Just before I was ready to post this story, the website Business Insider published an article with the best brewery in every province. There were some surprises (the excellent Tommie Sjef for North-Holland for example. Great beers but not widely known) and some not so surprising outcomes like Bax, Oersoep and De Molen. The ‘winner’ for Utrecht turned out to be a surprise as well: SpierBier from Mijdrecht. Significant because it was according to Untappd ratings, not some editor naming his favorites. For Richard Spierdijk and Gilbert Janmaat a sign that they are making beer liked by many. But it also brings challenges for the future.
In August I finally went to the brewery to witness a brewing session first. The word brewery is making it more impressive than it seems, because it is nothing more than some equipment in a bike shed in the garden. This was my second visit to his house. The first was when they inaugurated a new tap to use at festivals. The brewing then was still done in his kitchen. And it is this setup that once again showed me the grassroots of the beer revolution. This is where everyone starts.
Richard and Gilbert could have decided to brew somewhere else, but they like to keep as much as possible in their own hands. It is this dedication, perfection and do-it-yourself attitude that makes SpierBier’s story similar to, but not exactly like, that of other brewers.
Another American influence
It was on a business trip to the US when Richard saw someone brew tasty beer at home and he thought: I want to do that. For his birthday he asked friends and family for all the ingredients he needed to brew. It was the spark that lit a fire that is still growing. Experimentation led to experience and this experience and deep interest in brewing led to a job at De Schans in neigboring Uithoorn. Work here lasted only a few months. It didn’t pan out exactly like he hoped but he says now he learned a lot there. Both how to do things and how not to, especially on the business side of being a brewer. As part of the deal he wasn’t allowed to brew on his own for a while, but after that period was over he immediately started SpierBier with friend Gilbert Janmaat.
Both have different working backgrounds. Richard is a computer programmer, Gilbert is a contractor who can make anything. The combination of these two skills had led to some interesting inventions. Even in the little shed/brewery there are computer parts regulating temperature for example. Programmed by Richard and put in equipment designed and built by Gilbert. Richard showed me a wooden apparatus Gilbert made to easily label bottles. I won’t describe or show it, he should see if he can patent it, it’s a joy to behold. The use of technology also makes sure the beer they make is relatively constant. Something not every brewer can claim.
It is a good match, and is saves money. Small things that someone else would have to do in most cases they can build or fix themselves.
Living Room / brewery
When Richard and Gilbert first started it they brewed in the kitchen. Everything, including the storing of bottles, was done in the living room. Even now parts of it are used for this purpose. A large stack of boxes stands behind the couch, and the fermentation takes places next to the television.
The brewing has now moved outside of the house, freeing up some space in the living room and kitchen. From the shed hoses run upstairs to the bathroom or to the drain in the garden that couldn’t be better placed.
Some things just work out that way. A little luck with the situation of a shed and access points go a long way in helping him brew at home instead of somewhere else, although that has never really been an option. If the house was set up a little different or was somewhat smaller, the history of SpierBier would have followed another path.
From shed to ?
Every Friday night, and sometimes during the weekend, they brew. SpierBier’s beers are classic like a blonde, tripel and a wit. The most far out beer so far, and my personal favorite, is an excellent barrel aged Baltic Porter called ShakeSpier. Yes, the beers too have Spier in the name.
So far the only money they used is what they made with the sale of their beer. No outside investment, no savings or anything. Every euro spent was made through someone buying a bottle of SpierBier. It’s a save business model, but one that takes time and it makes the next step harder. He is not taking risks that can put them, and their families, in jeopardy. Every potential next step has been thought through and the math has been done to see if it possible. Their goal is a simple one too. Because they already have pretty good paying jobs, they want to be able to make as much from brewing now as they do from the jobs they currently have. Calculations show this is possible.
In order to fulfill that dream the next step is their own brewery. They have been looking around for a good location but so far no luck yet. Richard is hard at work scouting for a new location for the brewery. Doesn’t have to be a huge one, but a good one. And he wants to stop brewing at home. His family has supported him all they can, but now it has to end. Richard even goes as far as saying that if there isn’t a new location before winter ends, the history of SpierBier will come to an unfortunate early end. It is also the only way to keep the costs low, as brewing somewhere else brings risk and is something they don’t want to do. It costs more and you don’t have full hands on the product. Something they are adamant about.
It’s getting serious
Earlier this year they sent their tripel ‘SpierKracht’ to the world beer awards competition in Philadelphia. They didn’t win anything but the jury report was positive. They did think, or is it dream, about what to do if they did end up winning. With the Business Insider distinction they are facing that problem now and they are now aggressively looking for a new place so they can brew more to keep up with the demand. I was in the local bottle shop last Friday and most of the bottles were already gone. People here like SpierBier, so if anyone from Mijdrecht is reading this, help them out, they will enrich the community. And if all goes well the rest of the country might be to. Things are evolving fast so keep checking the blog!