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Josh Oakes Interviews Jos Brouwer
Jos Brouwer, head of PINT
November 14, 2002
Written by Oakes
In many European countries, beer consumer advocacy groups have sprung up in response to big brewery dominance. While this seems a different approach to the American industry-driven advocacy, it has certainly met with a fair degree of success. The best known of these groups in CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) in the UK, but there are other old-established ones as well - OBP (Objective Bier Proevers) in Belgium and PINT in the Netherlands. I have secured an interview with a man I met in London at the GBBF, the president of PINT, Mr. Jos Brouwer.
JO: Thank you for agreeing to take some time to explain the beer consumerismmovement to our audience and touch upon some of the differences between theEuropean and North American approaches to beer advocacy.
First things first - A lot of our members are unfamiliar with organizations such as PINT andEBCU (European Beer Consumers Union). Can you explain a little bit about the nature of these organizations? What is the mission of these organizations? What type of activities do theyundertake?
JB: Well, the nature of the organizations is to protect the interests of the discerning beer drinkers. The reason that PINT exists is that at the time the organization was founded, there were some 18 breweries in the Netherlands, and they only produced a pilsener style beer. Few of them also had a bock beer, but that was only a very marginal niche product at the time. That was about what was available/produced in the Netherlands as far as beer was concerned. Even the Dutch Trappist brewery produced mainly pilsener style, it was contract brewing for Interbrew at the time.Many beer drinkers however spend now and then a weekend in Belgium, where there was far much choice beerwise.
There was very little import in the Netherlands, and many of the beer cafés (pubs if you prefer) were not allowed to sell anything from other sources than the brewery they were tied to (via loans, supply contracts etc).
In 1980, when PINT was founded by a group of beer fanatics, things started to change a bit. By the noise that was made, but also by a change in culture (publicans became more and more interested, and even one or two new breweries started new), the beer culture gradually got into an incline. Starting with an annual Bockbeer Festival, that caused most brewers to consider also to start and launch their own bockbeer, followed by increasing imports from Belgium, where the ties became a bit more liberal under the pressure of the consumers organizations and the publicans. New breweries started up, producing (for the Netherlands) new beer styles, and the "old" traditional breweries followed suit - seeing the success of the new beers - and started their own line of beer specialties (sometimes successful, most of the time rather bland varietions of the brews from the small breweries).
What PINT is trying to do, is give the information on beer culture in the Netherlands a proper coverage, independent from marketing accounts of the big breweries. We also try to improve the information that is provided on beers, i.e. give proper information about ingredients, the actual brewery where a beer is produced (some breweries produce dozens of private labels/supermarket brands, and the consumer is sometimes completely ignorant about where the beer is coming from) and other vital information.
Sometimes this can be done on national level, but more and more the legislation is proposed on European level, that is where EBCU came into view. In 1990, three organizations, CAMRA from the United Kingdom, Objectiever Bierproevers (OBP) from Belgium and PINT from Netherlands got together and decided to start a cooperation, that is at present known as EBCU, European Beer Consumers Union.
EBCU now is a platform for exchanging information between the various organizations, about methods of campaigning, legislation, promotional activities etc. EBU also organizes regular receptions at the European Parliament in Brussels, that are becoming more and more significant.
JO: In Europe, a lot of beer lovers seem (at least to my eyes) to concernthemselves with the activities of large brewers, with regards toconsolidations, abusing their size to limit choice and things of thatnature. In North America, the biggest focus of beer lovers is to celebratethe smaller brewers and not worry so much about what the big guys are upto. With Heineken and Interbrew in your backyard, does the Americanapproach seem practical in Europe? Is it more productive for you, as anadvocate for beer lovers, to look at the beer business as a singular entityor to approach "craft beer" as a distinct segment that operates withrelative independence from the actions of the big guys?
JB: With the big guys like Carlsberg, Heineken and Interbrew controlling what is available in pubs and supermarkets, there is probably still a lot difference in approach. Don’t forget that the scale is a bit different as well: what is regarded in North America as a micro brewery (up to annual production of some 80.000 hl) is in the Netherlands or Belgium a big regional brewery. Most of the breweries in the Benelux are quite small, and can’t afford to go to a festival all weekends.
JO: In the English-speaking world, we have alcopops, and I know in Germanyyoung people drink all manner of radlers and beer mixed drinks - in thissad trend afflicting the Low Countries as well? If it is, what do you thinklovers of real beer can do to turn people away from these marketing-drivenconfections and back towards artisanal products?
JB: Yes, alcopops are rather popular in the Netherlands, and also beer mix drinks are more often seen nowadays, however not so much as in Germany.What real beer lovers should do is stick to their taste, not giving in to those horrible sweet products, and support breweries that dare to produce beers with a bite, with b*ll*cks, with real character, with a decent hop taste and aroma.
It is however a tendency that literally everything gets sweeter. I blame it also on the big American soft drinks industry, who with their sickly sweet products spoil the taste of the youth.Some of the Belgian formerly traditional lambic breweries do survive however producing chemically fruity sweet beers. They used to produce a decent geuze or kriek, but that is long ago.
JO: Many of our members have limited experience with the Netherlands - oftenonly Amsterdam. The impression is that while some Belgian ales likeWestmalle are very easy to find, it is often hard to find beers from smallDutch brewers. Is the situation different in other parts of the country?Who are some of the small Dutch brewers that visitors should look out for?
JB: Similar, often even more difficult. There is a good pub in Amsterdam, specializing in (only) Dutch beers, ’t Arendsnest at 90 Herengracht.Look out for beers from Maximiliaan, ’t IJ, Jopen (although that is contract brewed in Belgium), Scheldebrouwerij, SNAB (although also contract brewed in Belgium), Tesselse, Friesche. Sometimes you have to go to the brewery tap to get the beers, as they (being home brew pubs) only produce for their own outlet. Try De Hemel (in Nijmegen), Oudaen (Utrecht), Heren van Beeck (Beek), Burg Bier (Ermelo, the smallest brewery in the Netherlands). I probably forgot some, you can never be comprehensive. I have not checked yet, but I think that the new microbrewery/home brew pub Oirschotse Bierbrouwerij in Oirschot could be able to produce a very decent beer.
JO: Once again, Jos, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Ithink when the tide of market forces turns against good beer here in NorthAmerica, we will need the advice of experienced advocacy groups from acrossEurope, so your insight is most appreciated.
JB: Well, it lasted a bit, my apologies that it took some time before I could make some time to answer the questions. If you want some more info on some details, don’t hesitate to contact me. This week however, I’ll be off for a week to another beer mecca: Bamberg.
<a hrefhttp://www.pint.nl>PINT Website
PINT is founding member of EBCU
<a hrefhttp://www.pint.nl/pint/ebcu.htm>PINT’s ECBU site
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What PINT is trying to do, is give ... beer culture in the Netherlands proper coverage...
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