Since July 6th 2018, Aruba has its very own local nano-brewery, Fireson, providing locals and tourists with locally crafted beer. Owner and chemical engineer Antonius “Tony” van Vuurden discovered his passion for craft beer while studying in The Netherlands. After moving back to Aruba in 2015, he set up a small brewery for personal use relying on his engineering background in the experimentation of different tastes. Through a friend, a the trailblazer in importing craft beer to the island, Tony was able to present his New England-Style IPA flagship beer (Bao Palo) at an event. The immediate feedback was that he was on to something here. Not just the taste of the beer but the story behind it. Bao Palo was not just a name; it is part of Aruban culture. It’s reminiscent of relaxing underneath a tree with friends. Though Tony had found his place in the craft beer scene, he soon saw that that community was not as present as in The Netherlands or in the States where the art originates. While working in his mother’s restaurant in San Nicolas Tony encountered tourists requesting more local beers and local craft beers to be specific. It became clear that there was a real demand for carefully brewed beer as tourists are even known to bring craft beers with them to Aruba.
Two “no’s” can make a “yes”
Through the unfortunate passing of his grandmother, Tony had a starting sum to set up his own nano-brewery. However, the sum wasn’t sufficient and with both hard and soft collateral, his entrepreneurial wife, and a business plan he set out to find the last piece of financing to make his dream come true. “I went to two banks and both said ‘no’. One didn’t even give any reason, the other told me they didn’t believe in the idea because in the ‘90s some people had tried to set up micro-breweries in Aruba and failed.” Tony does indicate that for the first meeting with the bank he was not as well prepared as he initially thought, certain questions were asked that he had not expected. When he found out about Qredits in early 2018, Tony decided to contact them. Not expecting anything, he was very pleasantly surprised when they were not only quick to respond but interested in his plan as well. Oliver Vieira saw the potential of the business partly due to Tony’s wife’s marketing skills and in part due to his engineering background. It was clear to Qredits that Tony would always do his utmost best to provide a good quality product, carefully orchestrating the brewery process from the beginning to the end. With a more refined business and financial plan the microloan was approved.
What is in a Name?
After receiving the last necessary funding, he only had two months to renovate the location that would soon be home to Fireson. From the moment the doors opened, there has been a steady flow of craft beer lovers discovering Tony’s carefully cultivated beers that are free of preservatives. They’re getting to taste Aruba’s culture one glass at a time. Each beer is carefully cultivated from the multi-layered sophisticated tastes to what that beer represents. With beers such as the lighter and fresher Bao Palo, the fruitier Cunucu Pale, the Mi ex 2, and the hazier and slightly heavier Sunrise City Double, Tony’s approach is one of authenticity. The beers represent different parts of Aruba and its culture. The Cunucu Pale tastes as how the countryside of Aruba feels: fresh, fruity and light. The Sunrise City Double is an explosion of tastes and fragrances; earthier and more grounding but light and playful at the same time, as you would expect the art hub of San Nicolas to taste like. Mi ex 2 is more subdued than Sunrise City and was the result of the ‘error’ part in his trial and error experimentation. Nothing goes to waste. Tony also used to have a stout on tap Preti Wowo, or ‘the apple of my eye’, for those that appreciated a heavier drink and he serves the Ayo 11 for those who want a taste of the mondi of Aruba. The beers are not the only things with meaning. The name Fireson speaks volumes. The first part ‘fire’ is in reference to Tony’s last name van Vuurden and ‘son’ is a direct link to his own son. The last Aruban van Vuurden who will be able to pass on the name. “This is my legacy”, Tony explains, gesturing to Fireson.
Challenges and Community
As the craft beer scene is still growing in the island, Tony faces the challenge of not having the close-knit brewery community that you find elsewhere. “I have no soundboard so I am learning the hard way”. Though he is unable to hop over to another brewery to get feedback, there are plenty of craft beer connoisseurs who are happy to provide him with constructive criticism. They encourage him to fine-tune his Aruban beers. Tony also goes on trips to micro-breweries abroad on his quest to create a world-class craft beer. He hopes to brew something very special for Aruba in the near future. At the moment his focus is on growing the island’s craft beer community. Getting locals more excited and proud to have their own nano craft beer brewery is vital to Tony. His craft beer is an affordable luxury beer that isn’t going away anytime soon and Aruba now has its own locally crafted beer.
Tony emphasizes that a strong support system of encouraging friends and family is important, when starting a business. He encourages everyone to not give up, even though setting up a business can be scary. “The work is hard, sometimes 12-18 hour a day. So look for something to relax and get recharged.” Tony takes his own words to heart and keeps Sundays as family time with his wife, Radinka van Vuurden, and their son. Maybe we’ll get a chance to taste that feeling at Fireson as well.