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Transcript: S02E02 RBN…my definition is this – Paul van de Walle

Australian Brews News

Radio Brews News Season 2 Episode 2

Transcript of Interview with Paul Van De Walle, Global Brands Brewmaster, ABInBev.
Recorded 6 May 2014




PDF version available here.

Start of Audio (interview starts at 23:07, add that to the time stamps below in the audio)

Matt Kirkegaard: [00:02] We’d now like to welcome Paul Van De Walle, the ABInBev global brands brew master. Paul, welcome to Radio Brews News.

Paul Van De Walle: [00:13] Thank you. The pleasure is mine.

Matt: [00:16] Paul, I guess we can start – tell us a little bit about yourself. You certainly have a very responsible job within the world’s largest brewer. How did you come to occupy this role?

Paul: [00:27] I started my career after brewing science studies in Belgium, which I have [inaudible 00:38]. Immediately after my studies, I started in the Stella Artois Brewery in Leuven, in ’81. It’s already some time ago, where I worked for a long time in the brewery as brew master in Stella Artois Brewery in Leuven.

[00:54] In the ’90s Stella Artois Brewery, more and more breweries coming, acquiring new name Interbrew, was need for a more global role. And I went to the global headquarters of Interbrew, then it became InBev with Ambev joining, and then in 2010, Anheuser Busch of the US.

[01:27] Now currently I’m responsible for the quality of the global brands – Stella Artois, Beck’s, Corona and Budweiser. But my whole life I’ve been, I would say, very connected within the brewery, quality related things – brewing process and these things.

Matt: [01:51] That’s a big issue for the international breweries – consistency and brewing quality, isn’t it?

Paul: [01:59] Yes, it’s my area of expertise and so I am responsible as you know, as you rightly said, we are brewing our global brands in different breweries. I will take an example, Stella Artois or Beck’s. Stella Artois we are brewing currently in 22 breweries, amongst them Lion breweries here in Sydney. Becks, we’re brewing in 18 breweries, amongst them also Lion in Sydney for a long time already with our partner here in Australia.

[02:32] One of the things which is very important in quality is the taste quality. What is the most important quality parameter is the taste quality. Next to the taste quality you also have the, what we call the physical chemical quality, colour and CO2 and alcohol and [inaudible 02:57] and all these things, which we can measure very accurately.

[03:02] The taste quality, of course, that we have to measure with taste panels. We have within ABInBev, a global taste panel consisting of qualified tasters. A qualified taster is someone who has made a training of minimum six months and can describe very well, the taste of a beer. He knows all the different descriptors or attributes that needs beer to have. You have different attributes for Stella. You have different attributes for Beck’s. You have very different attributes for Budweiser, and you have different attributes for Corona. They’re called the end profile. The attributes [inaudible 03:43] profile and the taste profile and the end profile.

[03:47]All of the breweries brewing our global brands need to send in every month, samples that they brewed last month. These are tasted in an ongoing way in the global taste panel, where we obtain a taste, a sensory report or a taste report with all the different remarks. This is the way why I can go in, see the results, and adapt or correct a little bit, the different breweries so we come to one consistent quality for Stella or for Beck’s.

Matt: [04:27] Is your aim globally that Stella and Beck’s will taste the same when brewed in each and every market?

Paul: [04:36] I didn’t get that last bit, in each and every…?

Matt: [04:39] In each and every country. Is the idea that Stella that’s brewed in Australia will taste the same as the Stella that’s brewed in Belgium?

Paul: [04:46] Yes, of course. That is because when we start with a license, like for instance, I can give you the example of Stella here with our partner, here in Lion in Sydney. We started in 2012. First of all, what I do is I go to the brewery and see what needs to be invested in new equipment in order to be able to brew our Stella Artois, or it can be Beck’s or it can be Budweiser.

[05:20] First of all, before a license or a brewery can brew one of our global brands, they need to have the exact good equipment. Maybe they have to install additional yeast fermentation tanks. Maybe they have to install additional silos. Maybe they have to adapt procedures in their brew houses and so on, or in their fermentation area.

[05:48] Even that is available, that we can ask our partner to save a lot to have the necessary equipment, I have done this. Now you can go to the next level and make trial brews. We ask the brewer to make five generation trial brews, so five trial brews. First brew is an orientation brew, because if you brew the first time, maybe you are a little bit too high on the bitterness, you are a little bit too low on the colour or… so that is to adapt for a second brew.

[06:26] A second brew is it should then already be more or less within the specifications, and then the third, the fourth and the fifth. Because we’re working with professional brewers here with our partner in Lion, that should be good. These trial brews are tasted and analysed by our global panel within ABInBev. It’s only when it meets our requirements on taste and on all the other parameters that we can say after that period, now you will receive the license to start brewing.

[07:04] But as from then on, it’s a kind of an exam that I have to go through to be able to say well, these people are able now within their installations with our recipe, with our know-how which we delivered to them and which they have to apply, that they [inaudible 07:23] brands. But to start with, they have to send in every month, samples in order to control, so that I can control their consistency over the months and over the years, and also the consistency between the other breweries brewing our brands worldwide.

[07:42] I provide them also feedback on our observations and, as such, we work together with Lion and with our other breweries, because we also have own breweries – ABInBev breweries brewing our brands, most of them local, and then also external partners. That is in fact, in a nutshell, my role because this keeps me continuously busy.

Matt: [08:13] Yes. What do you say to one of the common complaints that you hear in Australia: once these brands have started to be brewed in Australia, is that they don’t taste like the old imports. A lot of people seek out the, what are called grey market imports, so beers that have been imported from Belgium. What do you say to people who tell you that the beer has changed flavour?

Paul: [08:40] First of all, the methods that we provide is freshness methods. What we want is that the consumers receive as fresh as possible, our brands, so that they can enjoy fresh Stella Artois, fresh Beck’s, fresh Budweiser which have been kept in the best circumstances and the best conditions.

[09:06] With regards to what you say, taste usually, indeed, if a beer has undergone a kind of… temperature was not correct during the storage, transportation which was not under our control, this is very, I would say, deteriorating for beer quality and for taste quality because you know that aging is accelerated by temperature.

[09:40] The temperature plays an enormous role in the aging process and the longer you expose beer to higher temperatures, the quicker it will be aged and age… taste, the beer will taste bready, papery-like cardboard taste coming out, winey dough taste. Also kind of overripe fruit, what we call, and this is not given the fresh thing.

[10:21] So our message is please, if you go and if you will enjoy our beer, please go to the regular channels to the youngest and the freshest beer, which was under control of either us or our partner, because it doesn’t mean… locally brewed or imported can also be good as long as the supply chain and the logistics are under our control. If we export, because we also export – Lion is also an exclusive importer of several of our brands, other brands – so if the supply chain is under our control, if we control it, then we know exactly, because we have specifications on temperature during transport. We know with the ships that we put the containers in those areas where it’s not exposed to very high temperatures and so on. So this is under our control.

[11:28] Once it arrives here, it’s immediately under control of Lion. Like in the warehouses, we have specifications on the warehouses. We work with Lion to guarantee that the freshness is kept up to date. And so then it’s not a problem, either locally brewed or distributed. But if it is imported under control, then it depends a little bit on the philosophy of the brand, whether you brew it locally or you import it. But the main thing is that it always be under control – it’s under our quality control, and that is the main thing. And as such, we can guarantee the freshest beer.

Matt: [12:12] When you say that the philosophy of the brand affects whether it’s brewed locally or internationally, when, for example, Stella Artois which is very much identified with Belgium, is brewed in Australia do you think that takes away from the brand, that that leads people to think that the brand is les authentic when it’s brewed in Australia?

Paul: [12:34] No, no, because the main thing is not the location. The main thing is the recipe of the brand, and this is the most important thing. We’re brewing according to the recipe which was the original recipe, and where it is brewed is less important. Of course it’s on the label, but the recipe is the most important thing.

Matt: [13:05] When you say you brew to the original recipe, the recipe for Stella has changed over the years, hasn’t it? It’s become a little bit less bitter over time?

Paul: [13:18] The recipes evolve always a little bit in order to, I would say, to meet the needs of the market. But a recipe, what I mean with the recipe, the recipe hasn’t changed. Because the recipe, what I mean by the recipe is, the quality of the ingredients – the quality of the ingredients still do not change. The brewing diagram does not change. The fermentation diagram is not changing.

[13:48] The yeast dye that we are using, for instance, in the case of Stella Artois, but also in the case of Beck’s, the yeast dye that we are using is still the same yeast, and we are taking very care of that, as we started with Stella Artois brewing in 1926. In fact, this is not changing so the recipe is, in fact, not changing.

Matt: [14:15] But the flavour profile has changed even over the last 15 or 20 years, hasn’t it?

Paul: [14:21] No, that I would not say, because we are monitoring the taste quality on an ongoing basis, and there we do not, I would say, we do not see a big difference, no, no.

Matt: [14:37] Is there a difference between taste quality and flavour profile, though? Because Stella is less bitter than it was, say, 10 years ago, isn’t it? As the market changes and as the market seeks different…

Paul: [14:52] Yeah. If you take over a longer time, then there is definitely a trending towards adaptation to the requirements of the beer drinkers. But that is something which is coming from the market; it is market information. It is not really in my domain of expertise to say these are trending.

Matt: [15:26] With the beers brewed over here, how difficult is it when, for example, Stella was brewed by CUB up until 2012, and now it’s brewed by Lion. How hard is it for you to maintain consistency as the beer moves from brewery to brewery?

Paul: [15:49] No, the consistency remains because as I explained to you earlier, we have a very strict procedure in, I would say, giving the license to a brewery to brew our brands. We are sure the moment that we go to a brewery, and the quality that comes out, our procedures are in place to guarantee that the taste is the same as before. That is not a big problem, because we have our, what we say internally, our cross brewing procedures are in place to guarantee that.

Matt: [16:29] Is a beer such as Corona brewed elsewhere than Mexico, or is it still just brewed in Mexico?

Paul: [16:37] Corona is only brewed in Mexico, so far.

Matt: [16:44] Are there plans to brew it internationally?

Paul: [16:50] I cannot answer to this question, because I’m not involved in these kinds of discussions.

Matt: [17:00] Right.

Paul: [17:00] My job is when there is a decision make it as complete, according to standards.

Matt: [17:10] How important is the water source when you move? One of the things I hear a lot from beer drinkers is, “I want to know that I’m drinking Belgian water”, for example. How important is that?

Paul: [17:24] Water is in essence, part of the beer, as you know, but water is very easy. The specifications we have in our, what we call technical manual, where what we require for Stella or for Beck’s, what we require for the specifications, because water, what is water?

[17:45] Water is H2O with a lot of minerals. Minerals like calcium and magnesium and sodium in it, and [inaudible 17:53] and sulphates and chlorides and phosphates and it is in different compositions. If you are saying, or people saying, “Yeah, it’s different water”, then it’s because there are different mineral compositions. The mineral compositions are very easy to, I would say, to make to a certain specification. Water adaptation is not so big a thing in brewing.

[18:22] Whether it is brewed in Lion here in Sydney, and they use the water, or it is brewed in I’m going to say in Israel in Ashkelon, or in Algeria in Annaba, the water can be very made easily to our specifications with some treatment. That is not a problem. It’s usually the hardness of the water. It’s about the hardness and the alkalinity, which is playing a very important role. The rest is not so important, and that is very easy to make to our specifications. No, that’s not a big issue. Absolutely not.

Matt: [19:02] Okay. The last question I should ask is how are your Australian brewers going, brewing your beers? You give them feedback. No doubt you’re meeting with them on your trip here. What’s the feedback that you’re giving them on this trip?

Paul: [19:19] My feedback on this trip?

Matt: [19:21] Yes.

Paul: [19:22] My feedback on this trip is that our Australian brewers here in Lion, they are very professional brewers. I work here with very professional partners. We have a very good partnership with them. We are discussing very openly on things. For the moment, I can tell you that we are very pleased with the quality that they produced on Stella Artois or brewed on Stella Artois and on Beck’s. My feedback is positive.

Matt: [19:58] Wonderful. Paul Van De Walle, thank you very much for joining us on Radio Brews News.

Paul: [20:03] Thank you very much.

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