To help celebrate its 150th anniversary, Flemish brewery Duvel Moortgat decided to pay homage to its ‘devilish’ past by releasing a new beer that carries the ‘number of the Beast.’ Duvel 666 is a gently-bitter brew that came about after last year’s collaboration with Belgian microbrewery IJ, and is aimed at a younger demographic and those who are daunted by high strength Belgian beers. Peter Dean got the full story.
“We helped hospitality companies by setting up a platform where people could buy a voucher to support their favourite venue. More than 6500 venues participated and more than €1 million was raised.”
Duvel Moortgat’s flagship beer, Duvel, has always had a Devilish link. To celebrate the end of World War 1, the Moortgat brewery named their main beer 8.5% abv Victory Ale, a brew which was described as “nen echten duvel” (a real devil in Brabantian Dutch). The name stuck and the rest is history. I caught up with two of Duvel’s UK team, Laurens Nies, (national sales manager on trade) and Steven Behan (general manager) to find out the story behind making new beer Duvel 666.
How many new beers do you actually release every year? (it feels like you are launching new beers all the time!)
Pioneering and experimenting is within Duvel Moortgat’s DNA! We always try to innovate and brew new beers, but always with keeping quality in mind. For the purpose of innovation, we have recently built a microbrewery so that our brewers can experiment with a whole host of different beers. The inevitable result is the launch of new and exciting beers.
Tell us about the thinking behind the launch of 666?
Our collaboration with brewery IJ last year is the basis for this new Duvel 6.66%. After the many positive reactions to that collab, we got busy again in our microbrewery. In Duvel 6.66%, you will recognise our own, unique Duvel yeast and malt types. The dosage of the 6 hops used has also been slightly changed (our classic Duvel uses just Styrian Goldings and Saaz), and this produces a gently bitter, full-bodied but balanced result. 6.66 was brewed in honour of the brewery’s 150th anniversary. It’s a festive beer that is very accessible and will appeal to anyone.
Is this the first time that Duvel has actively used the ‘Devil’ connection as part of its marketing?
No, there are always subtle hints to it (“Brewed on Earth, heavenly taste” in earlier advertisements). But this time the connection to it is that much bigger. It was called ‘the devil’ in Flanders way back in our history, as it is a beer like no other, not just for its vibrant flavours and grip, but also for its finely formed bubbles and billowing blond head.
What do you have planned for the UK launch?
There is a huge emphasis on this being on draught; so, when the on-trade reopens, we want to make a big thing of it – but bearing in mind the restrictions. For all the years we have been in the UK, we have been led by bottles rather than draught. That was partly because Duvel is such a wonderful feisty brew, so it has proved very hard to find dispense equipment which can contain it and its legendary flotilla of bubbles. But Duvel 666 can be served using standard dispense equipment, and that will help us to spread the Duvel message into new outlets and in a much more theatrical manner.
Is the ABV exactly 6.66%? Is it possible to get a beer to be that precise?
Yes, there is always a minor margin allowed, but every batch always undergoes a rigorous check by our Quality team to closely monitor the brewing process to ensure the beer will contain 6.66% ABV.
666, ironically, is less strong than many Duvel beers. Why is this?
Duvel 8.5% will always be the core beer, but 6.66% ABV makes it more accessible to consumers intimidated by higher ABV beers.
Is the ABV a result of a younger drinker demographic (wanting to cut down on alcohol)?
Yes, this definitely played a part in the consideration of a lower ABV percentage. Duvel Moortgat has a range of beers that will suit all type of drinkers and we felt 6.66% would fit perfectly into the Duvel range.
Are there plans to release a Non-alcoholic beer?
We actually just did with Liefmans Fruitesse 0.0. Duvel Moortgat always looks at trends and we’ll continue to brew beers that are in demand by speciality beer lovers worldwide. Duvel Moortgat already has an iconic portfolio of speciality beers from many countries which push boundaries and offer retailers clear points of difference.
Is Duvel’s acquisition strategy (Firestone, Jarr etc) driven by the need to tap into new drinkers? Or is it what a modern brewing dynasty need to do to survive?
When the brewery fits into our family and the opportunity arises for acquisition, then we’ll always look into this.
Regarding sales figures etc. How many hectolitres of beer does the Duvel group produce each year?
Over 2 million.
How much of that is purely through the Duvel brand?
Duvel is the strongest performing brand in the Duvel Moortgat portfolio and continues to perform well in all markets. In the UK, besides Duvel, we also offer Vedett, Chouffe, Liefmans and many more of our beloved brands.
What are your top export countries?
Our neighbours south and to the north of us (France and Netherlands) are big, as is China. But with such a powerful portfolio, we see great possibilities throughout Europe and the rest of the world.
With the UK – what are sales and how are they divided up between on-trade and off-trade?
Roughly 50/50 in a normal non-Covid year.
Tell us about Horeca Comeback – how many hospitality companies have you helped and how?
We helped hospitality companies by setting up a platform where people could buy a voucher to support their favourite venue. More than 6500 venues participated and more than €1 million was raised.
Many in the UK?
This is a Belgian initiative, so none in UK. But we will continue to work with all our key customers to support them once lockdown is lifted in the UK. And we are actively seeking out new accounts all over Britain who would value our range and the support we can give them as we emerge from Lockdown. I think that Duvel 6.66% will help open many new very receptive doors.