Crossing the chasm

Onlangs was ik dagvoorzitter op de 2e Dutch CRAFT Beer Conference in Amersfoort. Even eervol als leuk om te doen. Hierbij het verhaal dat ik hield bij de start van de dag. In het Engels, want de conference is een internationale aangelegenheid, wat o.a. bleek uit de aanwezigheid van grote namen als Bob Pease (CEO van de Brewers Assocation uit Amerika) en Steve Grossman (ambassador van brouwerij Sierra Nevada).


Good morning beer professionals. Welcome to Amersfoort, welcome to the 2nd Dutch CRAFT Beer Conference. It is delightful to see so many of you spending a day together to discuss beer; our passion and profession. My name is Raymond van der Laan, and I will be guiding you through the day.

I am not a brewer, nor do I intend to become one. I am a beer consumer. I have been enjoying beer variety since the late eighties. And I have been asked countless times, especially on gatherings to celebrate the birthday of uncle Piet or aunt Truus, if I could distinguish a Heineken from an Amstel. “Because you know so much about beer!”.

My response has always been to tell them that beer is more than a handful of well-known big brands. For as long as I can remember, I have been trying to explain what beer variety is all about. Even to uncle Piet and aunt Truus.

Beer consumers

In recent years, beer consumers have developed a voice, and a face. The front runners, or early adopters, are always looking for new beers to bump up their numbers on Untappd. “Got anything new?” is the mantra by which they are guided. Beers cannot be obscure enough, a barrel-aging a day keeps their doctor away, imperial is their middle name and postal services thrive as a result of shipping back and forth beer contraband. These are the fanboys and -girls of you, the craft brewers.

Then there’s the group of young people who grow up in a world to which beer variety is normal. Bless them. My children are perfect examples. They’re around 20 years old, and when they go out they casually order a Weizen, then a pale ale and then something else. They try all of it, have a good time and don’t make a lot of fuss about beer. It’s simply there to enjoy. They may even just look at the pretty bottle label to base their choice on. Along the way they develop a taste for beer variety, just as they do for wine, gin-tonic and nonfat latte decaf hazelnut frappuccino.

This group is followed by an increasing number of people of a more advanced age, such as the men in my sports team for example, who are slowly but steadily starting to understand that beer is much more than just a mindless drink. They learn what beer is about by attending tastings, joining beer tours and being harassed by evangelists like myself. They are not involved in debates about contract brewer versus “real” brewer. They are not outraged by the next craft brewery take-over by Big Beer. They want beer that they like, is easily accessible and is reasonably priced.

Is craft beer now crossing this chasm, and making the move from early adopters to the majority segments of the market? Has it already done so? I guess it varies by country and maybe even by region. In any case, the direction in which craft beer is heading is clear: towards a majority, the early part or the late part, of the beer consumers. This opens up new opportunities and introduces new threats.

And uncle Piet and aunt Truus? I’m afraid they’re still wondering what the difference is between Heineken and Amstel. We will leave them to it, I suppose. The beer renaissance, the story of beer variety, will probably never reach them, and maybe that’s just fine.


I am very grateful that you, the “small and independent” beer professionals, have brought us to where we are today. It is clear that this beer variety would not have existed without craft brewers. I am grateful not only because I personally love beer, but also because it enables me to do what I like best: tell about this wonderful potion called beer. To inform and to enthuse people, especially the beer drinkers who have not been touched by the divine spark of craft beer yet. Let’s make sure there will be a lot to inform, inspire, enthuse and enjoy in the decades to come. You have my sincere gratitude in advance, and that of beer consumers alike!

Enjoy this day, and may the CRAFT be with you.

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