Gustave Adolphine Wilhelmina Rüdemann (1902-1980)
Billboard ‘Altijd Welkom’ (Always Welcome), De Sleutel Brewery, Dordrecht
h 61 x w 44 cm
A cheerful lady here presents a wicker basket full of rustic beer bottles from De Sleutel Brewery. The billboard dates from just before the Second World War. The Dordrecht brewery was still operating in full force then and no one was aware of the dreadful times to come. After the war, De Sleutel fared poorly, as did other small Dutch breweries. Heineken took over the company in 1953.
‘Consumed for 5 centuries now’ the billboard proclaims, and that is no exaggeration. At the time of the takeover, it had been exactly 520 years since Willem Danielsoen had founded ‘Die Sloetell’ Brewery in a building on what was then the newly constructed river port of Dordrecht.
Beer of repute
In 1433, Willem Danielsoen was one of dozens of brewers in the city who were united in a guild. The Dordrecht beer, ‘mom,’ was popular in the Low Countries near the sea. The local brewers were highly respected and often played an administrative role in the city, some even becoming burgomasters. Yet of all those breweries, including Den Harinck, Het Gulden Vlies, Het Lam and De Bel, only De Sleutel ultimately remained; it merged with De Ster from Zwijndrecht in 1887.
The steam beer breweries ‘De Sleutel en De Ster’ produced all kinds of special beers. The most exceptional was the Paulus Jonas beer, brewed in December. It was named after the American pirate John Paul Jones who landed on the Dutch island of Texel in 1789 with a booty and was hailed as a hero. This beer, don’t be alarmed, was served warm, after having been simmered like Dutch mulled wine on a gentle fire with brown sugar, cloves and lemon. De Sleutel brewed its cloudy top-fermenting beers, such as Faro, Meibier, Minnebier, Gorcumsch Dubbel Princesse and Salon Bier up until 1933. However, in that year the company buildings were auctioned off: the popular clear German beers could not be brewed with the old installation.
Cool and clear
From then on, De Sleutel produced only bottom-fermenting beer , such as pilsener, Munich style beer, and, in winter, bokbier . This was announced through an extensive promotional campaign, including the billboard and this showcard . There was even a request from the United States, where the Van Merritt Beer brand started brewing lager under license ‘with the exclusive permission’ of ‘The Key,’ ‘... before Columbus was even born ... the insignia and name of Holland’s most famous brewery.’
The joy was short-lived. After the bulk of the shares in De Sleutel were transferred to Heineken in 1953, the new owner deployed the Dordrecht brewery for dark varieties of beer. ‘Sleutelbier’ disappeared from the Dutch market. The Van Merritt Brewing Company was sold and shut down in 1954. In spite of everything, De Sleutel is the oldest Dutch brewery that remained in operation the longest of them all. So there’s that at the very least!