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Alain De Laet, CEO, Brewery Huyghe
Alain De Laet, CEO, Brewery Huyghe

The beer has a way of capturing at least three of your senses. The eyes instantly notice the pink elephant staring at you from the label, while the nostrils inhale the slightly malty,spicy feel and the tongue relishes the warm lingering after-taste. Meet Delirium, the new premium beer that is as much loved for its flavour as for its elephant logo, and which is being positioned in the same league as wine. This much sought-after craft beer from Brewery Huyghe, one of the oldest family-owned craft breweries of Belgium, has re-entered India with fresh plans of making it good here. The brewery will be introducing the Delirium Tremens, 8% strong blond ale, and Delirium Nocturnum, 8% strong dark ale, to the Indian market. Says Alain De Laet, CEO, Brewery Huyghe, ‘From the list of 40 beers, we have decided to bring the two best beers.’

A brewery with a long legacy, Huyghe N.V. exports more than 80% of its production to almost 97 countries. In 1992 when Alain De Laet took over the reins, the fourth generation had entered the boardroom and it was a period of higher investments and growth. Within five years, production had doubled and exports accounted for more than 50% of the turnover. Speaking about Huyghe’s evolution from a village brewery to becoming a formidable international player, Alain De Laet, who was in India recently to introduce his beer brands,says, ‘My great, great grandfather started the brewery. I am the fourth generation working in here.
When my father retired in 2004, he did not stop working. He created his own bar in Brussels called ‘Delirium Café’, where he has 3162 types of beers. He is 77 and still going strong. Our brewery is spread over an area of 33,000 square metres and we are producing 200,000 hectolitres of beer — that’s two million litres. We are focused on quality and tradition,even as we nurture our dream of making the world a better place, especially for the next generation.’

Delirium

Making the world a better place means taking up one’s environmental responsibility very seriously. Says Laet, ‘Sustainability is our motto. We aim to become the greenest and most sustainable breweryin Belgium. Some proofs of that are already visible: 100% green electricity, 18% of the solar energy in 11000 square metre warehouses and the use of Belgian wind energy. We are reusing 70% of our waste water after recycling it. So, where eight years ago we were using 8.7 litres of water for making one litre of beer, we now use less than three litres of water for making one litre of beer. The electricity consumption has also gone down more than 40%. The total CO2 emission in the brewery has come down by 15%, while the production has gone up by 99%. We also insist on not automatizing our packaging and carton packing divisions. These are done manually by differently enabled people.’ This environmentally conscious company has today captured strong markets across the world for its beer products that include the flagship Delirium Tremens. Thisbeer now comes to India with a slightly modified ABV of 8% instead of its 8.5%, in keeping with the Indian regulations. The other product that has entered India is the Delirium Nocturnum, the lighter version. While speaking more specifically about adapting these products to suit the Indian market, Laet says, ‘There is coriander in both the recipes; I think coriander is something that Indians like.’ The brewery’s other products include La Guillotine,which was launched to mark the 200th anniversary of the French revolution, the Abbey beer which has a Trappist’s logo, and the Floris fruit beer which is made from apples, berries, honey, chocolate, strawberries and raspberries. Overall, the brewery has about 35 variants, including fat-free, gluten-free, organic ones, besides wheat beer, banana beer, coconut beer, mango beer, and its very own Pilsner. Each of these products emerges from a distinct production process. Explains Laet, ‘Guillotine and Averbode use dry hops;La Guillotine in fact uses American hops and is very aromatic. For Averbode, we use dry hops with three different grains. Dry hopping using Challenger gives distinct floral notes, which is very important. Then we have the Delirium Argentum with 50 IBU, made with American dry hop and 38 multi-grains. So you see, different approaches are followed for different beers and each one of them is unique.’ All these processes are of course aimed at creating a distinct product USP. Laet elaborates on this, ‘Delirium is winning a lot of prizes in the category of Strong Blonde and being a triple fermented beer, it is also special. We use three different yeasts to make the beer. Secondly, they are re-fermented in bottle. Thanks to this re-fermentation, we have a shelf life of atleast three years. It’s all about letting the taste evolve. So it’s like a great wine in that sense. We have in our brewery some very old beers. But Delirium is best between six months and a year.’Musing reflectively on the Delirium, he says further, ‘Delirium will always be drunk in company with friends. It’s a rather unique beer; you share the moment with it.’ Talking further about exploring new approaches to beer making, Laet says, ‘We have begun putting Delirium Christmas & Delirium Nocturnum in the bourbon barrels of Buffalo Distillery in US. The beer is kept in barrels for six-nine months and I am very curious to see how it turns out to be. It is a small batch for a niche market, but it will be a top product. The fun is in playing with the ingredients.’ And then as an interesting aside, he also adds, ‘You have to understand that our beers have to be served in Korean glasses with a large head of foam. I can’t drink a beer without foam.’
The brewery,which uses seven different yeasts to make its beers, is known for its off-beat beer expressions using a wide variety of ingredients — quinoa, banana, mango, coconut or chocolate and others. Says Laet,‘Yes, there is demand for such beers in some countries. In fact, our fruit beer is the fastest growing brand in the portfolio today.’ But carving a niche in the market is as much about brand identity and personality, as it is about the product.The packaging of Delirium for example reflects craftsmanship, like the premium product it holds. Sharing the story behind the brand name and its logo, Laet explains, ‘Delirium Tremens has existed since 1989. We created a recipe for a Strong Blonde beer originally for the Taiwanese market under a private label. The excise guys who used come to the brewery to check and sometimes also to enjoy a drink or two, loved the beer and wanted to know where they could get it. We had to tell them that we did not have a label. They offered to come up with a name even as they were getting high on the beer.One of them then suddenly remarked, ‘If I continue to drink so much I will get complete delirium!’ Delirium is Latin for a body condition. And bingo! We had a name – Delirium!’
Things then quickly fell into place. A student working at the brewery offered to design the brand label in return for two cases of beer. The options he came up with included a pink elephant, a crocodile and a dragon and the final choice was of course the pink elephant! Says Laet, ‘In India, the elephant holds a special significance. That’s why I believe there is potential here. An elephant brings luck;it is part of every ceremony in the country.’
GOING GLOBAL
Speaking about the demand for these beers in other countries, Laet says, ‘We are exporting our strategic brand ‘Delirium’ to 97 countries. The biggest market for us is France, followed by US. This year China has overtaken US because they are growing very fast. We are currently doing 12,000 hectolitres in China, a number we reached in just three years’ time. We are also doing very well in countries like Canada, UK (more than 10,000 hectolitres), Italy (4000-5000 hl), Holland (10000 hl), besides Russia, Brazil and Japan where it is anywhere between 1500 and 2000 hl. Taiwan is also a very good market for fruit beer. So we have beers for nearly every market. But to go internationally you have to be very flexible.’
In this context he adds, talking about the Indian market, ‘You know the Indian market is a very difficult one. But our aim here is not to go for volumes, but to focus on quality. Even if we are able to export 1500 hectoliters during the initial two-three years,it will be a great achievement for us and I will be very happy.’

INDIA AND LOOKING AHEAD
India in fact fits right into the future scheme of things, according to Laet. ‘I am looking far ahead.My son, who is only 16 years old, has already suggested putting up an office here in India.And when I said that an office was not necessary, he offered to put up one here himself! So yes, India could become one of the biggest markets in future, as big as US, China or France. This is a country with 1.5 billion people; it’s a giant market and we could easily do 15,000 hectolitres. Also, now is the right time to enter. But we don’t expect to earn anything for another three-four years. This is just the investment period and we will probably be investing mainly to promote Belgian beer and pave the way for someone else who will come after us.’
The brewery has also hired a Belgian brand ambassadorto spread the good word and create awareness about the products, a crucial factor at this stage. Says Laet, ‘I visited a ‘Beer Café’ here,it had about 50-60 beers and 90% of that was locally brewed beer. There was no Belgian beer, which is known worldwide for its high quality. We are a small player, but we will have to do the pioneer’s job. We will knock on doors and say, ‘Hello, I am Belgian’.’
He further informs that the two major Belgian breweries Huyghe and Chimay will be working together to enter the India market and will also be partnering with Hema Connoisseur. As he points out, ‘Combining forces is the best way to work. We are coming with two products from each brewery.’
In India Delirium will be priced at INR 550 for a pint in retail and between INR 700 and 800 in bars. Says Laet talking about the pricing, ‘We know that we are a very expensive product. But end of the day, it’s the quality that matters. Though we are in the beer category, our target audience includes more of the wine lovers. We pay a lot of attention to good food and we think that our beers can replace wines. Food-pairing with our beers is very important.’
The message is indeed loud and clear — ‘Enjoy life with a good glass of beer, instead of a wine.’ Who’s listening?

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