If I had a spanner
Richard Croasdale meets the Dutch brewery whose dedication to doing its own thing has made it an icon
Saturday 04 July 2020
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It’s surprisingly rare to find a craft brewery that will acknowledge that its beer isn’t for everyone, let alone make it a marketing point. Yet, considering De Moersleutel’s launch beer was a blended imperial stout, it’s already clear we’re dealing with a pretty rare craft brewery. “Why would you do that,” I ask co-founder Pim Zomerdijk, perhaps a little rudely. “Were you trying to make a big splash with a challenging, unfamiliar beer?” “No,” replies Pim in his usual measured tone, “it’s just what we felt like brewing.”
Fundamentally, De Moersleutel has built its considerable success on unselfconsciously ploughing its own furrow, seemingly without expectations or heed for what its potential customers might want to drink. It’s the kind of self-belief that has propelled the brewery from hobby to one of the most respected names in Dutch craft; in fact, it’s probably not too controversial to say that, alongside De Molen, De Moersleutel has contributed the most to driving the nation’s beery evolution.
“I don’t see anything wrong with brewing crowd-pleasers, and a lot of really good Dutch craft brewers do have great Trippels, for example. Those just aren’t the styles we’d choose to drink, so we’ve never been interested brewing them. It was never part of some great strategy; we’ve always just brewed what we wanted, and if enough people enjoyed it then we’ve brewed more.”
Another unusual thing: the brewery was founded by four brothers (who look eerily similar), from a family of brilliant brewer/engineers. In a sense, Pim is the black sheep of the quartet in the sense that he studied business, whereas his siblings – Tom, Rob and Max – are all mechanical engineers. Perhaps less surprisingly then, De Moersleutel means “the wrench”.
“It’s certainly interesting working with family, but there are definitely more positives for us I think,” says Pim. “The answer is that everyone has their own role, so we’re not all treading on each other. And it means we can have far more… honest conversations with each other than we could have outside the family, because we know it will be okay after.”
The brewery started out while the brothers were still studying, and originally consisted of a single fermentation vessel in a back room of their father’s brewery. On their free evenings and weekends, they would brew on the commercial kit and fill the fermenter one batch at a time. Gradually, extra fermentation vessels were added, then a brewkit, followed by a larger brewkit, and eventually the move to its own dedicated site.
Even as De Moersleutel has grown though, its ethos doesn’t seem to have been compromised at all. Even the big business decisions have been driven by the need to brew beer the brothers could be completely happy with, as Pim explains: “We started off with a manual hand bottling line, which was a real pain in the ass and caused us a lot of problems with oxidation, so we had to stop brewing IPAs for a while, until we’d got a canning line set up.
We’re still best known for our imperial dark beers and barrel ageing
“We’re still best known for our imperial dark beers and barrel ageing, though we’ve also been doing a lot of big, punchy IPAs. Kettle sours were next – we’re doing a lot of those. We generally try to really nail one broad category of beer, rather than just going out with 100 styles right from the start. The response to our kettle sours has been great; again, it’s something where you can really pack in a lot of flavour and make something that’s quite distinctive.”
The brothers’ father, who was so supportive in getting them set up, is still very hands-on, and drops into the brewery most days after his own work finishes, to lend a hand and share a drink. “He really has played such an important part in this – such a clever guy,” says Pim. “He’s probably a better engineer than any of us!”
We’re thrilled to have De Moersleutel in the box this month, not only as a pioneer of the Dutch scene, but also as a brewery that truly embodies the values of authenticity and faith in their customers’ good taste.
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