Gypsy, contract or fake brewers as they are sometimes known, clearly have a place in the current brewing scene but not everyone agrees with their presence or practices.
Jean Hummler of Moeder Lambic is one of those who certainly doesn’t agree.
During the conference he climbed upon his soapbox and provided a passionate and spirited outburst and has certainly stirred up what is already a subject of much debate.
The point that Mr Hummler was trying to get across was that the blogging community really need to tell the truth in what they write and they should almost weed out the fake brewers and shame them for their practises. He has some strong feelings about his friend Mikkeller, but by Jeans definition, the work that Mikkeller is doing and the way he is acting, he is not a brewer, he is a beer designer. Who Jean, in his own words doesn’t give a shit about.
Now that’s all well and good, but surely what’s important here is that by whatever means a beer is brewed or conceived, as long as the end result is good, what does it matter, right?
And Mikellers brewing activities have created some spectacular and also some quite intriguing beers.
I’m not going to delve too deeply into this but the views of others at the conference should be considered before you can really come to any kind of conclusion on the current industry practises.
Chris Sullivan, of Stone Brewing Berlin, spoke to me and provided a great point about the relevance of gypsy/contract brewers. He views it as a ‘way in’, or ‘foot in the door’ to brewing for the home brewer or smaller brewer. Who on their own may not have the means to set up a full blown brewing operation. It is also a way to rejuvenate old and possibly tired breweries whose production may have wained or are maybe struggling. Which he cites has been the case for some German breweries.
So by allowing gypsy/contract breweries this can have two huge benefits. One for the brewer trying to make a name for themselves and also for the older breweries who may be looking for some inspiration to continue or improve. Some, and clearly Jean Hummler, see this as a massive problem, as by the dictionary definition of a brewer and brewery they can almost be viewed as being fake.
There are other views too, such as this held by An De Ryck of Brewery De Ryck. She believes that without that fundamental and historic link between brewer and his brewery, there is no brewer. She believes that you must eat, sleep and breathe the brewery to truly be recognised as a brewer. And it is this link that is clearly missing from the whole process whilst a contract brew is taking place.
Coming away from the conference, I pondered a lot on this matter and felt as if the content I’d heard at the conference could and should be expanded on.
So on my return home I decided to talk with The Occasional Brewery, a young, local nano-brewery whose brewing capacity is checked to 100 litres.
Toby, and Fin the head brewer, shared these thoughts, over a beer of course.
We started our operations by expanding on our home brewing, we stepped up from brewing as a hobby and made it into our business. As a small brewery we see contract brewing as a great way to further expand operations and make beer available to a bigger audience. It’s a good way to grow a business without so much of the initial financial outlay, which can offer a little more security too.
By remaining relatively small, we have a lot of freedom when it comes to making decisions about what we brew; which is something that you don’t necessarily see in the larger commercial breweries.
But you also have to remember that commercial brewers are all out to make money, it’s their business, and the beer is just a product of that. All business has to be profitable for it to remain viable, and if that requires the services of another business, well that’s just life. You’ll encounter contracting and sub-contracting in all types of business, the world would be a very different place without it.
Mikkeller has clearly found a gap in the market and by being a good entrepreneur and businessman he is taking full advantage of it. He is also feeding his knowledge and experience directly back into the beer market for others to experience first hand.
We as brewers, and also the consumer can learn a lot from what he is doing. He’s not stuck with any kind of tradition or fallen into a specific category, and he’s been very successful in the process. He’s just gone about his business, giving the bird to everyone else and just carried on in a way he’s sees fit.
The man should be respected for this.