How a craft beer is conquering the world

Brewing your own beers and making them an international name. It is many a young man’s dream, and beer lover Michel Ordeman is making it come true. A lot has changed from the days when he went from pub to pub in Haarlem, selling his bottles himself. His business now has over a hundred employees, and as far away as the United States, people are tucking into the froth on a Jopenbier – his beer. Now he wants to conquer the rest of the world – he and his girlfriend, Lydian Zoetman, who is just as enthusiastic about the business as he is.

The success story of the brewer of Jopenbier from Haarlem

The mild, fruity aroma, particularly when he first arrives at the brewery in the morning. And then, that first smell of beer and fermentation. That is what Michel Ordeman loves. He started brewing in the spare room in his Haarlem apartment. He brewed the first Jopenbier in 1996, in commemoration of the city of Haarlem's 750th anniversary. That was a craft beer that he based on an original Haarlem recipe from 1501. At the end of that same year, he brewed a second recipe, one from 1407. Both were big hits.

Taking it to the pubs himself

‘I saw a gap in the beer market,’ Ordeman says. ‘There clearly was room, alongside that standard pilsner that everyone was drinking, for beers with a distinctive flavour.’ Initially, Ordeman’s beers were delivered to the pubs by hand - his own hands. ‘In the beginning, I just put a couple of bottles into my briefcase and took them round to the pubs myself.’ In his hometown, Jopenbier quickly became an institution, and Ordeman was making it using other brewers’ facilities. But what he really wanted was his own brewery, where he could make even more craft beers under the name Jopen.

Crowdfunding, old-style

But to make that idea a reality, he needed money. So he decided to get the fans of Jopenbier involved. For 250 guilders, they could support the brewery financially by buying a ‘Jopenbond’. The idea took off. ‘We now have about 150 Jopenbond holders, they are a real tight-knit group,’ says Ordeman. ‘Every year on 11 November, when we pay out the dividend in the form of bottles of Jopenbier, we make a big, fun day of it. That is how we create a real bond. This is how we were doing crowdfunding before anyone had ever heard of crowdfunding.’

‘I get a lot of satisfaction from brewing really great beers.’

Michel Ordeman

The Jopen Church

In 2005, Jopenbier bought a former church in the centre of Haarlem as a place to establish its brewery and restaurant. The historic church was rechristened the ‘Jopen Church’, where you can now dine or sit at the bar looking directly at the wort boilers and the eight large fermentation tanks. As CEO, Ordeman is now mainly focused on production, while his girlfriend Lydian Zoetman, as CCO, oversees the rest of the day-to-day operations. They share the passion for Haarlem’s home-grown craft beer. Zoetman eventually even quit her own job to give her all to the business. ‘I get a lot of satisfaction in being able to brew really great beers,’ says Ordeman, ‘and Lydian gets satisfaction from the business side of things.’

Part of a tradition

In their heyday (1648), the brewers of Haarlem brewed a total of 67.5 million litres of beer.

International business

Zoetman says that business is booming. ‘Our beer is now available in 1,800 cafés in the Netherlands, at bottle shops, and at regional and national supermarkets. The market for craft beer is really moving right now all over the world, and we are seeing interest from everywhere: the Caribbean, China, Colombia, Curaçao, Denmark, Germany, England, Estonia…’ To keep up with the growing demand in this country and abroad, they have built a new production facility in the Waarderpolder industrial park in Haarlem. ‘So far we have been growing at about 25-30% per year,’ says Ordeman. ‘Last year alone, we brewed over 10,000 hectolitres of beer [enough to fill ten 25m swimming pools -- eds.]. This new brewing capacity is going to allow us to multiply that volume in the coming years to 60,000 hectolitres.’

Rabobank is there

Rabobank has been there to lend a hand since the very beginning, when Ordeman was first looking to finance his plans for the Jopen Church. ‘At that time, this industry was really not a favourite among lenders,’ recalls Ordeman. ‘Rabobank was our primary bank already, and they said, “Well, let's see your business plan, then.” They were willing to give us the mortgage for the building. In the four years that followed, we did a number of expansions, which we financed through Rabobank. And Rabobank is involved in our current growth plans.’ This brewing couple is working closely with Rabobank to achieve their international ambitions.

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