Starting a brewery in corona times, you have to either be very brave or a bit nuts. Or maybe both? After four years of home brewing my good friend Erik Terlouw decided it was time his town of Capelle aan den IJssel had its own local brewery. It wasn’t something he had initially envisioned for himself. After testing his beers on his friends and some persistent convincing by one of his closest pals (and now business partner), he took the leap last year.
Starting a brewery is a brilliant idea, but then what? Where to begin? And is there room in the Dutch market for another brewery? I asked Erik these questions and more to find out about his journey from brewing inspiration to brewery installation.
Full transparency: I am a friend of the brewery and help out on occasion.
And so it begins
When did you decide you were ready to go from home brewer to professional brewer?
“Several good friends convinced me that my beers were good enough for a larger audience. I had been home brewing since 2017 and getting really good responses in my hometown to my blond, dubbel, porter and quadrupel beers. Jeroen (entrepreneur and my business partner) wouldn’t leave it alone and after giving it a lot of thought, I decided I didn’t see myself doing my current job as cost engineer for a construction company the rest of my life. In February 2020 we started seriously discussing it. It took many months of brainstorming while drinking our favorite beer Bourbon Barrel Stout by Anderson Valley before coming up with a business plan. I wanted to have a clear idea of what everything would cost, how much beer I could potentially sell, how much I would need to brew to make it profitable, before committing to anything.“
What were some of the most difficult obstacles to overcome?
“One of the biggest changes of course is going from a 20 liter pan to a 500 liter kettle and getting to know the new installation. I had a lot of help from my brewer friends Roland Boschman (Brouwerij D’n Drul) and Arnoud Boonstra (Brouwerij Stollenberg), who have exactly the same brewing installation. That is where I brewed my first batches before my own installation arrived, which I ordered from China. Due to Covid it took much longer to be shipped than planned. Finally the container arrived in June 2021 and I brewed my first beer there in December 2021. The instructions are in Chinese, so it was a bit of a puzzle putting it together. Here too I had help from Roland and my good friends Jeroen and Sander, with whom I spent many hours building and installing everything. But it still takes time to get to know your equipment and how everything works. The ‘real’ problems started after I began brewing: the filters were clogging up and I discovered my electricity wasn’t sufficient to heat the water efficiently. So the first brewing days were really long.
Another big challenge was getting all the necessary licenses. Dutch law hasn’t caught up with the whole craft beer phenomenon, so for the environmental license they don’t distinguish between macro and micro breweries, even though the footprints are completely different. I had to prove to DCMR Environmental Service that I don’t fall into their ‘brewery’ category, for example by showing that I don’t use gas or have very little to no waste. Then there is the excise duty on beer, supervised by Customs, that requires detailed bookkeeping and inventory management. I was lucky enough to have an encountered a very helpful Customs officer, which sped up the process.”
It takes a village
So it involves careful planning and some luck?
Absolutely, I believe a good plan will get you far, but it comes down to people’s willingness to help and their generosity. In Dutch we would say ‘het is een kwestie van gunnen’. It’s an overused cliché, but very true, it takes a village to start a brewery. I couldn’t have done this without help from friends and family, several of whom I asked to be part of the brewery ‘crew’. Brewing takes up so much time that I knew I wouldn’t have enough time left to design the beer labels, update social media, maintain the website etc. And without the support of my employer this wouldn’t have been possible either. He has agreed to me working four days, so I have Friday through Sunday to work in the brewery. I was also very lucky to have found such a great location and friendly landlord Felix, the owner of Paracord, in Krimpen aan den IJssel. Originally I wanted the brewery to be in my hometown, but couldn’t find a suitable venue. Krimpen is also on the IJssel river, hence the name of the brewery. Felix has been very supportive in helping get the unit operational (for example increasing the electricity capacity from 25 to 80 amps). To be honest, I didn’t check that when I signed the lease. There are so many things that pop up that I didn’t consider before.”
Staying close to the roots
How did you find buyers for your beer, is there still a market for new breweries?
“When I started home brewing, I received a lot of enthusiastic responses not only from friends but also the community. This area doesn’t have a local brewery and I noticed that people take great pride in knowing their town or region has its own beer. So when we put together the business plan, we knew we wanted to focus on the local shops and restaurants. I visited all the local stores to introduce myself and tell them the story of the brewery and the beers. A few liquor stores and local cheese shops selling regional products were interested. Now my beers are also available at several restaurants and the local supermarket. Slowly but surely the customer base is expanding. Happy drinkers and word of mouth is the best promo you can have. I have also been invited to a few local festivals, which I didn’t expect to happen so soon. I am very grateful for all the love and appreciation we are receiving!
What do the names of the beers mean?
“They are named after Nordic runes. I am a huge fan of stories of Vikings and Norse men, so I thought it would be cool to use that theme for the beers. The name Wunjo, our blond beer, means hapiness and prosperity, very fitting for the first beer brewed under the label Brouwerij IJssel. Ernst Blikslager, my former Kenpo teacher and graphic designer at Graphic Visuals, has done an amazing job of creating the beer labels with exactly the look and feel I had envisioned.”
I also asked some of your family and close friends what they think of you becoming a brewer! Here is what they said.
Maureen Terlouw, Erik’s daughter: “I think it’s very cool that he is doing this. Though we see less of him now because he is so busy, I am very proud! He has inspired me to follow my dreams.”
Jeroen Walthaus, business partner and friend: “At blind tastings when he was homebrewing his beers were very well-received. He was so passionate and committed, that I knew it was time for the next step. Nicer labels, a better installation. It all looks great, much more professional.”
Sander Hoogland, close friend and crew member: “When Erik starts on a project, he takes it very seriously and studies everything meticulously. I never doubted that he could make this happen and was very happy to assist in building the brewery. That’s what friends are for, to help each other out. And it is a lot of fun, too!”