OHIM – sense and nonsense of house beer

Peter van der Arend, Zythologist and bar owner, is these days also a columnist for Misset Horeca. As with all he does, he does a great job at it. His last column was on the merits of House beer, a subject on which I happen to have an opinion too.
OHIM huisbier 2

Peter tells the tale of a recent and unexpected visit of U2 to his Proeflokaal Arendsnest, a bar specialized in Dutch beer he opened 15 years ago – way ahead of time, and ahead of many Dutch brewers too. The rockers, after a thorough explanantion on what’s on tap, all opt for the house beer Templebeer. Why they chose it we don’t learn, but Peter goes on singing praise of the concept since it ‘adds value to the bar’s atmosphere and makes your customers come back’. He also has a word of warning: when looking for a house beer, be sure to come up with your own recipe or have a professional make you one: don’t just put your own label on an existing beer. Peter finds that ‘cheating’, not creative nor original, and goes so far as to state it’s a swindle. However much as I tend to agree with Peter on many fronts, this is not one of them. More than that: I disagree!

I really cannot see why anyone would feel swindled when you take an exisiting beer, put your own name and label on it and sell it as such. Ideally, the producer agrees with it – he’ll likely be getting less money for it since he doesn’t have to supply all sorts of marketing tools. Of course, you should not claim you brewed it yourself. Anyhow, Peter has Jopen Brewery produce his Templebeer, after his own recipe- all mighty fine. But even if he would buy Mooie Nel at Jopen and relabel it as Mooie Peter, Tempelber or whatever and sells it as such in his bars, would you then feel cheated or swindled? I hardly think so. The beer stays great in quality, regardless of the name, and will likely be sold cheaper – but at still fair price, leave that to Peter.

TempelbierThe other way around I would feel swindled alright, when I order a Mooie Nel and get some other (cheaper) beer posing for it. That’s why I thought Olm was a daft brand: it allowed barowners to buy it cheaply and did nothing to prevent them from selling it in Heineken or Grolsch glassware, suggesting that was the beer on tap. That’s not original at all, and yes, you could see it as creative – but it is indeed downright swindle and deceipt. Selling an exisiting beer under a different name (with consent) is not. It’s easy, practical – but no deceipt. Especially not since there are plenty of breweries who do it themselves, selling one recipe under different (brand)names. Would you say that’s swindle? Nah – remarkable. Maybe, but I doubt if it’s deceipt.

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In earlier days the main reason for a bar to have a ‘house beer’ was because they sought a flavor profile unobtainable in the market. It turned out cheaper too then buyung a branded beer, since the brewer did not have to provide all sorts of goodies. Thus, house beer was often offered at an attractive price, much to the cheer of consumers.With todays plethora of available beers, and the increased quality of them and their brewers (so much changed since 2000) having a house beer seems superfluous, it seems. However, from a margin perspective it is still a great plan, and usually the consumer will think it is a not-too-extreme exemplary brew, identifying the bar. Which is exactly the reason I believe the U2 members picked it: it’s a decently hopped, adventourous and quality brew you can drink without risk of failure. And they were right!

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