Brand-builders who get their beer brewed under contract, but pose as breweries, came under attack in Belgium this week with the publication of an open letter from brewers in the newspaper Le Soir. Thanks to Belgianbeerandfood.com there is also an English translation.
The brewers, including those from such heavyweight enterprises as Brasseries de la Senne, De Dolle Brouwers and Cantillon, pull no punches.
Contract brewing has always taken place, and there is nothing wrong with it in principle. But recently, say the brewers, “the manipulation of the consumer through the media [has reached] unprecedented levels. This should be considered a fraud on the consumer … our industry is beginning to attract a great many impostors who cynically exploit the credulity of the public to make a profit.”
The person who actually makes the beer is reduced to the status of a labourer, while the brand owner poses as the creative “craft brewer”. I’m sure we can all think of plenty of examples of this from countries outside Belgium.
Now much of this stuff is actually not aimed at the type of trendy fake brewers who nowadays like to call themselves “gypsy brewers”; it’s directed at a group of beer sellers who’ve been around much longer: the marketers of the piss-poor sugary blonde and brown beers and beer-based alcopops that infest the Belgian beer market. They don’t make it into export markets very often because, well, they’re not good enough, but buy a selection of unfamiliar beers in a Belgian shop and you’re quite likely to hit upon one or more of these, especially if it doesn’t say on the label where it’s actually brewed.
Tim Webb has been moaning about this sort of thing for years, so in a way it’s quite surprising that it’s taken the brewers so long to speak out about the damage they see being done to the image of Belgian beer.
The brewers demand that there should be some sort of protection so that not just anyone can call him or herself a brewer or claim their company is a brewery. More concretely, they insist on transparency as a minimum: that every bottle of beer should state exactly where the beer is made, however fanciful the rest of the label is. That seems fair enough to me.
It’ll be interesting to see whether beer geeks in the rest of the world pay any attention to the opinions of the brewers they claim to revere so much.