Does the departure of the Heineken brewery signal the end of the reign of Alsace beer?

“It is always cruel to hear that a brewery is going to close, especially in Alsace, regrets Dominique Baudendistel, president of the Brasseurs d’Alsace. It’s quite hard to take knowing that Heineken Espérance, they have been there for 50 years. Since the announcement of the planned closure of the Schiltigheim brewery site in the next three years, the reactions have been as strong as the bitterness of a real mess. Local politicians on all sides have denounced this decision and are supporting the 220 employees whose jobs are threatened. Does his departure announce beer of the influence of the beverage made in Alsace in France?

More than a question of “honor”, ​​it is for the time being of course the economic repercussions that concern elected officials, unions and brewers. This departure project “would weaken the economic fabric of the historic city of brewers, denounces for its part the Federation of the PCF of Bas-Rhin, and would weaken the brewing industry in our region by laying off hundreds of employees in a context of economic crisis”. Others are more generally worried about a new symbolic disappearance on the Bas-Rhin territory, after that announced of the Adidas headquarters in Strasbourg, which would be a sign of a lack of attractiveness.

A crisis, which is however not the first in the Alsatian brewing world which even experienced a more critical period with successive closures, in order, of Mutzig, Adelshoffen, Schultzenberger-Fischer beers. “A period of hollow with flagships closing and no succession behind, not even the craft breweries which are also part of the decor today”, recalls Dominique Baudendistel, also CEO of the unicorn brewery. A brewery based in Saverne (Bas-Rhin), the third largest with the equivalent of 400 million half-products each year.

The latter recalls that Heineken, with its large sign on the tower which dominates the city in Schiltigheim, ultimately has “a very international image. I think there was a greater regional attachment to breweries like Schützenberger. The resonance will not be the same. But if the fact remains that 220 jobs, in an Alsatian brewery, are threatened, ”he insists. “But the image of Heineken, factory in Schiltigheim, will not disrupt the sustainability of the universe of Alsace breweries. Because there are others, and the biggest brewery in France, Kronenbourgis in Alsace, in Obernai, that there is the Licorne in Saverne, Météor in Hochfelden and many microbreweries or medium-sized breweries, craftwhich matter enormously today”.

The Heineken L'Esperance brewery in Schiltigheim on November 17, 2022
The Heineken L’Esperance brewery in Schiltigheim on November 17, 2022 – G. Varela / 20 Minutes

The largest brewing region in France

If for the president of the brewers of Alsace this departure is of course a bad signal, he reminds us that Alsace will still remain the largest brewing region in France. “But it will fall below the threshold of 50% of national production. It is a somewhat symbolic bar that we have managed to hold for many years despite successive closures, ”underlines the president. “There, the volume will drop because Heineken is 1.5 million hectoliters per year, the equivalent of 600 million pints of beer. Until now, we were, depending on the period, between 55 and 57% of production in France. Heineken’s share is strong. We will therefore drop below 50% but we still have a lot of room for maneuver to remain the largest brewing region in France”.

Still, this announced departure from Schiltigheim within three years will have to take into account the strong mobilization that is taking place. And some hopes are born. Heineken indeed mentioned the creation of a Fischer microbrewery in Schiltigheim, even if the quantity of beer produced under this brand does not really correspond to a microbrewery but more to a medium-sized brewery. In the brewing world, there is also talk of an “interesting project” which would be in the pipeline, near Schiltigheim…

Be that as it may, the departure of a large brewery “as it has been a long time since one has been created”, should make it necessary to “federate the Alsatian brewing community even more, concludes the president of the brewers. The particularity of Alsace is also to have this mix between very, very large groups, and medium-sized independent breweries, craft breweries. And that is a strong wealth. »

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