Posts Tagged ‘heineken’

Heineken: Ruining small brewers for over a century

Recently I walked into a supermarket I had not been to for a while to see if there were new beers. Hurray for me! I took home bottles from Hawaiian brewery Kona, Guinness and Monteith from New Zealand. The Kona beer was fine, the Monteith not so much. It made me wonder why bottles from the other side of the world were shipped to supermarkets in Northwestern Europe where there is plenty of good beer to begin with. Then a little bird whispered to me… Heineken. Indeed, this brewery is owned by Heineken and as part of their Beers-of-the-world portfolio they pump even more of their stuff into our supermarkets. Unfortunately for the beer lover these beers are often bad, malty beers that bring absolutely nothing new. I cannot imagine anyone preferring beers like Monteith or Cruz Campo over any of the other beers for sale. Even Heineken itself is better I think.

It made me wonder why this space cannot be used for Dutch breweries, or least quality breweries. Surely if they can sell their beer here this will only be better for local business.

I am not advocating Dutch beer only. Recently the supermarket in my little village got bottles from breweries like Meantime and Goose Island. You cannot say that this is bad beer, and I for one was happy with the new offerings. Diversification is good for beer, more malty water isn’t.

I know that shipping containers from Australia and New Zealand is relatively cheap and not as much as burden on the environment as a plane, but I cannot imagine it being great either.

Heineken has breweries all over the world, driving out competitors and in some cases monopolizing local beer markets. In some cases like Congo even using rebels and armed militia to get things done (Dutch only). And let’s not forget their long history of racism and misogyny.

But let’s stick to what Heineken has done in the last 100 years to make work difficult for smaller brewers.

Some examples.

Heineken’s growth is the small brewer’s demise

Heineken started in downtown Amsterdam as De Hooiberg (the Haystack) but changed the name to Heineken and opened a brewery just outside the canals in the building that today is the Heineken Experience. The early history of Heineken is quite fascinating and is worth checking out.

mozac3afek-gekroonde-valkWith some good brewing knowledge and savvy business sense they expanded. Rapidly. To fortify its position in the Netherlands it opened new breweries and started buying other breweries. Not to expand their beer portfolio but simply to close the competition: if you can’t beat them: buy them and close them. Gone were famed breweries De Gekroonde Valk in Amsterdam or De Zwarte Ruiter in Maastricht. This led to (almost?) no stouts being made in this country anymore. No more special beer styles but only lager, only Heineken.

They became a worldwide monstrosity when Heineken made a really big splash when just three days after the end of Prohibition they landed on the shores of the US with Heineken beer; one of the most impressive stories in beer history. After the war most breweries were closed in the Netherlands, but Heineken kept growing and merging (with Amstel and Brand to name just two) to become a giant.

Cafes

Since the 60s they started to behave like banks. People wanting to open café’s often could not get a loan from a bank. Heineken provided this and often paid for the beertank in the basement. But, as you can imagine they weren’t too happy with beers outside of the Heineken family being sold here and they demanded a minimum of liters to be tapped of their beer. It was hard for a brewery outside of Heineken to get a tap. So there wasn’t much room, not many places to sell.

The contracts themselves… well, you could complain about it. They were hard to get rid of mostly and the bar was stuck to it for a very long time. In fact, the big Dutch brewers were deemed a cartel by the European Committee and were slapped with a E 274 million fine. Things are better these days and it is getting a lot easier to get local or unknown beer in a bar now, but the big breweries still block many smaller ones from entering the market. Sure, this is normal business and not something that happens in beer alone, but it makes for fewer choices for the consumer, and isn’t that really what we deserve?

Future

Does Heineken still buy smaller breweries to then close them? So far that hasn’t happened here yet. Only now have there been some small collaborations between big breweries and smaller, craft if you will, breweries. Duvel Moortgat and ‘t IJ and De Molen and Bavaria are two examples. The only ones so far but more is bound to happen in the coming years. Let’s just hope Heineken won’t resort to tactics from its history to obstruct the increasingly more knowledgeable beer drinker from what is good in the world. And supermarkets, give the small guys a shot. Heineken’s ads for James Bond probably cost more than the entire Dutch craft beer brewers earn. Let’s leave the bottles of mediocre beer in New Zealand and let that nice guy in Haarlem or Utrecht drive his van a few kilometers to your store.

Dutch Beer Week 2015 Festival in The Hague

The Week of Dutch Beer is a ten day national event where breweries open their doors, bars have special tasting sessions and festivals are held all over the country. A great way for the public to see how far Dutch brewing has come in the last twelve months, and if they are even a little perceptive they will see a lot has changed. It also brings reluctant beer drinkers into contact with craft beer, and this can only be a good thing.

DSC01195Festival

The beer week opened with a three day festival in the Grote Kerk in The Hague. Before the opening for the general public brewers and people working in the industry came together. Most of them stayed and this led to an interesting mix of people on the festival floor. Like last year the ticket could be bought online, so no disappointments standing in front of a full church after traveling all the way from Weert or Ter Apel. And spreading it out over three days meant opportunity enough, even though the €12,50 price tag (two coins) was a little steep. Churches are perfect for events like this like the festivals in Groningen and Alkmaar have taught us. There is usually room enough and the acoustics often fine as well. The tables in the church was set up in such a way that it never felt too crowded, though I can’t say what it was like on Saturday when it was sold out.

The floor 15 minutes after opening.

The floor 15 minutes after opening.

The big guys and the little guys

What sets this festival apart from the others is that is half festival, half trade fair for the national beer industry. It is for both selling beer to beerlovers, but also making contact with people in the industry: the designers, distributors, salesmen etc. This meant that people from Heineken and Grolsch were walking around in their 3D-suits between the craft beer fans with Rooie Dop T-shirts and Uiltje caps. Brand and Grolsch were selling their multinational mass produced beer next to the guys making beer in their own kitchen or garage. And if you like it or not, this is what the Dutch beer landscape looks like these days. Big guys at the top, a very small mid section (Jopen and a few others) and an increasingly large group at the bottom. Of course it’s the bottom group that I, and likely most readers of the blog, are interested in, but the big guys have their role and fans too. Craft beer maybe booming all over the world, over 85% of all the beer sold is still made by the Budweisers and Heinekens of this world. Tasty? Not for me, but their economic impact is too big to be ignored by craft beer fans. And their attempts to appeal to the craft beer crowd by releasing IPA’s, Pale Ales and Amber like beers should only strengthen craft beer’s claim that they make good stuff and that big brewing is getting afraid of the future.

Duits & Lauret

Duits & Lauret

The beer

A festival that has many debuts can unfortunately mean that the level of beer quality wasn’t superb. Of course as a seasoned visitor of these festivals I skip the ones I know and go for the untasted breweries or new releases by established ones. Crooked Spider and Brouwdok had decent beers, Het Kwartje from Den Haag one that was a little more than decent. They will be the before now unknown brewery I will start looking out for in the coming weeks. But hopefully some visitors were smart or lucky enough to try Bax, Kompaan, Maximus and Duits & Lauret to get a good taste of the awesome things available in the country today.