De Prael is a different kind of brewery, and not just because the first pour of your tasting flight is the basic liquid of life. Even in North America, where tap water is a universal right, it’s seldom automatically presented aside your beer. This brewpub, located in the Red Light District, understands that tastings are more productive when the palate is afforded a quick cleanse, and doesn’t feel the need to charge for H2O, unlike pretty much every restaurant in The Netherlands.
What’s really special about De Prael however, is the origin of the brewery, which was founded by owners that used compassionate grounds to finance their start-up.
In business for more than a decade, De Prael is the product of two friends, Arno and Fer. Arno used to make his living as an employment counselor for persons with mental illness, and was well acquainted with government programs to encourage job creation for a group that typically has a difficult time finding work. Grants paid for the brewery’s original equipment (including secondhand lagering tanks from a bankrupt German brewpub and fermenters from an old dairy). Hard work and quality beer sustained it.
Philanthropy and community involvement are not rare in the craft beer industry. In fact, the newest Toronto brewery I’m aware of (I’ve been away three days, and breweries in Ontario multiply faster than wet gremlins) is Collective Arts, which pledges to help artists (including photographers, musicians and filmmakers) increase exposure through interactive bottle labeling.
Village Brewing opened last year in Calgary, also with a benevolent bent. Beau’s raises tens of thousands of dollars for worthwhile causes through events like its Oktoberfest, and Alberta’s craft brewers have collaborated for years on an annual Unity brew for charity. Good beer and good causes are a natural fit.
De Prael though, has tapped into something different, by helping themselves through helping others.
The human interest angle alone is intriguing, but the beer itself, also holds up. These aren’t brewers that play around with experimental recipes. Here, a Kölsch tastes like a Kölsch and an English Barley Wine like an English Barley Wine. Nothing struck me as particularly exceptional, but neither did any style disappoint.
The decor is kitsch, with an emphasis on old records and stereos. The music was a selection of pop classics ranging from Chuck Berry to Fleetwood Mac.
I suppose it could be tempting to think these brewers took advantage of a government program to give themselves a head start and/or a marketing gimmick, but I don’t think anybody gets into one-on-one social work for nefarious reasons. This weekend, in fact, the two founders are taking part in a 2013-meter charity swim to raise money for ALS.
Hopefully they aren’t charged for the water they consume.