Video: Bart Cuypers, co-owner and president of Brewery Het Nest in Oud-Turnhout, Belgium, knows the right cards to play when it comes to brewing beers in an increasingly competitive market for small brewers.
Bart Cuypers, co-owner and president of Brewery Het Nest in Oud-Turnhout, Belgium, knows the right cards to play when it comes to brewing beers in an increasingly competitive market for small brewers.
As he says in an interview with the Beer Idiots, he is not looking to create radical beers, but something down the “middle-of-the-crowd”, by which he means tasty beers that a wider public can enjoy.
“I like hoppy beers,” he said in an interview with the Beer Idiots. “We have a signature. Our beers are more hoppy but in the Belgian style of course. Our wheat beer for instance, is slightly more hoppy than a traditional Belgian beer.
“We like to focus on Belgian-style beers. So at this movement we do not have an IPA, for instance. We do have a Russian imperial stout. That’s a bit of an exception. We focus on Belgian beers with a lot of taste. Not crap from the industrial brewers. But not really too extreme. We like to be in the middle of the crowd. Not too extreme, but not boring.”
World’s ‘capital of playing cards’
He and his partners also played their hand right by naming the beers after playing cards. Since they live and brew in Turnhout, east of Antwerp near the border with the Netherlands, they felt they needed to acknowledge one of the town’s main industries.
Turnhout, population 42,500, is the headquarters of Cartamundi, the world’s largest manufacturer of playing cards. It was an easy choice to name their beers around cards and card games.
Their first commercial brew was Schuppenboer (Jack of Spades), a triple that soon ran out and had to be brewed at a larger contract brewery, and then they had to move to another brewer to triple production.
Hertenheer (King of Hearts) followed that success, then Schuppenaas (Ace of Spades), Kleveretien (Ten of Clubs), and then Koekendam (Queen of Diamonds) to complete their main line of beers.
“It is one of the reasons why we are so successful in Asia-Pacific,” Cuypers said. “The first time I met my importer in China he said ‘Bart, I want to import your beers into China,’ I said ‘OK, good. Which beer do you want to taste?’. He said ‘I don’t care how these beers taste. I just love these labels of playing cards. Chinese are gamblers. They like to play poker. And your beers are ideal when you have a poker game at someone’s home to take them with you and give them as a present to the host. I have to have your beers in China.’
Today China is Het Nest’s fourth largest export market along with Japan.
House of cards
Het Nest grew out of private beer-tasting club at the end of 2000 called after a local saying ‘De orde van de zatte mus’ (The Order of the Drunken Sparrow) with a logo of two sparrows with a beer in their nest.
During tasting their interest grew as they sometimes sampled somewhat less tasty beers, and after a short while they thought they could brew better ones themselves.
In 2006 they produced their first amateur beers and then one received a third place at the Dutch Open Championship for Hobby Brewers.
They thought bigger than their 50-litre kettle and brewed their first 500 litres at Boelens in Belsele. This triple, their signature Schuppenboer is a fruity triple beer with a slight bitterness and spicy aftertaste.
The success of the first beer, the Schuppenboer, was so great that we immediately had to go in search of a larger brewery. They then move to other brewers until they built their own brewery, with a 4,000 hectoliter capacity.
Mixing the deck
They completed their full line in 2014. Now they experiment by maturing these beers in wooden barrels. For example there is the Schuppenboer Whisky Barrel Aged and Dead Man’s Hand, a Russian imperial stout.
Two Faced Jack originated from successfully mixing Schuppenboer Grand Cru and Kleveretien.
The brewery’s Schuppenboer Winter, aged in rum barrels, won the 2018 Christmas Beer Festival ‘best winter beer’ award. Cuypers is especially proud of this award as it was a vote from festival participants.
Het Nest currently exports to the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Russia, China, Taiwan, Japan and the United States. About half of their output goes to exports and half is consumed in Belgium.
They are expanding further into the Netherlands and France and have an agreement with a brewer in Russia to brew the Het Nest line there for the local market.
Photos (below): Christmas Beer Festival 2019 in Essen, Belgium. The photos were taken 15 December 2019.