Brauerei Stuff

Two craft brewers on the high seas of beer

d'Lëtzebuerger Land vom 14.12.2018

“The big breweries have pretty much forced us to look to foreign markets to sell our locally made, Luxembourgish craft beer.” So say the two co-founders of an independent brewery in Steinsel. The duo are Joseph Hallack-Wolff, 36, who has a professional degree in brewing, and Antoine Biasino, 38, who quit a job in the finance sector to embark on the entrepreneurial voyage that has become Brauerei Stuff.

The comment presents a huge plot point in the unfurling tale of these two craft brewers, but it’s perhaps best to start the story from an earlier point, back in the summer of 2017. That was when, after finally conquering the beastly administrative processes of starting up, Joseph and Antoine first introduced their beers to Luxembourg.

Was Luxembourg ready? It nearly was: Brauerei Stuff began with an ale, a blonde, an IPA, and a porter. From the start, the ale and the blonde sold well to customers of every nationality, while the IPA and the porter took off mainly in Irish pubs and expat hangouts, places frequented by drinkers nostalgic for those flavors. But in just eighteen months, brewmaster Joseph has seen local tastes broaden: Luxembourgers no longer cower before the torrefied malts and coffee overtones of the dark Black Widow, or the citrus notes of the hop-heavy Revolution IPA.

“Tastes are changing all the time,” Joseph said, “which keeps brewing exciting.” To that end, he has carefully updated the recipe to the IPA, following public demand for hoppy flavors. Specifically, he is adding hops after the beer has been brewed, a process called “dry hopping.” In his own words: “I’ve been dry hopping the hell out of it, and people love the taste.”

It goes further than subtle upgrades in public preferences, too: the concept of beer itself has become more fluid. Joseph and Antoine have met many people initially skeptical of their small brewery, whose minds they had to change. Because indeed, for many, beer is simply beer – and some even laughed at the idea of inventive brewing. The sweetest feeling: silencing that laughter with a fresh, independently brewed pint. A great many drinkers, however, are in no need of conversion: “Lots of people in Luxembourg are starting to understand beer as having the subtlety and diversity that wine has,” said Antoine.

It is upon this sudsy sea of craft beer love that Brauerei Stuff has set sail. The co-founders have smoothed out the initial kinks of doing business, settling into their routine of working 60 to 80 hour weeks. They produce 450 liters of beer per week and, at least for now, live off their company. Joseph even has time to experiment again, which he obviously loves with a strength known only to true nerds.

In the works are a new brew infused with Luxembourgish honey expected in the spring, an in-house blend for Ënnert de Steiler, and a new flagship called Zingy Béier which is gently undercut with ginger (available at the Christmas market by the Théâtre des Capucins).

But just as Brauerei Stuff has become comfortable on the open waters, it has run into an annoying setback: pubs in Luxembourg have been dropping its beers. Being simultaneously in a period of scaling up, the pair are naturally looking now to work with distri­butors, to get into supermarkets, and to sell internationally. That latter goal, however, was not foreseen in their initial dreams. “If we could keep a presence in Luxembourgish pubs – in their fridges, on their taps – we could live comfortably without exporting anything,” noted Joseph. But they cannot, because of how small the number of independent pubs, bars, and cafés is in Luxembourg, ones not bound to any bigger local breweries.

Joseph and Antoine had originally estimated that the number of pubs not beholden to any big brewer was about 25 to 30 per cent in Luxembourg. A year and half after launching, they now think it’s closer to five per cent. In effect, Brauerei Stuff has been muscled out of many pubs that, for a golden while, had been profitable for them.

Phased by this, the two are certainly not. Antoine talked in upbeat terms about this transition phase: “We had our first logistical adventures across the border earlier this year, at a festival in France. Even though it was disastrously planned, we took away quite a few lessons from it, got some contacts, and are excited to look outward at new markets.”

For Joseph, working with distributors will bring technical hurdles. To increase output, the duo are looking to do some of their brewing activities in a space rented in a larger brewing facility. Joseph must therefore reproduce his recipes on new equipment. His perfectionism shone as he began describing every touchpoint that threatens Brauerei Stuff’s established tastes: the thickness of the pots, the container sizes, and even how the elevation of a new brewing location will affect water boiling points. He absolutely loves talking about this stuff; it’s obvious. And you might have laughed at him, but likely would have been shut up with a glass of the ale, called Grande Ducale, with its toasted malt flavor.

Wherever it is sold, the Luxembourgish identity of Brauerei Stuff is unimpeachable. “We want to make a beer that uses Luxembourgish ingredients,” Joseph said, hinting further at a project to get farmers to grow hops in the Grand Duchy specifically for use in their brews. Antoine is Belgian-French and grew up in the Grand Duchy, while Joseph is English but arrived here at the age of twelve – both feel deep-rooted in Luxembourg and want their brews, insofar as it is possible, to comprise local ingredients.

Beer may be simply beer, and beer may not be simply beer – but this beer is undeniably brewed with care, by zealous beer nerds, and if that means anything to you then the name, again, is Brauerei Stuff.

Jeffrey Palms
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