Starting a beer brewery

Do you brew beer at home, for yourself and your guests? That is perfectly fine. There are no rules to govern the use of popular DIY beer brewing kits. It is a different story once you start producing larger amounts for sales purposes. That makes you an entrepreneur. What do you need to do and take into account when you start a beer brewery? This article lists the most important matters.

Speciality beers are increasingly popular. People enjoy alternating their normal beer with speciality beers. The demand for speciality and zero-alcohol beers has also given a boost to self-brewing. But the brewing process is only one step on your path to being an entrepreneur. You need to consider sales, administration, and marketing your beer. How do you reach your target audience, so that they not only know your beer exists, but more importantly, want to drink it?

What is beer?

Until 2015, there was a beer regulation that gave a definition of beer. The definitions of beer and of several beer varieties have been incorporated in the Commodities Act (‘Warenwetbesluit’) as Reserved Denominations (‘Gereserveerde Aanduidingen’). Beer can only go by that name if it contains 4 ingredients: water, yeast, barley and/or wheat malt, and hops.

Number of beer breweries in the Netherlands (2016-2021)

Number of beer breweries in the Netherlands (2016-2021)

Number of beer breweries in the Netherlands since 2016 (Source: the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce KVK Business Register)

Brewing beer for beginners

You can start brewing beer from 3 places:

  • Brewing beer in your home

    If you want to start brewing commercially from home, you need to check your municipality’s zoning plan to see if your home may be used for this purpose. If you rent a house, you also need to inform your landlord. This does not apply if you only brew beer as a hobby.

  • Brewing beer from business premises

    You can rent business premises to start your own brewery. Check if the space meets your demands, and if your activities are within the zoning plan scope. Check with your municipality whether or not you need an All-in-one permit for physical aspects (‘Omgevingsvergunning’) and a Notification of the environmental impact of your business as regards waste, pollution, odour or noise. This is called a ‘melding milieubeheer’.

  • Renting a brewery (‘huurbrouwen’)

    You can also rent a location that has a beer brewing installation. You and the renting party agree on who does what. For instance, they can brew your beer, using your recipe. Or you can choose to only use the brewing installation and do the rest yourself. The advantage of renting a brewery is that you do not need to invest in a brewery. Besides that, the brewer who rents you their brewery has experience, knowhow, the right permits, and usually makes all the arrangements for excise goods.

Rules for beer breweries

The Commodities Act (‘Warenwet’) details the rules you must follow when you produce, package, or sell foodstuffs. You can make use of the Beer breweries Hygiene Code (in Dutch), or you can draw up a food safety plan yourself. The Netherlands Food and Consumer Products Safety Authority NVWA checks if businesses abide by the hygiene rules.

Label

The label is the customer’s main source of information about the beer. The European labelling regulation specifies what you are required to put on your label and/or your packaging, what you may optionally put on it, and what you are not allowed to include on the label. To help brewers find their way around this labelling regulation, sector organisation ‘Nederlandse Brouwers’ has published a labelling manual (in Dutch). This helps you to specify allergens or to draw up the quantitative ingredient declaration, for example.

Based on Dutch legal requirements, you place the following matters on the label or packaging in the same field of vision:

  • Net contents
  • Use-by date (minimum)
  • Alcohol percentage

The EU labelling regulation also specifies that you have to put on the packaging of beer:

  • The product name or description according to the Commodities Act
  • A list of ingredients
  • A list of ingredients (not required for beers with > 1.2% alcohol)
  • The producer’s, packager’s, or seller’s details
  • The manufacturing party
  • Nutritional value (not required for beers with > 1.2% alcohol)

Note: as of 1 January 2023, producers of alcoholic beverages have to list the ingredients, nutritional values, and calories per 100 ml on the label. Take that into account now.

Excise duty

Producers and sellers of alcoholic beverages have to pay excise duty. Excise goods may only be produced in a designated tax warehouse. Home brewers or starting brewers need to apply for a permit to that effect: a ‘Vergunning Accijnsgoederenplaats’ (Tax Warehouse Permit) to the Tax Administration. The permit states, amongst other things, in which location you may produce and store your excise goods.

Since 2015, the Tax Administration uses a special permit application for small and microbreweries. You must document and record everything, from the purchase of ingredients to the sale of the product. Examples are invoices, coding each malt batch, and preserving the exact recipe and results.

You pay excise duty digitally, at the end of a period (for example a month or a quarter). If you have questions about paying excise duty, contact the Customs Information Line.

Paying VAT

VAT (value added tax), or btw in Dutch, is charged on all products and services. You pay VAT on your turnover. You charge VAT to your customers, added to the price of the product. For beer and beer mixes that contain 0.5% alcohol or more, you charge 21% VAT. Merchandise also falls in the 21% tariff bracket. Beer with an alcohol percentage of less than 0.5% is charged with 9%.

In your VAT return, you list the VAT you have received from your customers. From that amount, you deduct the VAT you have paid to your suppliers. The remaining amount is what you need to pay to the Tax Administration – or, in case of a negative outcome, what you will receive.

Marketing

How do you want to market your beer? Creating an experience is important. A few tips:

  • When you are looking for customers, clearly define your target audience.
  • Present your product in the right channels, offline as well as online. Choose the social media channels used by your target audience.
  • Ask local hospitality businesses if they want to sell your beer.
  • Organise workshops and think of fun ways to get in touch with your future customers.
  • Take part in a beer festival and get people acquainted with your beer. Let them taste it, and stimulate their senses.

If you manage to surprise your customers, they are more likely to share the impression with others.

Part-time brewer?

As a hobby brewer, you can decide to start a business while still in paid employment. Starting a part-time business in your spare time has its advantages and disadvantages: you will have a steady income, but you will have to manage your time much more efficiently.

Once your part-time business takes off, you can always switch to being a full-time entrepreneur.

Sector organisations

These 2 sector organisations promote the interests of beer-brewing companies in the Netherlands:

The sector organisations represent the brewers’ interests in contacts with the market, media, and politics. They also offer support in other areas, such as promotion.

Did you know?

  • Depending on the preparation method, there are thousands of types of beer, all based on the same 4 ingredients.
  • The shape and type of glass can influence the taste of the beer. Other matters as well: a wet, dry, clean, or soiled glass all have an impact on the taste.
  • On 1 January 2022, there were 1,085 registered beer breweries in the Netherlands. Compared to 2015, that is an increase of around 100%.
  • Alcohol-free beer is growing in popularity. Reasons for this: better taste, more variety, broader supply, more responsible customer behaviour when it comes to alcohol.
  • Cleaning is not the most enjoyable part of the brewery process, but it is vital. If you use soiled equipment, the beer may become infected with germs and can go completely off.

Lees dit artikel in het Nederlands

Take a look at the checklist for starting a business in the Netherlands. It tells you which steps to take to get started.

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