I am no apologist for the now-number two Belgian brewer, Duvel Moortgaat. (Number one is, of course, Anheuser-Busch InBev, also the world’s largest brewing company.) The brewery has grown considerably over the past several years and is now publicly traded, which for some growing breweries has proved detrimental. Not all of this growth has been kind to the beers they oversee — my last experience with Liefmans was truly lamentable — but some of it has been overwhelmingly positive, as with the improvements in the Chouffe line and the purchase of De Koninck, which almost certainly saved the Antwerp brewery from eventual closure.
(I should mention that while one-quarter of Duvel Moortgat is indeed in play on the market, three-quarters of the company ownership still rests with the Moortgat family, who insist they have no interest in selling.)
What I am and remain, however, is a fan of the beer, Duvel. While I have experienced some issues with it over the past few years — its bottle-fermentation seemed notably less aggressive for a while, to cite one example — the last several bottles I have enjoyed have all been, well, thoroughly enjopyable.
Which is why I had to laugh at the following lines from this Wall Street Journal story:
At the Delirium, Brussels’s biggest and best-known beer bar, barmen say that on most nights, Duvel is among its 10 top selling beers. And pricing power is apparent. A glass costs €3.35, compared with €2 for a draft lager. “They’re very good at marketing, and tourists recognize it from all the signs they have up around Brussels,” says Thibault Cordonnier, a bartender at the Delirium. “Also, people like the name, Devil. We have another beer, called Lucifer, that sells very well.”
To be sure, the enthusiasm is not totally unanimous. “If somebody asks us for a recommendation, we’ll suggest something from a smaller, more artisanal brewer,” says Mr. Cordonnier. “The barmen here, who are all experts, don’t really drink Duvel anymore. We think it’s only slightly better than a Stella Artois.” Stella Artois is one of Anheuser’s top-selling beers in the world.
Forget the extraordinary cheek of comparing Duvel to Stella, of all things, a beer about which I made my feelings known over here. How about the hypocrisy of a bartender at a bar named for one of Duvel’s many imitators slagging a brand that is unquestionably superior to the bar’s namesake pretender? And I say this as an admirer of Delirium Tremens, which I have always maintained is better than its kitschy bottle and glass would have you expect.
(Then there’s the notion that the bartenders at the Delirium Cafe would recommend anything, which to my several experiences has certainly never been the case. On my last visit, I watched as three bartenders ignored a middle aged couple desperately trying to decipher the beer menu, even though the gentleman had all but pleaded for some direction. Less helpful or “expert” bartenders I have rarely witnessed.)
To me, this is just another case of a brewery being deemed “bad” simply because it had the audacity to grow. It’s one of the more troublesome paradoxes of craft beer today.