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Beer and the City: Brussels Beer Project sets up in Dansaert

13:52 21/01/2015

Behind an innocuous shopfront in the heart of Brussels, a few steps from the canal, a new project is taking shape. The Brussels Beer Project has moved into 188 Rue Antoine Dansaert with plans to transform it into a modern community brewery.

Fresh from a trip to Switzerland to check out the microbrewery culture in Lausanne, beer entrepreneurs and Brussels Beer Project co-founders Olivier de Brauwere and Sébastien Morvan buzz around preparing for the next day’s beer-tasting event. De Brauwere takes a break to host an impromptu tasting of their latest offering, Babeleir de Bretagne.

“It’s an oyster stout with a hint of cacao,” he explains and, sure enough, a vague salt-tinged taste of chocolate lingers on the palate.

The mix of influences that combine to create the Babeleir reflects the approach of the Brussels start-up. “We want to blend Belgian know-how with inspiration from further afield,” explains De Brauwere. “The Babeleir is inspired by oyster stouts popular in Ireland and New Zealand, and we sourced our oysters from Brittany where Sébastien grew up. We brewed a limited run of 6,000 bottles.”

Leap of faith

Native Bruxellois de Brauwere met Morvan during a study exchange programme in Canada. After working for several years – one in finance, the other in marketing – they decided to take a leap of faith and make their passion for beer their profession.

In the summer of 2013, the Brussels Beer Project was born. It was an atypical brewing venture from the outset, eschewing traditional financing in favour of the modern entrepreneur’s boon – crowdfunding.

The pair came up with a simple formula to stand out from the crowdfunding crowd– beer for life. This catchy pitch guaranteeing a dozen bottles of beer per year (for life) in exchange for a once-off payment almost seems too good to be true.

“Everybody’s a winner,” says De Brauwere. “Our customers go away with 12 beers a year and a 5% discount in the micro-brewery, and on our side, we’re happy to have people making noise about our beer and following the project.” 

Rather than clients and consumers, the Brussels Beer Project talks about a community of beer fans and a spirit of co-creation. The development of their 500-square-metre brewery in one of Brussels’ most vibrant quarters is central to that.

Brewery reborn

“This place actually used to be part of a brewery,” explains de Brauwere, gesturing to the large open room dotted with pallets and barrels. “We found out when we looked over the deeds. We think it closed in about 1914. We were already interested in the space for its location and accessibility, but knowing that it had previously housed the Bredael brewery is a nice coincidence.”

Buoyed by the success of their first wave of funding that saw 369 beer fans-cum-investors help them develop and market the beers Delta, Dark Sister and Grosse Bertha, a second crowdfunding drive is in progress to sign up a further 1,000 to their Beer For Life community.

This second phase will see them fit out the premises in Brussels with brewing equipment from Germany. This small-scale operation in the capital is on schedule to begin by July.

Just as with Delta and Grosse Bertha, the public will rate the star prototypes, and the favourites will join their expanding range to be brewed at the Anders brewery in Halen, Limburg province.

The outsourcing of the chosen Brussels Beer Project prototypes for mass brewing has earned de Brauwere and Morvan the ire of some in the beer community who insist brewing should be in-house. At the Brussels Beer Project, beer prototypes and small-scale quantities are developed at their Brussels offices, while the actual beers sold in-store are brewed in Limburg.

De Brauwere has no hard feelings towards the critics. “Everyone has choices to make,” he shrugs. “You have to do what works for you. We’ve chosen to concentrate on the creation of small batches of beer, and we’re open about working with a partner for the large-scale brewing. We’re happy with the way we’re doing things.”

With their willingness to mix it up and experiment, an inclusive approach to their customers and a knack for nifty marketing, they are on target to hit their crowdfunding goal well ahead of the mid-February deadline. As well as opening their Brussels community brewery this summer, the duo are looking forward to consolidating their distribution across Belgium in 2015, so expect to spot the eye-catching, pop art labels in a bar or beer shop near you. 

Written by Julie Kavanagh