Near the oldest church in the city, surrounded by scantily clad ladies behind redlit windows, next to a centuries old house where after the Reformation Catholics prayed in secret in the attic, is now located yet another fine Amsterdam brewery called De Prael. De Prael (meaning something like splendor) is an unusual brewery however. Besides making some nice beers, it’s also a social institution that provides jobs for people with psychiatric handicaps. This is a concept that since it’s inception in 2002 has had two spin-offs. These two, Praght and Breugem, will be discussed in the next to parts of this series. In this article we will discuss De Prael. We asked John Agricola some questions.
The beginnings of De Prael are really not much different than for any other microbrewery. Two guys, crazy about beer, decided to take their homebrewing hobby one step further and in 2002 started a brewery. But the goal was not just making beautiful beers, they also wanted to provide a place of work for people with psychiatric ailments. This idea came about because founders Fer Kok and Arno Kooy were both already employed in psychiatric care, and so the combination of the two was made. The De Prael brewery in Amsterdam developed into a workplace where people with a lengthy psychiatric handicap could work again and gain experience. This as a much more interesting and better alternative to making clothespins or wooden stools.
Providing a working space for psychiatric patients (and also for the long-term unemployed) is being done in hundreds of different institutions, ranging from simple production work or catering work to work in second hand stores where they can learn to fix machines, mend clothing or price books. Many of these project are (partially) funded by the communities, but it’s De Prael’s ambition to reach 100% self-sufficiency. De Prael is a very unique project and there are only a few other examples of similar breweries in the world that we could find. One is the Josefs Brauerei from Germany that started in 2000 and Forth Sector in Scotland.
A slightly different brewery
Handicaps range from small to bigger. This requires some adaption within the brewery. Anyone can work in any stage of the process without changing anything physically. De Prael does take into account the tempo of work, the pressure and responsibilities and the overall working atmosphere to make it the most comfortable. 43 people now work on a volunteer basis for the brewery, and several of them have since found employment elsewhere. In the brewery employees can follow courses for working in bars, restaurants and also some training while brewing. As you can imagine changing to another job is quite hard for the De Prael people, nevertheless some have reintegrated into the bar and restaurant business, work in facilitating jobs and a few into administrative jobs.
Finances and rules
Working with the patients also means that great care has to be put into keeping everything within the laws. This is one of the biggest challenges De Prael faces. Another one is their wish to become financially independent, especially in a company that combines both commercial and social goals. Though there are still some funds the brewery gets money from it’s still mostly a commercial enterprise. Being a brewery with a social background did help in some other ways because it led to the beautiful location it has in the heart of Amsterdam.
At the moment the brewery brews around a 1000 liters per week. Their beers are well worth trying, but apart from the quality of the brew their bottles have simple yet great labels. The beers are all named after famous Amsterdam schlager/folk singers like Willeke, Willy, Johnny, Andre and more. Names that won’t mean much to people outside the country but they are real heroes in Amsterdam and the rest of the country. They are for sale in the brewery itself, in most specialty beer shops in Amsterdam and also in some places in the rest of the country. If you are ever in Amsterdam, please visit their brewery and also their excellent store where besides their own beers they also sell beers from other small Dutch breweries. Their collection of books about beer is also worth seeing.
So when you drink a nice Heintje or Willeke, think of the good that De Prael is doing for a sometimes forgotten group in society. Former employees have picked up this idea and started breweries of their own, which will be addressed in future blogentries on the Dutch Beer Pages.