Tools of the trade
Taking a look under the hood of this well oiled machine, we consider where Moersleutel has come from, and how that shapes where it’s going
Saturday 16 December 2023
This article is from
Beers of the World
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The UK’s craft beer scene is no stranger to Moersleutel; if you haven’t seen the name in bottleshops, or on tap at your local craft beer bar, there’s a chance your favourite brewery has collaborated with them, and might even be using a packaging line that the Zomerdijk brothers helped to design. The brewery is prolific and well distributed, but it’s the skills and experience of the brewery’s founding members – four brothers, all engineers – that has earned Moersleutel its place in the beer geek hall of fame. While the relationship between Pim, Tom, Rob and Max Zomerdijk will always be the engine that powers the brewery, so many more elements of the culture and economy that surrounds it, informs the direction that Moersleutel moves in.
“I think one thing that really formed our brewery is the whole mindset of the four brothers and the family that started it, it's just a very Dutch mentality,” says Fenna Min, Moersleutel’s marketing manager. “It’s always practical, and solution focused, and having an engineering background, the brothers know they can use that knowledge to figure things out, and make things work. Their drive and enthusiasm ignites a drive in other people too, but it’s in a very down to earth way, which I think is quite a Dutch thing.”
This is not the only aspect of culture in The Netherlands that Moersleutel has assimilated to its benefit. “What’s interesting about the Dutch beer market instead of, for example, the Belgian one, or the German one, is that although we have a rich beer drinking history, we don't really have a type of beer that's really our own,” says Fenna. “As a result we’re open to quite a lot, even really strange styles. I guess it’s thanks to this openness that craft beer is quickly getting much bigger in the Netherlands.”
In the face of craft beer’s most recent spike in popularity in Holland, Fenna says that Moersleutel welcomed the opportunity to fill supermarket listings, as it promised an introduction to new drinkers. The brewery’s one reservation? Supermarket listings should never get in the way of Moersleutel’s connection to the “beer geek” community; that is to say, the mega-fans of big, bold beer who enthusiastically supported Moersleutel through its infancy, and set it on the path to the reputation it has today.
There is a particularly satisfying circularity to Moersleutel’s growth now, taking the form of retail listings, given that life for the brewery didn’t start in bars – like most nascent breweries – but bottle shops, the church of the beer geek. This trajectory is unusual because the costly infrastructure that’s required to can and bottle well makes keg an easier format for breweries still finding their feet. That said, accessing canning technology isn’t a problem when you can build your own.
Moersleutel’s sister company, Zomerdijk Engineering, is also run by the Zomerdijk brothers and specialises in making brewery equipment, and packaging technology in particular. Fenna says that currently, Zomerdijk and Moersleutel operate out of separate locations, but the hope is that in the next couple of years a new site will have the capacity to host both under the same roof.
When we last visited Moersleutel in Almaar, The Netherlands, about a year and a half ago, there were whispers of a new brewery being commissioned, but it was too early to share the news. Today, Fenna says that whether or not plans for a new brewery work out, “it’s a part of our vision, and we’re happy for people to know that we’re planning for the future.
“We're an independent, family-owned brewery, and want to stay that way for as long as possible, so we’re slowly working on how to organise the finances required for a new brewery, but in the meantime have plenty to work on. In our current facility, we’re still working out how to maximise space and efficiency, and work comfortably at maximum capacity which right now is 9000 hectolitres.”
Zomerdijk Engineering is also at an interesting point in its journey. From its outset, the company has worked primarily with microbreweries, and has focused on attachments, add-ons and enhancements to packaging lines that range from simple to sophisticated, but are uniformly small. In this way, Zomerdijk has been working to make the greatest impact to the smallest breweries at the lowest cost.
Fenna says that while growth for this side of the business remains steady, the team is aware that this market is rapidly approaching saturation, with older breweries getting bigger and graduating to more advanced packaging lines, and equipment for smaller breweries being accessible enough that most places now have the machinery they need. She says, could take Zomerdijk in one of two directions: develop equipment for other parts of the brewing process, or keep its focusing on canning but expand beyond the beer industry.
In the case of the latter, Fenna says that while Zomerdijk’s equipment is suitable for use outside the beer industry – so expanding its client base is an option – breweries continue to approach the company with cases that the brothers find too interesting to ignore. As long as there are problems, Zomerdijk will look for solutions, and use its findings to make machines that meet the challenges and demands of the day.
“We just look at people’s problems from all angles. Where a bigger machinery company might just say, ‘okay, we have this machine, does it fit your needs?’ we’ll say ‘let’s look at your problem, take some time, and consider all the ways we could make that efficient. Maybe there’s not a solution that we can even give you, but we’ll at least give you some advice on how to make your packaging or production better’. I think that’s something that companies really appreciate about our way of working.”
Insofar as machines specialising in other areas of the brewing process are concerned, Fenna keeps her cards a little closer to her chest. “We’re always working on different machines and efficiencies, and Moersleutel is the playground for those. The brothers are always testing things out there.”
Machines aside, another aspect of brewing technology that the team has been preoccupied with recently is thiolised yeasts, that is to say, yeast strains (often used in the wine industry) that have been bred to enhance the biotransformation that happens during the brewing process to release more flavour and aroma compounds from the hops and grain used.
“As Moersleutel, we just really want our beers to have as much flavour as possible, so with this small discovery we can really add to beers that we’ve already worked really hard to refine, and make them even better. That really embodies our way of working, which seeks to make every beer a bit better, so you can enjoy life just a little bit more every day,” concludes Fenna.
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