Saturday 18 November 2017

Brewer taps crowdfunding for Bruges beer pipeline

Brewery lorries negotiating Bruges' historic narrow streets will be a thing of the past when the underground pipeline ships beer straight to the bottling plant (AP)
Brewery lorries negotiating Bruges' historic narrow streets will be a thing of the past when the underground pipeline ships beer straight to the bottling plant (AP)

The idea may seem mad, but after all, the beer is called the Madman of Bruges.

And with the help of crowdfunding efforts by about 400 Madman fans, the dream of building a beer pipeline through the Belgian city is becoming real.

"You have to be a bit crazy - like the beer - to do such a project. I just had the money for that, and I liked it. So I went crazy and gave the money to the brewery," said restaurant owner Philippe Le Loup, who poured £7,500 into the pipeline.

Brewer Xavier Vanneste got the idea four years ago to pump beer from his Bruges brewery to a bottling plant outside of town in a pipeline, instead of having hundreds of trucks blighting the cobblestoned streets of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)-protected medieval city.

What at first seemed like an outrageous dream began to seem possible when Mr Vanneste started talking to local beer enthusiasts.

Jokes were coming in fast, with people saying "we are willing to invest as long as we can have a tapping point on the pipeline," he said. "That gave us the idea to crowdfund the project."

Thanks to Mr Le Loup and others, he is now staring at the one end of the pipeline, which, from the autumn, will start pumping 1,060 gallons of beer an hour towards the bottling plant, two miles away in an industrial zone.

"That is a lot of beer, more than you can drink in a lifetime," said the owner of De Halve Maan brewery, which in addition to its Madman of Bruges - Brugse Zot in Dutch - is also famous for its Straffe Hendrik beer brand.

Sending the pipeline along streets where customers could siphon off their favorite suds was too utopian even for Mr Vanneste, but he came up with the next best thing: IOUs with a life-long drinking guarantee.

"We have several formulas: bronze, silver and gold," he said. "If you put in 7,500 euros (£5,870), you will receive for the rest of your days, every day, one bottle of Brugse Zot."

For many, that offer was hard to refuse. About 10% of the £3 million investment for the pipeline has been financed through crowdfunding. With it came a popular surge of support that has stood Mr Vanneste in good stead.

With a warren of municipal, regional and national laws governing the picturesque city, building approvals are often laborious to obtain, but not for a beer pipeline, as authorities realised the whole community was backing it.

The city also stood to gain. In between the city's beguinage houses and Our Lady's Cathedral, the De Halve Maan brewery has given the sometimes overly touristy city a sense of real life.

Mr Vanneste could have done what so many others have - moved out of the city with its canals, gabled Gothic houses, horse-drawn carriages and restaurants with menus in six languages.

Now, he looks forward to the best of both worlds - a historic brewery in a gorgeous location and an environmentally friendly way of transporting his brews out to the bottling plant, which will allow him to continue to grow without damaging the city.

But it is not only Mr Vanneste's family business that is growing. The generous contributor to the project, Mr Le Loup, sighed as he glanced at his own paunch and said: "You can see that in my belly, I am a bit more beer fan."

Press Association

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