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New beer and old trams 24 February 2016

Posted by cooperatoby in beer, Brussels, tram.
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I’m delighted to have discovered, albeit 7 months after its opening, Brussels’s 3rd brewery . The first is the venerable Cantillon and the second is my staple  Senne, which is currently brewed on the wrong side of the tracks in the not-to-be-dreaded Molenbeek) but, being faced with 30% annual growth, is soon to move to Tour & Taxis. En Stoemlings is just round the corner from the renovated art nouveau Palais du Vin with its restaurant, conference centre, small business incubators (one of whose tenants uses the brewery’s spent grain to grow mushrooms) and excellent biomarché. What complementarity! It’s making the Rue des Tanneurs a very hip place to be.

En Stoemelings – a Brussels phrase meaning ‘on the sly’ – brews a 7% triple called Curieuse Neus which I will report back on when I’ve had the chance to extract it from its 75cl bottle. They say it is well balanced as they are leaving very hoppy beers (the IPA craze) to Senne, and recommend it be drunk cold, which I hesitate to do but will experiment with. What’s more, the beer-and-trams nexus heaves back into view with the forthcoming launch of draught lemon-flavoured Geele Tram (in memory of the town’s old tram livery) at Moeder Lambic in Place Fontainas.

Brasserie Stoemelings
Rue du Miroir 1, 1000 Bruxelles

Late news: Yet another beer-tram-wholefood triad – the Beerdays on 14-15 May 2016 at the Ecuries van de Tram in Schaerbeek.

Guerrilla marketing 3 November 2013

Posted by cooperatoby in Amsterdam, beer.
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Last night saw my third stint as guest barman at Castrum Peregrini, an arts-based ‘intellectual playground’ in Amsterdam’s city centre, during Museumnacht, when the cream of Amsterdam’s museums stay open till 2 a.m. During World War II, Castrum was a hiding place for German refugee artists, and in 2011 won the prize for the best exhibit (Truus is on its programme advisory group). This year, the show featured the Atelier Revolutionair, which explored the role artists are playing in struggling for justice, diversity and social inclusion worldwide. There was an exhibition called Speaking from the Heart curated by Shaheen Merali – and an Iranian disco.

Toby manning the barIn a throwback to my Ale House days, I made it my mission to subvert the tenacious and irrational belief among Dutch people that Heineken is a good beer by wearing my IJbrouwerij t-shirt. This subtle bit of guerrilla marketing resulted in at least one customer’s hopes being raised that something decent to drink would be on offer – but they were cruelly dashed. I could tell he was a man of principle as he preferred to drink nothing rather than Heineken.

We looked enviously across the Herengracht at the trip boats disgorging into a permanent queue outside NIOD, the National Institute for War Documentation, whose first foray into Museumnacht it was. Nevertheless we did a decent turnover purveying not only wine, ‘beer’, tea and coffee, but also delicious home-made pumpkin soup – served straight out of a picturesque giant pumpkin (shame I didn’t have my camera with me) – and that unwieldy Dutch staple, the rookworst. There’s nothing like a rookworst to pick you up after an exhausting night of museum-going.

I’m hoping and praying that when Museumnacht comes round next year, Castrum Peregrini will become a unique haven of hoppy tasty ale.

New co-operative breweries 25 September 2013

Posted by cooperatoby in beer, cooperative, Social enterprise.
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Microbrewery working till 1981 in Hotel Träger, Ried im Innkreis, Austria

Microbrewery working till 1981 in Hotel Träger, Ried im Innkreis, Austria

Beer and co-ops, two of my passions, meet once more. Concerned to safeguard their independence, craft breweries in Colorado and Oregon are converting to employee ownership, as this article from the Denver Post tells. It is reposted from an excellent article in Truthout noticed by John Atherton of Co-ops UK).

The ‘New Belgium’ brewery – what a good name – is doing this through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), a tax-efficient model for transferring shares to workers which is now used by 10,000 US companies employing 10.3 million worker-owners. It puts John Lewis into perspective.

Partnership – from theory to practice in two days 19 September 2013

Posted by cooperatoby in cooperative, EU, Social enterprise.
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‘Peer review’ is a banalised concept but last week the Social Entrepreneurship Network took it from theory to practice. It took a high-flown concept – “Public sector capacity – strategic partnerships and governance models” – and turned it to practical use by people in a position to change things. I really enjoyed the event. Why?
SEN's Trento peer reviewFirst because of the committed people. Comparing it with an EU social inclusion peer review is was so much livelier and more committed. So much so that on the second day we moved quickly on past the concept of ‘transferability’ to a practical job. The people there were the right people – people who can make partnerships happen around Europe. So, instead of producing a theoretical comparison of different solutions to policy problems, we actually skilled up real live participants in the process – people engaged in the social economy as well as those running the ESF. This was enabled by the quick-witted and responsive facilitation skills of Luigi Martignetti of REVES.
Secondly the setting. I’d never been to Trento before, and quite apart from being fabled for its social co-ops, it’s a lovely place. A peaceful town with glamorous shops and bars selling wine at €2 a glass, with free tapas thrown in. The cathedral’s north transept has a remarkable Adam and Eve sculpture, in which the paintings on either side trompent l’oeil by become three-dimensional, and rising out of the frame. But it’s not all history. In the sleek modernist railway station, serpentine container trains thunder through from the Brenner pass, reminding me that isolated though it is if you try to arrive by air, Trento is there because it’s on a major trade route. Our meeting took placed in the provincial HQ on Piazza Dante, where the poet points upwards to the surrounding cloud-topped alps. The valley is full of vineyard and apple orchards, there is car-sharing and plenty of bicycles – and I was delighted to find an excellent micro-brewery in the shape of the Pedavena . This is sited just outside the old city walls, and has not only a shady garden (it was still summer in mid-September) but a massive and packed Bavarian-style beer hall surrounding its gleaming coppers and fermenting vessels. It brews light, red, dark and wheat beers and serves food to go with them.
So it’s a civilised town, and has civilised institutions to go with it. We were fortunate to be invited to spend the evening in one of them, the Samuele social co-operative. This is located on a hillside with wonderful views, in the Villa San Ignazio building that the declining Jesuit order no longer has a use for. The co-op started making leather goods, expanded by opening shop in the town centre, and then opened a bar and restaurant. The bar is called ‘Bar Naut’ an Italian pun on the ‘burnout’ that social workers can all too easily suffer from. The co-op’s president, Massimo Komatz, hardly had to introduce the enterprise before being pleasantly barraged with acute questions.
Antibodies to defeat the neoliberal virus
To kick off the meeting, we were treated to an inspiring introduction by Felice Scalvini ex of Federsoliderietà and CECOP, and now back home as a councillor in Brescia. He emphasised that the mushrooming growth of Italy’s social co-operatives – there are now 11,000 of them employing 301,000 people – didn’t just happen by accident: it was a conscious choice by a movement of committed people. This quantitative dynamic has led to a cultural, scientific and institutional dynamic. The two ‘evil characters’ in the story are:
• the ‘Washington consensus’ and the idea that injections of capital can solve social problems
• the European idea of introducing competition into the third sector. Co-operatives develop through co-operation – consortia, pacts etc. – not competition.
He urged us to be the antibodies that will defeat these dangerous viruses.
After an exhaustive statistical overview, the Con.Solida and four co-ops themselves then came to present what they did – and in those summery conditions I have to confess that with the best will in the world my attention wandered.
It was brought back into focus by the presentations of our three cases: the Polish Working Group on Systemic Solutions in the Social Economy, Trentino’s ‘Intervento 18’ which supports work integration co-operatives, and Scotland’s Public-Social Partnership at Low Moss prison. It was a rich menu. The three initiatives are at different levels – national, regional and local – and show how policy-makers can work with the social economy to solve serious social, problems like long-term unemployment and reoffending. They ranged from the overarching political to the technocratic evidence-based, but shared the feature of partnership between public authorities and the social economy.
I was particularly impressed by the quality of the nine peer comment papers, which made honest assessments of their own experience and contributed many acute insights into why the three initiatives we were reviewing worked, and how the lessons might be applied elsewhere.
Partnership is not optional
This was Luigi Martignetti’s reminder, referring to the EU’s Structural and Investment Funds. This heralded our second day’s work, in which we broke up into three small groups to discuss the tools for partnership. Concepts we explored included autonomy, objectives, leadership, sustainability, efficiency, transparency, opportunity, innovation, strategy, process, community, funding, human resources, contracts, quality, transfer, indicators and evaluation.
It was my particular pleasure to share with the group my feeling that the overused term ‘innovation’ doesn’t really mean much more than ‘problem solving’. The word has been borrowed from the world of technological R&D, where it is defined not just as the brainwave of inventing something, but of developing a saleable product and bringing it to market. In this sense innovation is an economic term. Similarly in the social field: what we judge to be an innovative project is one which identifies a problem, puts together techniques and resources to address it, and proposes a feasible way of solving it. This is in distinction to simply applying the traditional solutions.
Forward to Strasbourg
At the end, SEN discussed what we know as ‘mainstreaming’ – i.e. how we could make an impact on GECES and at the Strasbourg conference on 16th & 17th January 2014.
I think SEN has broken new ground with this peer review, and don’t doubt that the second in the series, in Malmö on 5th & 6th December on the topic of “Growth and Development”, lives up to my now raised expectations. Thanks to Malgorzata, Aleksandra, Dorotea, Luigi, our speakers and hosts, and everyone who came for making it such an enjoyable and productive two days.

Stock ale 20 June 2013

Posted by cooperatoby in beer, Brussels.
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Great news that Brussels’ disused stock exchange is to be turned into the Belgian Beer Temple. It’s good that we should worship beer there and not capitalism. I particularly like the idea that the exploration of Belgium’s brewing heritage will be “a non-linear discovery, with a dynamic and interactive content” according to Brussel Nieuws. Belgian beer is certainly strong enough to make it so!

The city and the brewers’ federation have the ambition to turn this landmark, which is appropriately modelled on a Greek temple and whose front steps are a favourite perch for young people, into one of the city’s top five tourist attractions. I suspect it has something to do with the plans to pedestrianise the square in front of the building. It’s about time: I remember being distinctly underwhelmed by my visit to the dingy Brewers’ Guildhall on the Grand’ Place many years ago, so somewhere with more natural light and space will be welcome. The brewers’ federation has already been testing the water with its annual Beer Weekend in that same square and it has proved very popular (even if deterringly bureaucratic).

Two ways to fail

There are two ways the brewers could mess this idea up. First they could over-commercialise it – a warning may be found in the horrific prices charged at the shop called the Beer Tempel in Grasmarkt. (Does the brewers’ federation already run that? I never guessed.)
The second would be to exclude the smaller and more innovative brewers that are springing up. For years the only brewer actually brewing beer for sale in the city was aeons-old gueuze paradise Cantillon. It was joined in 2010 by the Brasserie de la Senne, who dared to brew stout and use an English amount of hops in their beer. This month sees the Brussels Beer Project market testing 4 beers called Alpha, Beta, Gamma and, you guessed it, Delta. It aims to be a ‘community brewery’ – not only do the public get to vote on how the beer should taste, they will also be asked to crowdfund it. This is the sort of new and experimental brewing that will keep beerophiles coming back.

Triple point 17 November 2012

Posted by cooperatoby in beer, cooperative, Leeds, tram.
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It’s always amusing when two obsessions collide unexpectedly – it gives that frisson of the interconnectedness of all things – and even better when three do. I had that enjoyable thrill upon learning that there is a bar in Wilmersdorf, Berlin called Die Straßenbahn (The Tram) and that it bills itself as Berlin’s oldest collective. As trams are a collective means of transport, and beer is best enjoyed in a group, I suppose it’s not so strange.
Die Straßenbahn was founded in 1977, which puts it slightly ahead of the Ale House in Leeds, which was founded in 1979 and opened its doors in 1980. Our take on worker collectives was the common ownership worker’s co-operative, which put a legal form around the loose operating principles of collectivism: non-discrimination, equal pay, job rotation, collective decision-making. In creating this model constitution, ICOM, provided a quick and easy way for radical groups to establish businesses that would express their political values. It managed to bridge the gap between company law (IPS law actually) and the arduous processes of collective decision-making, which at their best are intuitive and rewarding, and at their worst require endless discussion until all opposition is persuaded, crushed or bored into acquiescence, without even the dignity of recording a vote against.
The beer revolution

Timothy Taylor’s Ale Shop, 79 Raglan Rd, Leeds

The Ale House undertook the experiment of transplanting a radical organisational model from the wholefood sector to the licensed trade, which was a much more traditional environment. It coped with the reality that a small retail business – the first real ale off-licence in northern England – was not capable of supporting a team workforce, and would in fact rely on a single manager plus part-time assistants. It may have been, in some of the members’ minds, a ‘dry run’ for a possible future career move into running one’s own pub.
In our case, we diversified into a wholesale operation and eventually a microbrewery, but the co-operative eventually collapsed and the shop was taken over by Timothy Taylor’s – which is a noble enough end for any real ale business. The collective in Berlin have carried on living that dream, complete with equal pay, fortnightly team meetings and a tips pot which goes to good causes – I very much hope to go and drink a pint or two there soon. And the same ideal is coming true across England as more and more village pubs are rescued by community co-operatives making use of the community shares principle.
PS (thanks Hans-Gerd) and not only in the UK:

The joy of organs 5 March 2011

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I’ve discovered a new joy in organs – of the street, café or dance variety.

Enthralled children at the Museum Speelklok in Utrecht

It all started when my cousin Steve Greatrex took me to the Museum Speelklok in Utrecht. This not only collects and restores mechanical musical instruments and curious automata of all sorts, but is a paradise for children, who can punch out and play their own tunes. Last week was half-term so it was busy: the museum now attracts over 110,000 visitors a year. One of the main reasons for its success must be the enthusiasm of the guides, who are mostly music students. It’s absolutely infectious. And it’s a popular art from, the predecessor of the jukebox and the MP3 player.
As we were shown round by Jelle Verhoeks and Alberic Godderis, I had a sudden flashback. I remembered how once day in the late 80s I’d set out on a beer expedition to Beersel, a village southwest of Brussels. We tracked down the Oud Beersel pub on the outskirts, which had a reputation for its home-blended gueuze. We installed ourselves in the middle of the room, at a party table encircled by a round bench. As we supped our sour beer, the landlord walked over to a contraption built into the wall, opened it up, pressed a button and played us a rousing tune. I didn’t know what to make of it at the time, but now I realise I was privileged to be listening to what was probably Belgium’s last café organ, a Mortier Orchestrion. The pub is now a flower shop and the organ has been sold to an American collector. Happily the brewery nextdoor was reopened in 2006.
Until quite recently an organ grinder toured the back streets of St-Gilles a couple of times a year, but nowadays it’s quite rare to find an organ, a Dutch trademark, on Holland’s streets. There are plenty of collectors so they are no longer being broken up. But it’s a real shame that such uplifting and essentially public instruments should be hidden away in private and never heard.

Holland in miniature 17 October 2009

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A fortnight ago, in perfect autumn weather, we visited the Nederlands Openluchtmuseum near Arnhem. it has everything: a tramline to get around on, a brewery and even its complement, a street urinal.

‘Zaanstreek’ windmill

Of course it covers all the Dutch stereotypes: it is dotted with windmills of various types, and has a steam-driven dairy where they will sell you various sorts of gouda. It has a reconstituted pond out of the Zaanstreek (strangely out of place up there in the Veluwe), with a green weatherboard house from Marken and a white drawbridge and a hand-hauled rope-guided ferry. You can shop in the bakery and the cavernous sweetshop, and sit and eat poffertjes or try riding a penny-farthing.

There’s an appelstroop manufactory, a piggy-bank collection, an Indonesian house, a maze…

The whole thing strikes exactly the right balance between its high-minded educational mission, national nostalgia and commerce. You can even get there by trolleybus. It makes a perfect day out.

Raven Mad – pub co-op owes its birth to TV 8 October 2009

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Amazing to see the media industry creating the “reality” it is more conventionally supposed to report on – but this time with a result we can approve of. In February this year, production company TwoFour announced that it would like to film a series about a community saving its own pub. “Twofour will work with the current owners to encourage the local community to muck in and run the pub for one month, with support from our expert landlord and presenter, Jay Smith, who owns a number of successful bars in the north of England. Everyone involved will be trained in all the necessary skills to run their pub,” it said.

And hey presto by September, the inhabitants of Llanarmon-yn-Ial, near Mold, Denbighshire, had bought the Raven and formed a co-operative guarantee company – Raven Mad – to run it.

A TwoFour spokesman quoted in the pub trade newspaper The Morning Advertiser, said: “With so many rural pubs closing around the country, Twofour is delighted to have the opportunity to help save some of them. The precedent of community run pubs has proved successful, and hopefully this show will encourage more to go down this route. We wish The Raven every success.”

After standing empty for three months, the historic pub was auctioned in July, but no one would bid the £250,000 guide price. However Raven Mad has now secured a six-year lease. The pub reopened on 30th August.

Co-operative spokesman Doug Macpherson recognised the encouragement the TV company had given: “The village is one of few remaining with a shop, post office, school and pub. Villagers were very saddened to see the pub close but, like many other communities, felt powerless to do anything about it. The offer from the television company has enabled the community to come together with the support of an experienced mentor to re-open the pub.”

Good news about Dutch beer 29 May 2009

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Before and after a sip of Texelse Stormbock

Before and after a sip of Texelse Stormbock

Yes, Simon, I had to get round to beer eventually – one can’t go on being profound for ever. We cycled up from Amsterdam to Texel last weekend, which was an exhilarating ride along the dunes, with the wind behind us. In the Hondsbos I could manage 27 km/hr on the flat, measured by the mileposts.

The harbinger of unexpected good fortune was when we took a break in Schoorl, an outpost of Texelse Tripel. I never knew the island had a brewery, and certainly not one aware enough to be brewing a tripel. The execrable offering at the Den Helder ferry terminal – canned Heineken or canned Heineken to a captive market – how do they get away with it? – was extremely discouraging. But sure enough, the Texelse Bierbrouwerij opened up 10 years ago in a disused dairy just outside Oudeschild, the island’s main port. It brews 400,000 litres a year in the form of nine excellent bottle-conditioned beers, from witbier to Stormbock (9.5%), which are widely available on the island but hardly anywhere else – 85% of output is drunk there. The two bocks won 3rd place at last year’s Dutch bokbierfest.

The malt is island-grown, but oddly enough is exported to Belgium to be malted. Another oddity is that they use only brand-new bottles, and let the mega-breweries do their recycling for them (a 10-cent bottle deposit is legally required – unlike in Britain where the good old recyclable London Brewers’ Standard pint bottle seems to have quite disappeared over the last decade).

The place also makes a tourist industry out of brewery tours – they cost 7 euros and come complete with jokes about how drunk the sheep get when they eat the spent grains (there are 16,000 sheep on Texel, a few more than the number of humans). And of course there’s the proeflokaal or brewery tap. Beer gardens are a fine invention, and on this sunny weekend, it was bliss to taste (part of) the Texelse range in the yard behind the brewery.

The IJbrouwerij‘s garden forms this blog’s masthead in case you hadn’t recognised it – and it now has a competitor!

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