg & Dewulf

373483_121612931339906_766731895_nDo you remember the first time you had Duvel? How about Saison Dupont, Rodenbach, Scaldis or Boon?

Without Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield we may never have had a chance to try any of these classic Belgian beers.

Back in 1982, having departed a life in Belgian where they worked as ex-pats, for the U.S., they decided to import the beers they had come to love. Their company, Vanberg & DeWulf, today continues to import Belgian beers—and from other counties, albeit with a somewhat changed portfolio of beer. They moved from Cooperstown, N.Y., to Chicago and some of the portfolio names are the same, some are gone and there are new ones, such as Lambrucha, Lambickx, and DeCam.

Wendy Littlefield

Wendy Littlefield

Their mission was to support the  independent, family-run breweries and indigenous beer styles that expressed the spirit of a country the size of Maryland that today has almost 200 breweries.

They also conceived and built Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, N.Y., which they sold to Duvel Moortgat. Moreover, they published the first edition of “The Great Beers of Belgium” by Michael Jackson and to pioneer cooking with beer education at the Culinary Institute of America and The James Beard House. For their efforts, they were the first Americans inducted into the Belgian Brewers’ Guild.

Don Feinberg

Don Feinberg

Last year, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the founding of Vanberg & Dewulf, Feinberg and Littlefield arranged a nationwide Coast2CoastToast with sanctioned bars and retailers hosting tastings. It took place Nov 15. But not in New York, which was just beginning to recover from Hurricane Sandy.  The company estimated that a third of its New York accounts suffered damage and about 20 percent of its New Jersey venues were shut.  Their New York wholesaler, Brooklyn-based Union Beer Distributors, had been flooded by the storm surge.  They postponed the New York version of Coast-to-Coast to Jan. 15.

Now, that day is at hand.

On Long Island, where I am based, Waterzooi, the Belgian-style restaurant in Garden City, has been designated an official host for the toast. There are 50 venues in and around New York City playing host. You can find the list either on this interactive map or at Union Beer’s web site.  In Manhattan, the Gingerman is offering 28  brews starting at 6 p.m.

Twitter followers can keep up with the latest on Coast-to-Coast-Toast-2 by following  #C2CT.

I certainly toast their success and wish them continued good fortune.

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Belgian Beer Café invades New York

Belgian Beer Café in Melbourne, Australia

New Yorker area denizens soon will have a trio of new places to savor Belgian beer and cuisine.

The first of these Belgian-owned restaurants, all operating under the Belgian Beer Café banner, opens soon at Newark Liberty International Airport, according to the company, though an exact date hasn’t been set. Additional units will open  early in 2013, in Manhattan and Port Chester, an executive told me .

Belgian Beer, a global chain created in 1998 by what is now Leuven, Belgian-based Anheuser-Busch InBev, operates 60 locations in a dozen countries in Europe, Australia and the Middle East. The first U.S. unit is scheduled to open next month at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, just a few weeks after the concept’s first North American unit opens in the airport at Edmonton, Alberta on Sept. 15.

The Manhattan branch, scheduled to open early in 2013 at 220 Fifth Ave., diagonally opposite Madison Square Park and close to the booming Eataly restaurant and foods complex. Port Chester will open next spring.

As many as 60 units, modeled on the classic Brussels brasserie café are planned for the U.S. within four years, according to a press release issued last year announcing the chain’s planned entry to the U.S.

Creneau International, one of Belgium’s premier interior design firms and the designer of the restaurants, owns the U.S. franchise rights to the Belgian Beer Café concept. A-B InBev owns the rights to the concept elsewhere in the world.

Belgian Beer Café logo.

To be sure, Belgian Beer Café won’t be the first Belgian-style eatery in the New York area.  In Manhattan, Belgian beers and cuisine has been offered since the 1990s by such restaurants as Petite Abielle with four locations, Markt and more recently BLX Café with two units and Brabant Belgian Brasserie. On Long Island, Waterzooi has operated in Garden City since 1998. Belgian Beer Café, however, may be the most upscale of them all with its white-jacketed wait staff.

Surprisingly, the beer offerings at the new cafés will go well beyond the A-B InBev portfolio. The beer selection at the two New York venues are expected to be similar to that of the other locations around the world — about 60 different Belgian brews, including Trappists, abbeys, ambers, fruit lambics, gueuzes, lagers, and wits. Among the brew typically carried at Belgian Beer Café are Bockor, St-Feuillien, Palm, Van Honsebrouck, Brasserie de Silly, Bosteels and Dubuisson.

Belgian beer tower at Belgian Beer Café in Australia

The Atlanta restaurant will offer five Belgian draft brews: Palm,  Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Leffe Blonde and  Leffe Dark. Bottled beers will include Delirium Tremens, Saison Dupont, Chimay Triple, Budweiser, Corona Extra and the locally brewed Sweetwater IPA.

Beer lists will vary by location due to differences in distributors.

Meanwhile, the menus will include such Belgian specialties as mussels, Flemish beef stew, steak frites, asparagus a la Flamande and sausages with stoemp.

Creneau International is seeking franchisees to open additional U.S. units. According to the U.S. operations web site, Creneau is seeking “restaurant entrepreneurs in the upper segment of the market that have a proven history of operating one or more high-quality venues.” Potential licensed franchisees are also expected to have expertise in both beer and wine. Franchises, according to the web site, can expect to spend $2.3 million per unit, which range in size from 2,000 to 5,000 square feet.

 

 

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Luc “Bobo” Van Mechelen: The face of Chimay in the United States

Chimay brand ambassador Luc “Bobo” Van Mechelen at New York City’s the Beer Authority

For many beer-loving Americans, Luc “Bobo” Van Mechelen is the face of Chimay, the celebrated Belgian Trappist beer.

It’s a cheery face, covered by a full, largely gray beard and accented by tortoise-shell eyeglasses over twinkling eyes.

Belgian by birth and wide of girth, Van Mechelen, is the U.S. brand ambassador for Chimay, the best known of seven breweries worldwide that produce Trappist beers.  Chimay’s beers are produced by the Cistercian Trappist monks at Chimay, a monastery also known as Notre-Dame de Scourmont near the French border in Belgium’s Ardennes region. Chimay was the first of the Trappists to brew commercially, according to the late Michael Jackson, a British beer writer and author of “The Great Beers of Belgium.”

Van Mechelen’s official title is special projects and regional sales manager of Manneken-Brussels Imports, the Austin, Texas-based U.S. importer of Chimay his job is to promote the brand through his travels around the U.S. Recently, he stopped by the Beer Authority in New York City to mark the brewers’ 150th anniversary.

Born in Leuven, some 20 miles east of Brussels, it seems, he says, he was born to beer. Leuven is Belgium’s uncontested beer capital. Its first breweries were established in the 15th Century, about the same time as the city’s Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, home to Belgium’s well-known brewing school. “If you wanted to be a brewer you went to Leuven,” says Van Mechelen. The city also is the world headquarters of Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest beer company.

Van Mechelen ties to beer are strong. His family owned a pub on the city’s main street for more than a century.  Before coming to the U.S. in 1979, he worked for his grandfather at the bar and also sold Lindt chocolates to pastry makers and bakeries.

As a younger man in Leuven, he got to know two American students who studied in Brussels and partied in Leuven:  Bob Leggett and Lanny Hoff. After their return to the U.S. in 1978, the two Americans established a company to import Chimay, Manneken-Brussels.

It was 1979 when Van Mechelen decided to seek his fortune in the U.S. He looked up his old friends in Austin and decided to stay. He opened a Belgian-style café and bistro called Gambrinus, which he operated until 1990, when he started working with Belgian brewer Pierre Celis (of Hoegaarden fame) on a microbrewery project in Austin. In 2000, Miller Brewing bought Celis Brewing, closed the Austin brewery and sold the brand to a Michigan brewer. Subsequently, Van Mechelen joined his friends at Manneken-Brussels and in 2005, when Chimay took complete ownership of the company he was asked to stay on.

As brand ambassador for Chimay, Van Mechelen’s life is spent largely on the road and on his feet. On average, he says he spends four days a week traveling on behalf of the importer.  He does, however, take four or five weeks off a year, occasionally returning to Belgium.

He carries a pedometer.  New York “is a hard city,” he says.  “Yesterday I walked 7½ miles. Today, I walked 6½ miles.” He complains climbing the stairs at the Beer Authority that all the walking has taken a toll on his knees, but he confesses that the problem is due to his weight.

Van Mechelen’s efforts to promote Belgian beer have resulted in his being knighted by the Chevalerie du Forquet des Brasseurs, the Belgian Brewers Union. The recognition seems well earned. Chimay has never had a down year in the U.S., even during the economic crisis of 2008-2009, Van Mechelen says.  Last year, he said, sales rose 11 percent. “We only sell 380,000 cases of Chimay in the U.S. Not bad for a monastery,” he says, noting that the figure represents a third of the brewery’s annual production.

And selling Chimay, he says, keeps him happy – and alive. “I’ve always been a salesman. Put me in an office and I’ll be dead in a week.”

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