Jerôme Eggen is originally from the Netherlands, and is the man behind De Laatste Drinker brewery. TheSquare.Gent caught up with him in 2018 to ask him how he ended up in the brewing business and how he feels about living in Ghent.
I am an environmental engineer, and for my degree I had to do a couple of internships. One of them was working on water management and sustaining a production facility. I ended up doing this in a brewery. And through the course of my internship I learned how to brew. I’ve also always been intrigued by food – I used to be a chef. Creating and discovering new flavours, and sharing them with other people, is something that drives me.
Do you need a lot of space or to hire workspace?
I don’t have my own brewing equipment yet. Therefore I brew at other breweries where I can hire the workspace and equipment. I also hire a place where I can stock the beer and other materials. So I don’t really need a lot of space. My computer is my office.
What steps did you have to go through to set up?
Being Dutch I expected things (the steps/actions to set up a business) to be kind of the same here in Belgium. I was so wrong! To brew in Belgium, especially when you don’t have your own brewery, you need connections. Mainly other brewers and local suppliers. That was the easy part. I knew many people already, and their support definitely made things a lot easier.
The difficult part was the ‘official part’. Registering your business is straightforward, but after you’ve done that, things get complicated quickly. There are A LOT of institutions in Belgium, local, municipal, provincial and national, who all want to know something about you and your business. Unfortunately these institutions do not at all cooperate with each other, which meant I had to explain everything over and over again, applying for lots of different permits, on lots of different websites, etc.. Once you’ve done all of that (and paid them) you’ll never hear from them again. It leaves you kind of dazzled.
So this was your toughest challenge then?
Toughest was to find out what to do, when, where, why and how much it’s going to cost. There is some information out there, but not all. Most isn’t, or only applies to very general cases. As a new business, you do not want to break any rules, so I had to really figure out what all of these different institutions are, and why they should be important to me. It took a lot of time and effort to understand how these things work in Belgium, what is related to what. The fact that there are several layers of governing bodies does not make it easier.
How is business going?
Business is going well! My first beer, Ne Veurvechter – a Belgian style blond beer of 8,5% has been available for 1,5 years now, and is receiving positive reviews. There are several pubs, specialty stores, lunch rooms and liquor stores that sell the beer. Last summer I was present at many festivals which was a good opportunity to introduce the beer to new people.
Because of this, I was able to brew a second beer. This beer is a 9,5% imperial porter called “Dukus Bear”, brewed with cacao, vanilla and espresso. I am also hiring someone to help me out, just 1-2 days a week, to distribute and supply customers. But also to expand and attract new customers. Since people enjoy the beer, and it now has some recognition in and around Ghent, I feel like now is the right time to expand and so with a little help I am aiming to increase my customer base.
Why did you first move to Ghent?
I always liked Belgium. I’m from a small village in Limburg, in the south of The Netherlands. 15 minutes biking east and I’d end up in Germany, 15 minutes west and I’d be in Belgium. It was very intriguing as a kid. They were so close, yet appeared so completely different and strange.
As a result of me growing up so close to Belgium, I guess I’m not really a typical Dutch person (whatever that may be). I don’t feel Belgian either, but it is closer, at least closer to what I would prefer in some ways.
But how I ended up in Ghent is a longer story: I worked one year as a wine maker in Australia and when it was time to go ‘home’, I decided not to go back to The Netherlands, where I would probably end up unemployed again, but move to Belgium and start a brewery. A while before my move to Down Under, I visited a beer festival in Ghent, and was really impressed with it. This was kind of the motivation to come to Ghent. When I came to Ghent I joined the local beer association and am now a member of the team that annually organises that same beer festival.
What do you like/dislike about Ghent?
I like everything. Which is surprising, cause I usually don’t. I really don’t know what I dislike. I hear public transportation sucks…? Ow wait that reminds me, infrastructure is a nightmare! I do not understand intersections in Belgium. Very scary, everyone gets a green light at the same time?! Beats the purpose…
What advice would you give for becoming a brewer?
Have a plan that embodies what you want to bring to other people, what you want them to experience. So make sure it is really about you and what you can offer, and not some random business idea that anyone could google. Stick to your guns (that is, the plan) and make sure you enjoy what you’re doing.
Where can we try your beer?
You can find my beer in and around Ghent. For a good selection of all beer go exploring in De Hopduvel. Also, just outside Ghent in Oostakker you might want to check out Dranken Geers. If you rather enjoy it in a pub, try Trollenkelder and Kantien. Or if you’re going to have lunch and fancy Ne Veurvechter I’d recommend VERS, Homblé or Traiteur Toulouse. It’s also available in the restaurant Volta.