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
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.
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?