Dutch brewers is a diverse community, varying from one man operations to huge multinational companies. Respondents are all possible forms and shapes and the outcome of the survey is representative, given the 27% response rate. It means the results give a clear picture of how Dutch breweries view the subject of quality. In earlier pieces I gave some numbers and data on the current landscape and on the Hygiene code and raw material treatment. Today: how do breweries control quality, and how do they view it?
Quality of end product
Beer reaching a consumer needs to be of good quality, there is no debate about that. Hence it surprises – if not shocks – to see over a third of breweries do not ever do any sensory tests on their product: not prior to, nor after, bringing it to market.
It doesn’t really surprise me then when a third state to not keep any samples of packaged product at hand to do sensory tests on beer that has gone into the market.
But that is truly shocking, particularly given the fact that only one-third of respondents have never ever had to reject a batch of finished beer and have it be destroyed.
So many things can go wrong when brewing beer that a sound system of quality control is a must. Clearly many Dutch breweries can make massive improvements here.
Measuring brings knowledge
In America it is common for a brewery to have its own laboratory and QC staff. These labs can always perform at least the most basic measurements, if not way more. Also, many breweries employ specially trained quality control staff. The Brewers Association has prioritized ‘quality’ and even employs two Quality Ambassadors, assisting its members with advice and action.
Having a laboratory is all but common practice in the Netherlands. Two-third of respondents do not have an own lab. A mere 12% say they have a lab that can do more than the most basic measurements and checks.
Having a lab is one thing, having staff to properly operate it is another. Only 30% say they have especially trained staff employed – ridiculously few. Why this is so ridiculous will become apparent soon.
I can understand a very small brewery not having its own lab, or especially trained staff – as long as someone is doing the quality control. And here is perhaps the most shocking and ridiculous learning of this survey: 60% of breweries state to NOT use an external lab for even the most basic tests and quality control.
Even if we correct this for respondents who state they have their own lab, it means at least 20% of all Dutch breweries do not do any quality control at all. This is an optimistic conclusion: it seems very justifiable to state that a least third of all Dutch breweries do never ever do any quality control on their (finished) product.
The ancient rule of ‘measurement brings knowledge’ seems, boldly put, to be blissfully ignored by many Dutch breweries. It is shocking when you realize this means they not only break the law but really show a terrifying disdain for their product and their customers.
The most tantalising result of the survey is that 63% of respondents say they do enough on the subject of quality control at large.
Tantalising, because at the same time 76% says their peers do NOT do enough on the subject of quality control at large.
Their is a lot to be won in the Dutch beer landscape. I am sure every brewer is passionate about her or his product. Particularly therefore it is shocking to see a large part of these passionate people fall so short on quality – even at the most basic level. Of course the soup is not savored as hot as it’s served: over 95% of Dutch beer comes from breweries meeting the highest standards, like Heineken, Bavaria, Jopen, Oedipus, Grolsch or Noordt – to name a few. And beer will never pose a serious and direct threat to anyone’s health, hygiene code or not – beer cannot make you sick. But we have to fear for the majority of beer produced in small and independent breweries not meeting the most basic quality requirements. Also when looking at basic (sensory) testing many fall short badly. It also raises questions on a brewery’s ability to identify and recall a particular batch of beer if a serious incident occurs.
So, we have a lot to win in the Netherlands beer community. Let’s go out there and and start doing that: winning!