Disclaimer: Brussels Beer City is a media partner of the Brewers of Europe Forum. As a part of this, it will receive complementary ticket to enter the forum.
The inaugural Brewers of Europe Forum is taking place in Brussels in a little under two weeks. The Forum, a collaboration is pitching itself as a way to “[To] connect the European brewing scene and try to put a counterweight against the Americans. To shout out the message to the world: Europe is the cradle of beer!” At least, according to its organisers.
It’s going to bring the world of brewing – brewers, brewery owners, industry executives, and everyone in between – to Brussels for two days of debate and discussion about the state of the industry. To get a sense of what these people think of the beer scene today, where they see it going, and – most importantly – where they will be drinking when they are in town, I asked them.
What occupies the minds of the people behind breweries in Europe? The rise of lager, cold chains, and where to get a good glass of geuze when they hit Brussels.
First of all, you’re in Brussels for a couple of days – where and what are you going to be drinking?
“Moeder Lambic for a traditional sour and new craft beers and probably a visit to Brussels Beer Project to see how they are doing, if enough time a small visit to Cantillon.” – Michel Ordeman, Head of Church, Jopenkerk Brewery
“I am looking forward to returning to a little pub off the main square in Brussels that has Westmalle...on tap. I’ll also be looking for some of the lambics from Drie Fonteinen and I’ll be interested in what Belgium’s new craft brewers are offering. I hope my fellow brewers can recommend some good restaurants too.” – Steve Hindy, co-founder & chairman, Brooklyn Brewery
“I always like to check out Moeder Lambic and Beer Mania…I love my fresh Belgian beers, too many to be named, but there is always a good place in my heart for a “malse” lambic and of course for an Orval. What would Brasserie de la Senne or En Stoemelings be up to?” – Peter Bouckaert , co-owner & brewmaster, Purpose Brewing and Cellars
“A place in Brussels I love and love to spend time at is Humphrey restaurant. I love this place because it is tightly connected with Birra del Borgo, having hosted one of our "Chef Bizzarri" events, an experiment dedicated to beer and food combinations. Another enjoyable and entertaining place I always like to go is Poechenellekelder, a legendary place in town!” Leonardo Di Vincenzo, founder and brewmaster, Birra del Borgo
“To my embarrassment, I must admit I've never been to Brussels drinking beer... I definitely would like to visit my friends from Brussels Beer Project.” – Katharina Kurz, founder and CEO, BRLO Beer
“When I go to Brussels, I go for a good glass of Geuze Boon in one of the places where they serve it bright and at the right temperature” – Frank Boon, CEO, Brouwerij Boon
What’s the state of brewing in Europe in 2018? “We need to work on convincing more drinkers to drink craft beer"
“There's a clear split: on one side, beer as traditional product is declining, while on the other side we see an increase of innovative beers, made of experimentation and research on unique ingredients, a new idea of beer that goes beyond the (traditional) artisanal one”– Leonardo Di Vincenzo
“It’s been amazing to see European Breweries become the leaders in the world as consolidation in the industry took place. While this is an amazing achievement on its own, it also leads to a decrease in variety. It great to see that therefore there are, in most countries, seeds of craft brewing as we call it in the USA” – Peter Bouckaert
“In Germany… beer consumption in general is still falling, but craft beer is showing a promising potential, even though it probably is still way below 1% of the market. Retailers and distributors have become increasingly open to craft beer, but we still need to work on convincing more drinkers to expand to craft beer. And at the same time, bars and restaurants have to become more adventurous in adding more taps. So it's baby steps, but I am convinced we will get there eventually” – Katharina Kurz
“(The continent is) in a transformation state from old school lager oriented breweries to a mix of these traditional breweries with an up rise of smaller craft breweries” – Michel Ordeman
“We have seen more breweries in many European countries in the past years, in Italy, Spain, even Belgium. And people want these beers – the “cake“ has to be divided between more participants (as we say in Germany), (and) the trend to local beers will continue, sustainability will remain important – Susanne Hecht, beersommelière and sales director national and international, Schneider Weisse
Looking at the brewing scene in Europe, what makes you optimistic? "Craft is booming...rejuvenating beer"
“Consumers show more interest in beers, are open to try new things and are willing to pay for quality. Generally, there is higher appreciation for beer in Europe.” – Susanne Hecht
“The shift from bland flavours to bolder flavours, that appeals to a bigger (and partly new and younger) audience.” – Michel Ordeman
Export is still a boom for some countries… alcohol-free beer has developed into quaffable products, although there seems to be opportunity to branch out in different beer styles. Craft is booming in number of breweries, hopefully reinvigorating and rejuvenating beer.” – Peter Bouckaert
And reasons for pessimism around brewing in Europe in 2018? "Producers are getting more and more narrow-minded and self-referential"
“One thing I am concerned about is the reluctance of retailers and wholesalers to invest into cold storage for craft beer. If we would like to show and sell variety and creative beers, we also need to make sure that they are handled and stored in the right conditions. This is still a huge problem, at least in Germany. So beers might lose quality and flavour and disappoint customers as a result. The cold storage chains in the US are definitely a great example how you can do this in the right way.” – Katharina Kurz
“What makes me pessimistic is noticing the sharpening split between small and big producers. Small producers are getting more and more narrow-minded and self-referential, it seems they're sending the wrong message, not focusing on showing the quality and research behind their production.” – Leonardo di Vincenzo
“Europe feels old every time I come over. The speed of innovation is almost snail like compared to the USA, although alcohol free innovation has been a surprise to me.
Innovation is unnecessarily limited by tax structure in England and Scandinavia. Out of date food laws in Germany are leaving that country stuck in disgraceful beer mix innovation instead of real, make the brewer proud, beer innovation.”– Peter Bouckaert
“The protectionism of the classical lager oriented breweries that have a (too) big grip on the route to market. Therefor a lot of consumers miss out on the chance to buy and discover the broad spectrum of tastes that are available next to European lager” – Michel Ordeman
“People drink less beer and we have a shift from the on-trade to the off-trade. Both aspects might put the price for beers under pressure.” – Susanne Hecht
What trends are you looking out for at the Forum, and over the next 12 months? "IPAs, Hazy IPAs - and craft lagers"
“I think IPA is just getting started in Europe. I think that there will be more hop-forward beers that are lower in alcohol than current IPAs, and I think sours will continue to win an audience.” – Michel Ordeman
“I would love for European brewers to discover their hops again. Hops are not equal to iso-alfa-acids. Hops are the spice of hearty beers and I see some of the excess growing capability of aroma hops in the USA ending up in beautiful hoppy beers here. It is an easy first innovation, within the comfort zone of brewers. And it feels to me that the consumer is already searching for innovation beyond this, but will have to wait until brewers and distribution are ready.” – Peter Bouckaert
“We are seeing a demand for non-alcoholic beers in Europe and the USA. And we continue to develop speciality brands.”– Steve Hindy
“Well if you're in the craft beer scene, all you hear is New England IPAs/Hazy IPAs. But at least in Germany, this is still very much a niche topic. Craft lagers is definitely developing a lot at the moment, after most brewers started with Pale Ales and IPAs.” – Katharina Kurz
“Without a doubt the speedup for what concerns innovation, creating products with the ambition of being unique, having personality. And the fact that always more attention is being dedicated to sustainable production.” – Leonardo di Vincenzo
The Brewers of Europe Forum takes place in Brussels on June 7-8, at the Square Meeting Centre. Registration remains open, and details about confirmed speakers are available at: brewersforum.eu
*This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Westmalle Tripel is not available on tap, but Westmalle Dubbel is