OHIM: A Yellow Canary with a Red Star

Rotterdam is a beautiful city – no joking – and just got better with the opening of two brew pubs: THOMS Stadsbrouwerij and De Gele Kanarie (The Yellow Canary). As you may know I am a firm believer of this concept: in this day and age, local, accessible and small-scale businesses are a big thing with consumers in general, and beer lovers in particular, They stand for minimized carbon footprint, whereas experience is maximised. As it turns out, one of these new Rotterdam brew pubs is also one of the answers Heineken has to the challenges of the beer revolution: beer bar De Gele Kanarie has a brewery in the basement named Hooiberg Brewery. So, what’s brewing?

The Yellow Canary in a glass

De Gele Kanarie
Just outside the city centre owners Ron de Jong en Dave Heijnen (no strangers: their bars Bokaal and Weena are beery hotspots in Rotterdam) opened the place some months ago. ‘Yellow canary’ is a Rotterdam expression for a glass of lager, and this bar has a clear connection with Heineken. Almost all beers on tap come from Heineken-owned breweries like  Paulaner, Brand, Affligem and Lagunitas. The choice on bottles is more varied, but the big surprise houses in the basement: a 500 liter brewkit and some six fermentation and lager tanks, named Hooiberg Brewery. Here the De Gele Kanarie team brews a beer with the same name, a hoppy blond, available on draft.

The brewery in the basement

Hooiberg Brewery
So, why is this one of Heineken’s answers to the challenges of the beer revolution? The concept seems to be a pilot to evolve into a chain of comparable brew pubs elsewehere. Heineken’s connection is unmistakable:

  • The name Hooiberg Brewery is one massive wink to the brewery with which Heineken’s story started, the Hooijberg brouwerij in Amsterdam, now known as Die Port van Cleve on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal.
  • In the brewery, visible via a glass floor in the the bar, one reads: “Hooiberg Brewery is making barowners’ dreams come true”
  • The brewers of De Gele Kanarie are being trained and assisted by brewers from Heineken’s nearby Zoeterwoude brewery – and some of them are big names.
  • Kegs clearly marked with a Heineken sticker

    De Gele Kanarie racks kegs of 19.5 liter, clearly marked with stickers printed by  Heineken.

Mind you: Heineken doesn’t own or run the bar, it acts as facilitator. Co-owner Ron De Jong paints a picture of this being the start of the opportunity for entrepreneurs across Europe to start a brew pub with the support of the world’s second largest brewery group.

Craft Acceleration
So, why would Heineken be involved here? According to external communications manager Paul Weber “the Dutch beer world has seen a beautiful revolution in the past decade”. More breweries, new flavors, brands and experiences. “It is Heinekens mission to make this beer landscape more known and wider, not only for the craft beer drinker, but for every beer drinker. Therefore ‘Craft Acceleration’ (working title) was started: owned by Heineken, but a separate entity focussed on locally produced craft beer.” Craft Acceleration: you won’t find much about it on the internet, but seems a similar operation as Beerwulf: a seperate entity, fully owned by Heineken.

Paul, whom I send a laundry list of questions on De Gele Kanarie, replied with a ‘general reply’ – the above was cited from it. He gave more details: “We help entrepreneurs with buying and installing a brewery, conceiving and brewing new, tasty recipes and with the sales and distribution of their beers. <…> The entrepreneur is responsible for the brewing process and quality of the beer. Together we will and make the brand successful. Thus we make not only our dream come true, but also that of the entrepreneurs who have a unique concept and a unique brand.” More on Craft Acceleration, and the relationship Heineken eventually has with these entrepreneurs with such a concept, can be found below this blog.

Why would Heineken do this?
Heineken is helping bar owners’ dreams come true. But why, and why in this form? Well: the concept fits all of today’s needs: a locally focussed brew pub. More importantly: it seems to me to be an excellent experimental garden, because you can bet on it Heineken is keeping many eyes on what’s happening. I couldn’t imagine them to hardly hide their name being attached to it without having any direct control on quality, and perhaps even recipes – although the ‘general reply’ claims otherwise.

The tap shields speak for themselves

Let’s suppose the yellow canary becomes a success – the beer I mean – with beer lovers, would it then be possible the recipe to be scaled up and brewed by Heineken itself? Now there is a beautiful experimental garden! For now drinkers seem to appreciate the beer: 277 reviews on Untappd score it 3,25 out of five. Not a huge score, but significantly higher than Heineken Lager which scores 2,92 out of over 400.000 ratings.

I kind of like the whole idea, at least it strikes me as a more interesting answer to the challenges of the beer revolution than simply buying up small, independent and successful breweries. I wouldn’t be surprised at all as the Hooiberg Brewery concept is indeed rolled out on a larger scale across Europe, or even the world. Also, it is a rather nifty way to further investigate the beer revolution from the inside without running too much risk – if any.


Fermentation and lager tanks of Hooiberg Brewery

I kind of like the idea, however bold as it is at the same time. Very bold actually, because however noble the idea to help entrepreneurs making their dreams come true may be – Heineken is involved. And in this day and age, where local, accessible and small scale entrepreneurship is embraced by consumers in general and beer lovers in particular, this involvement can act as a red cloth on a bull. More and more beer drinkers do no longer want to drink beers produced by global beer giants – simply because they are beer giants. They much rather embrace small and independent breweries, not just because they creatively brew tasty beers – but because of a deeply rooted emotion. So, the big question is how beer drinkers will respond to this connection Heineken has with these new brew pub concepts. To be continued!

More on Craft Acceleration: the entrepreneur is responsible
“The entrepreneur is responsible for installing the brewery, hiring a brewer, and brewing and packaging of the beer. Craft Acceleration can assist with this. <…> We will not take the position of entrepreneur but support in fields of our expertise such as offering our knowledge and experience, hard and software to be leased, training brewers, buying and supplying raw material or even support on marketing, sales and distribution of the beer. The entrepreneur will always be end responsible for the brand, his business, and will be “the face behind the brand”.

The entrepreneur is responsible for concept and design of logos, websites, house style, labels and what have you – all of course within the boundaries of rules and legislation. The ‘Craft Acceleration’ may assist, but leaves the entrepreneur free to develop as he pleases, unless the brewer needs support or guidance.”

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