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    In high demand: Specialty beers are becoming increasingly popular

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    27. October 2022
    9:00 min.
    The Belgian specialty brewery De Halve Maan has more than doubled its filling capacity with a new returnable-glass line from Krones.
    • Today, Brugse Zot is De Halve Maan’s most recognized beer. The brewery was able to buy back the rights to the name of the Straffe Hendrik brand in 2008.

    With double-digit annual sales growth – from zero to 65,000 hectoliters in 15 years – and growing international demand, it was only a matter of time before the Belgian specialty brewery De Halve Maan would need a new filling line with higher speeds and more packaging flexibility. And now, that time has come: The company, whose name translates as “Half Moon” in English, has installed a new line from Krones.

    Officially speaking, Xavier Vanneste is the sixth-generation head of De Halve Maan brewery in Bruges, Belgium. But that line has been broken a time or two. In fact, things have, on more than one occasion, looked rather bleak for the family-owned business. Xavier Vanneste’s grandfather sold the brewery’s most successful brand, Straffe Hendrik, to another brewery back in 1988. (Incidentally, the name means “Strong Hendrik” in English and was a tribute to all the strong Hendriks and Henris in the family). And then Xavier Vanneste’s mom shut down the brewery operation altogether in 2002. But Xavier Vanneste wanted to brew beer again, as five generations before him had done since 1856. The historic building and the old equipment were still there. “At first, my family was not at all enthusiastic about my plans to revive the brewery, because they knew how tough the business is,” he confides. “But it wasn’t all bad to have critical voices like that, to guide me as I developed my business plan. Of course, my family also knew the industry, and that is always good.”

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    “At first, my family was not at all enthusiastic about my plans to revive the brewery, because they knew how tough the business is,” recalls Xavier Vanneste, who now leads De Halve Maan in the family’s sixth generation.

    Brewery revived in 2005

    For the brewery’s relaunch, Xavier Vanneste developed the Brugse Zot (“The fool of Bruges”) in 2005, which was an immediate success. Today, it is the most recognized beer from De Halve Maan and is available in four varieties, including a non-alcoholic version. Around 70 percent of the brewery’s output falls under this brand.

    In the meantime, the brewery that had acquired the Straffe Hendrik brand back in 1988 had gone bankrupt, and Xavier Vanneste was able to buy back the rights to the name in 2008. De Halve Maan now produces a variety of high-strength beers with as much as 8.5 to 11 percent alcohol by volume under the Straffe Hendrik moniker. In addition, the brewery acquired Bruges’ traditional wheat beer brand, Blanche de Bruges, in 2019.

    In all, De Halve Maan now produces around ten different top-fermented beers, which are then bottle-conditioned – in typical Belgian style. For this latter process, a small amount of sugar is added during the filtration stage, after which the beer is flash pasteurized and dosed with yeast inline. The filled bottles are stored for two weeks in a warming chamber, during which time the beer undergoes a secondary fermentation. After that, the beer is ready to make its way to market.

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    In all, De Halve Maan now produces around ten different top-fermented beers.

    CombiCube brewhouse in the historic brewery

    By 2010, the brewery had increased its output substantially, to around 15,000 hectoliters, and outgrown the space in the old city center of Bruges. So, the decision was made to move filling operations and the storage cellar to a new building on the outskirts of the city. De Halve Maan also installed a kegging line and a second-hand Krones glass filling line there, rounding out the latter with various Kosme machines. Tank trucks shuttled the green beer from the brewery site, where the brewhouse and fermentation tanks stood, through the entire city to the storage and filling plant. That all changed in 2016, when the brewery, whose annual output had by then climbed to around 50,000 hectoliters, made the spectacular move of having an underground pipeline laid between the brewery and the bottling plant, with a length of more than three kilometers.

    The pipeline consists of four pipes, which carry all of the beers to the filling plant. The brewing water travels to the brewery through the same pipeline. Back in 2014, De Halve Maan had already brought online a new brewhouse, a Steinecker CombiCube with a capacity of 200,000 hectoliters per year so that the company would be equipped to handle higher capacity needs in the future. 

    “Long and interesting conversations with many people”

    Rising demand for the specialty beers soon pushed the 8,000-bottle-per-hour filling line to its limits. “It was already running 24/7, with three shifts a day. And so began a series of visits to other breweries and long, interesting musings and conversations with many people, about what to do next, which technologies were the right ones, and which partners we should choose,” recalls Xavier Vanneste. “That was over a period of four to five years, because we also still had to buy the land adjacent to the existing filling plant.” In the end, the family-owned brewery decided to invest in new equipment, for which it also built a second filling hall. The new hall has room for the kegging line as well as a new bottling line rated at 24,000 0.33-liter containers per hour. With its commissioning in May 2021, this line replaced the existing one and significantly increased capacity at the same time. Once again, the contract went to Krones.

    Rinser-filler block with minimal oxygen uptake

    The new line’s wet end includes:

    The rinser-filler block is enclosed in a housing and employs a foam cleaning routine. After filling, a few drops of hot water are injected into the bottle. The temperature difference causes the beer to fob. The rising foam displaces the air present in the bottle’s headspace, and the bottle is capped immediately. Thus, the beer’s own tendency toward fobbing is used to minimize oxygen pick-up. In addition to the crowner, the line also has a stand-alone champagne corker for natural cork, with wire cage applicator, for 0.75-liter bottles. The Ergomodul modular labeler can handle both cold-glue and pressure-sensitive labels.

    27. October 2022
    9:00 min.

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