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Stephane Vlaminck is not out to conquer the world market. He supplies his microbrewery’s products locally – with a little help from an association to promote the solidarity economy.

In November 2015, Stéphane Vlaminck launched an appeal in Pécrot in Belgium to find partners for founding a microbrewery. The partners have to contribute some of the capital required for running the cooperative. The social-purpose-oriented entity is to manage the activities of the Brasserie du Renard, the name of his brewery. Vlaminck also noticed an advertisement for second-hand brewery equipment which perfectly met his requirements. He had to act quickly to avoid missing out on this opportunity. The same went for the premises to house the brewery. They are located in the Pécrot district where the brewery is to begin its activities. The entrepreneur explains: “Today, we find ourselves at a crossroads. The business plan that I have produced with the help of SAW-B (an association in Wallonia supporting the promotion of the social market economy) and the financing plan we have drawn up must now prove themselves.”

A high-quality, organic product

The microbrewery project had been maturing for some time in the minds of its three founding members Stéphane Vlaminck, his wife Caroline Hofmans and Sylvain Delcourt. The adventure essentially comes down to a love of beer – Stéphane completed a bio-engineering degree with a special focus on the fermentation industry at the CERIA university campus in Brussels from 2000 to 2005. After graduating he could have sought a position with a traditional brewery company but that is not what he wanted.

Craft-brewed fruit beers are what he specialises in. “Fruit beers that are not overly sweet or acidic, made of fresh fruit which are pressed after harvesting or sometimes made into compote. What really inspires me is the prospect of working with local producers as this allows me to make organic products and means a short production chain. I source the organic barley and the red organic fruit from a farm in Nethen here in Belgium. The apples and pears also come from the same region.”

Stéphane had been experimenting with brewing techniques in the cellar of his parents’ home since 2008. The beer lover has been looking for the ideal combinations by applying all the technical and artisanal knowledge acquired during his studies. The big day arrived in May 2013 when his fruit beers – with evocative names like L’Adorée, La Rousse de Poire or La Diablesse – went into production at the Brasserie de la Lesse brewery in Rochefort. In quantities of 2,000 litres, the beer varieties are sold via short supply chains, such as through the GASAP (Groupement d’achats solidaires de l’agriculture paysanne – a solidarity-oriented procurement association of small-scale agriculture), via culinary establishments in the region specialising in organic and hand-crafted products or via direct sales. Stéphane nevertheless underlines: “We still need to explore the market and look for additional ways of achieving short production and supply chains.”

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The project’s core philosophy

Two years before the first beer went into production at Brasserie de la Lesse, Stéphane contacted the Grez en Transition (GeT) network. GeT aims to provide the citizens of the Grez-Doiceau municipality with a range of activities, focusing on networking and sharing municipal resources based on the principles of communal usage. In addition to harvest workshops, the permaculture festival, conferences, the collective food shop and the local currency Les Blés, GeT also supports local and citizen-oriented projects.

Stéphane was immediately impressed by the association: “I always believed that the foundation of my own brewery should not just be for economic reasons but should also represent other values, such as an eco-friendly approach, sharing, solidarity and cooperation. With GeT’it (Grez en Transition – investissement de transition solidaire ¬– an association promoting a collaborative and solidarity-oriented form of economy) I have found such values, on the one hand, and a network for support, energy and ideas, on the other. It is incredible what can be achieved when you’re no longer alone.”

Thanks to GeT‘iT the ‘Brasserie du Renard’ project is now taking shape. In 2013 he received an initial grant worth 5,000 Euros from ImpulCera – a call for projects promoting social entrepreneurship by SAW-B and partners – to carry out a feasibility study on his project. This then enabled Stéphane to draw up a business plan with the help of a SAW-B advisor. In the following year he was awarded start-up funding worth 10,000 Euros to establish the legal entity (a cooperative as he requested) and to devise a marketing plan. “I am looking for cooperative partners to contribute to the funding of this entity because I want to be part of a social, economic and solidarity-oriented network and to allow my fellow citizens to have a stake in my small business.”

With the foundation of the Brasserie participative du Renard – a cooperative with limited liability for social purposes – in January 2015, he started a new chapter. With the call for cooperative partners in the project launched in November 2015, the project is now really taking shape. Beer production at the Pécrot site is due to begin in May 2016.