Saturday, 3 January 2015

Can you taste the contract?

An article published in the Wall Street Journal yesterday re-ignited an ongoing debate in Belgium about the legitimacy of contract brewing, which had previously come to a head when Brasserie de la Senne's Yvan de Baetes penned this open letter on behalf of a number of Belgian breweries. The letter raises concerns that "Belgian beer, supposedly one of the last of our national treasures, is in great danger. A number of businesses, which seem to have purely commercial interests, are placing its reputation in serious jeopardy".  It expands by highlighting the rise in "fake brewers" who "sell beers they have not themselves produced". 

The concerns of this group seem to be two fold. Firstly, contract brewing is not a legitimate form of brewing and its very existence is threatening their business and secondly, consumers are being misled about the origins of these contract brewed beers.

On the second point, I share that concern. We've seen it here in the UK too, with new 'breweries' popping up offering the market the latest and greatest thing in beer against a back drop of occasionally misleading shiny marketing. For me, transparency is key here and I would support any legislation that means the origins of these products must be displayed on the packaging and marketing material. In most cases, I don't see any intent to deceive however and savvy consumers will always ask those difficult questions when there's a suspected lack of transparency.

#twattybeerdoodle copyright @broadfordbrewer

The first point is one I think they'll have to get over. Contract brewing isn't going away. If someone comes along with a great recipe and pays a brewery to produce the beer (completely transparently) and that product ends up being better and selling more than a 'legitimate' beer, well, good luck to them. As long as they're not deceiving the consumer as to the origin, I've no issue with that. Contract brewers have issues of their own to think about, not least logistics, product margins and pricing.

It's a free market and the consumer will ultimately decide what they want to drink, hopefully when presented with a transparent, fairly packaged product. Beyond that, resting on centuries of tradition or kicking up a fuss to call the legitimacy of contract brewing into question isn't going to maintain your market share; innovation is. Whether that's innovation in the product or marketing of that product, it's up to you to protect your business against this threat.

2 comments:

  1. Marston's contact brew American Pale Ale for Shipyard in Wolverhampton & it's the best beer they make by a mile. They don't hide the fact that it's contact brewed, so I must agree with you.
    My pint would be more expensive & more difficult to find if it wasn't contract brewed.
    Dave Morton
    www.dmonbeer.co.uk

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