Karl (l) and Jan (r) Dingemans
Meet Karl and Jan Dingemans, 5thgeneration owners of Dingemans Malt in Belgium. BSG got the chance to catch up with Karl and dig into growing up in a multi-generational malting family, views on the brewing industry, and some fun facts about Dingemans!
Most beer industry companies in America are not multi-generational family businesses – what was it like growing up in a malting family?
I think that, in general, it’s not much different than growing up in other families. I grew up next to the malting house; the window of my room actually faced the malting house. When I was young, and supposed to be studying, I already knew which trucks were coming with barley from that supplier, or which trucks were going to load malt for a brewer.
I have seen my parents and my uncle work very hard from early in the morning till late at night, 6 to 7 days of the week. The lesson there is that if you want to achieve something, you need to work hard for it. We learned that as youngsters. Nothing comes from doing nothing!
What’s your perspective on the brewing industry in the U.S.? (What trends have you noticed, or are excited about?)
I think there is a lot of potential for our malts in the U.S. The more brewers there are, the more they want to differentiate the types of beers they offer the consumer. That is where we can help them with our wide range of malts. However, I think it is important to find a good balance between the number of new beers a brewer makes. If you create a new beer every week, you cannot give the same attention to detail as a brewer who is creating one or two new beers per year. The challenge for American brewers will be to find a good balance in this process. Of course, the creativity of both American and world-wide brewers has led to a wider range of beer styles, something we support and have deep respect for!
What changes have you seen in your time in the brewing industry? (Internationally, locally, in Belgium, in the U.S., etc)
In the ‘90s, competition between brewers was brutal, and all brewers wanted only to become bigger and bigger. Luckily, in the last two decades quality and craftsmanship have increased the importance for both brewers and consumers.
The growth of brewers worldwide is incredible. Brewers from all sizes have been starting up in Europe, U.S., Latin America, China, and the rest of the world. Due to the increase of brewers, at some point the market will be saturated. In the end, brewers with high quality beers, a good brand, and a good strategic business plan will always survive. I hope the recent developments due to the novel coronavirus will not affect our brewers too much. However, the world population is always increasing so the growth of beer consumption will as well. Time will tell.
What inspiration can U.S. brewers find in some of the breweries you supply?
I am very proud of the breweries we supply. We supply base and specialty malts to all Trappist breweries in Belgium and Holland, and to many Belgian craft breweries as well. You can find our malts in Trappist, Abbey, Gueze, Lambic, strong blond ales, Flamish red ale, and IPAs.
To me, the phrase “craft brewers” in Belgium is a strange expression, because in Belgium we are used to having an enormous wide range of beers for many decades … but what’s in a name?
What is one thing you would like brewers in North America to know or understand about Belgian malt?
Belgian malt is a perfect combination of high-quality barley (mainly coming from France) and the ability to adapt to the malting process to create the perfect malt for various beer styles. For years we’ve made malt on customers’ demand, and work very closely with the brewmasters. This combination has led to new great malts and malt blends.
What is an interesting fact not many people know about Dingemans?
We combine a traditional process with modern techniques. We still produce our malt on the traditional 9-day production timeline: 2 days steeping, 6 days germination, 1 day of kilning. This has a large impact on the quality of our malts, such as the filterability of the wort and stability of the beer. We don’t need to force the germination to achieve certain parameters. In German, they say “Kalt und langsam” – cold and slow. If a brewmaster wants to see this for themselves, and they plan to visit Belgium, please feel free to ask us for a visit! We are happy to host you!
Any life lessons you learned from beer or brewing that you would like to share?
That we are active in the most interesting industry there is! The network of brewmasters is a very intense and warm community. Brewers combine hard work with sharing a good beer from time to time among family, friends, and fellow brewers. It’s the best time there is.
What should we look for from Dingemans in the future?
In 2019 we increased our total capacity 50% after adding a completely new malting line, so you could say we are ready for the future! A lot of our European brewers receive malt ready-to-use, and we prepare a blend of different malts in totes or bulk. These “ready-to-use” totes might be a solution for many craft brewers. Depending on the volumes they need, we can organize this for them. Flexibility is one of our strengths.
On the other hand, we’re seeing a big increase of our wheat malt sales. Belgian Witbier has been more appreciated by the consumers all over the world in recent months. Witbier is one of my favourite styles on a sunny day like today, but of course there are different beers for every occasion. Orval, for example, is another top beer. I worked a few months at the beginning of my career at Orval and Duvel. At Orval, I followed the whole process from brewing to bottling. Since Orval is a 3-hour drive from our home, I used to stay in the monastery during the week. Found complete zen after a few months!
In the meantime, we’re continuing our research work on different subjects, like the impact of kilning on aged beers, and our research on hydrophobins.
How can people keep up-to-date with Dingemans (social media, etc.)?