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    The soul of beer Omer Vander Ghinste, a storybook brewery

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    The Belgian brewery Omer Vander Ghinste has installed a Steinecker brewhouse and a returnable-glass line from Krones to modernise its production operation.
    • There is a real flagship quality about the family owned brewery Omer Vander Ghinste in Belgium.

    There is a real flagship quality about the family owned brewery Omer Vander Ghinste in Belgium. The sweetness of malt and the bitter aroma of hops permeate the air, stunning architecture skilfully marries tradition to discreet modernity, and the premises are imbued with an aura of nostalgia. And although the almost 130 years of its history are omnipresent wherever you go, the brewery is simply well equipped with state-of-the-art-technology, in the shape of stainless steel lines for beer production.

    2018 was quite special for Omer Vander Ghinste because 19 December of that year saw output climb over a magic threshold: The family-owned brewery had for the first time sold more than 100,000 hectolitres of beer in a year. The main driver behind this production increase was OMER.Traditional Blond, a pale, top-fermented beer boasting eight per cent alcohol by volume, which had only been developed and launched a decade ago. While at the turn of the millennium the brewery was still regarded as a typical regional brewery, this growth had led to its status of a national specialty brewery with an international outlook, exporting its beers to the neighbouring countries of France and the Netherlands.

    Article 26949
    The brewery’s present owner, Omer Jean Vander Ghinste, is the brand’s namesake.

    One “Omer” in every generation

    The brewery’s present owner, Omer Jean Vander Ghinste, is the brand’s namesake. In line with the family tradition of almost 130 years, the eldest son in each generation is given the name Omer and becomes the head of the brewery. 

    This custom goes back to the year 1892, when there were still more than 3,000 breweries in Belgium. At that time, Remi Vander Ghinste bought a small brewery in Bellegem for his 23-year-old son Omer, who began brewing. Since giving beers a brand name was not usual in the 19th century, he simply called the beer by his own name and distributed it in horse-drawn carriages within a radius of 15 kilometres. “His marketing consisted of having leaded windows with the lettering ‘Omer Vander Ghinste’ installed in the inns he supplied with his beer. When his son was born, he named him Omer, so he did not have to change the windows,” says Omer Jean Vander Ghinste, who has since 2007 headed the brewery in the fourth generation. His eldest son, the fifth generation, has also been working in the brewery since 2019, getting prepared for taking it over some time in the future. Three guesses what his first name is.

    Impressive variety of beers

    This was not always the case: While it was almost exclusively sour beer that was drunk in the region up until the 1930s, the country saw a veritable pilsner boom right through to the late 1980s, with pilsner accounting for up to 80 per cent of consumption. After that, the tide began to turn, and fruit-based beers and sour beers became very popular once more.

    Ever since OMER. was launched in 2008, the brewery has been profiting from the specialty-beer boom – which has boosted the brewing sector during the past few years not only in Belgium but all over the world – and has almost doubled its output. But Omer Vander Ghinste did not jump on this bandwagon in response to the boom. It has always been brewing its specialty beers for its region in the finest of craft traditions, offering a high diversity of beer types. The variety of fermentation processes used is matchless, as are the beers produced with them:

    • Bottom-fermented beers like the Bockor pilsner or the BLAUW Export Lager
    • Top-fermented beers like the OMER.Traditional Blond, which undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle
    • Other spontaneously fermented types
    • Beers created by blending top-fermented and spontaneously fermented types
    • The seasonal beer LeFort Sour Oaked produced by blending the top-fermented LeFort and the spontaneously fermented lambic, with the mixture then undergoing sour fermentation in oak barrels for 18 months
    • Brut Nature, a top-fermented beer brewed with five different hop varieties, stored up to five years and undergoing a second fermentation in the bottle with wild yeasts
    Article 26946
    Omer Vander Ghinste brews its specialty beers in the finest of craft traditions, offering a high diversity of beer types.

    Wild spontaneous fermentation with a coolship

    The coolship (or “koelschip”), a large shallow, open vat made of copper holding 180 hectolitres of beer, is located on the brewery building’s roof, since way back when it was first used and relied on gravity. Firstly, the hot wort was pumped up into the coolship. Then gravity was allowed to take effect, with the cold wort passing back down without any pumping needed, first into the fermentation and storage cellar, then into the filtration system and finally into the bottling hall.

    Today, the cold wort, cooled down by ambient air to around 25 degrees Celsius, is filled into large conical wooden vats called foeders where the green beer with the wild yeasts is kept for 18 months and ferments to create the special Belgian beer type of lambic, the basic ingredient of a great many different beers.

    Omer Vander Ghinste is one of the very few breweries in Belgium where all disparate fermentation processes take place under the same roof. For its spontaneously fermented beers, the brewery still uses a big coolship built in 1931, which allows airborne wild yeasts to inoculate the beer naturally.

    A maturation store is provided for those types undergoing a second fermentation in the bottle. To start with, these beers are filtered and, after adding a small amount of sugar, flash-pasteurised. Then yeast is dosed in, and the beers are passed from the bright-beer tank to the filler. The filled bottles are dressed in their final labels, packed in crates and stocked for a fortnight at 25 degrees Celsius in the maturation store for secondary fermentation. Thanks to the sugar added and refermentation, their CO2 content rises from initially five grams to eight grams per litre.

    New Steinecker brewhouse

    But it was not only the brewery’s beer output climbing over 100,000 hectolitres in 2018 that made this year special for Omer Vander Ghinste: The brewery team also treated themselves to a new brewhouse, with the existing copper brewhouse installed in 1947 taking a well-earned retirement after – believe it or not – 71 years of reliable service.

    Not only did the new brewhouse upgrade Omer Vander Ghinste’s brewing technology to the latest state of the art, it simultaneously increased brewing capacities. So it was a step that was as vital as it was logical, in view of the rising output mentioned above.

    The new brewhouse has been dimensioned for a capacity of 200,000 hectolitres per year, allowing enough scope for further expansion. The family-owned brewery erected a new building for it on the company’s premises. As everywhere in his brewery, Omer Vander Ghinste attached major importance to the new structure’s aesthetics. “We tried to design something artful, instead of simply building a new greenfield factory,” says the head of the brewery, and goes into raptures about the beauty of the brewhouse architecture, juxtaposing as it does cold stainless steel with warm brick walls and soft wood. “This was all about mirroring the brewery’s soul.” 

    Article 26941
    The new Steinecker brewhouse has been dimensioned for an output of 185 hectolitres of hot wort per brew.

    When it came to replacing the old brewhouse, Omer Vander Ghinste opted for technology from Steinecker. The new brewhouse has been dimensioned for an output of 185 hectolitres of hot wort per brew and is run in two shifts. It produces five brews in 17 hours and includes:

    But that was not all. The brewery also channelled some sizeable investment into modernising and expanding capacities of the fermentation and storage cellar and the bottling hall – all of it on its original premises in the centre of the small village of Kortrijk-Bellegem in the Flemish part of Belgium. Omer Vander Ghinste is one of the country’s few breweries that have remained loyal to the village where they were founded, and the investments made show that the family clearly wants to keep the brewery there.

    Bottling hall upgraded as well

    The afore-mentioned bottling-hall modernisation had only recently been put on the agenda. In mid-2021, the Brouwerij Omer Vander Ghinste installed a returnable-glass line rated at 33,000 0.33-litre bottles per hour. The line’s output comes to 12,000 bottles per hour when filling the 0.75-litre bottle, the typical container for Belgian specialty beers.

    In actual fact, the new line was primarily intended as a replacement for an existing line. In view of the continuous growth achieved over the past few years, however, the brewery had no alternative but to increase output levels, just as in the brewhouse. “That’s why we decided to up the new line’s speed to double the rating of the old one,” says Omer Jean Vander Ghinste.

    Enormously high level of pack diversity

    Current market trends were likewise factored into the line’s layout: “What’s more, one of our preconditions was that the line be able to handle bottles in the sizes of 0.25, 0.33 and 0.75 litres,” explains the brewery’s boss. “The market is in flux, and demand for a wide variety of pack forms and sizes is growing. Obviously, that also goes for end-of-the-line packaging.”

    In order not to lose too much time with change-overs, the brewery fills the same bottle size for at least one whole day, and if possible for several days running. Change-over routines required during one day are limited to different beer types, since production needs only be interrupted for about half an hour for these.

    Highly flexible Varioline

    The Varioline 3M packaging system installed at Omer Vander Ghinste is a veritable packaging virtuoso, able to perform the following jobs:

    • Packing loose bottles in crates 
    • Packing loose bottles in cartons erected beforehand
    • Applying top-clips to groups of four and six bottles at a time, and putting these packs into cartons or crates
    • Additionally, depending on the beer type packed, automatically placing sun-shields on top of the crates

    The Varioline also features a container-orientation unit and a shuttle conveyor supplying cartons as needed.

    To satisfy future market requirements, the Varioline has likewise been equipped to produce the following packaging variants and to pack these into cartons.

    • Over Top Open packs
    • Over top closed packs, and 
    • Open baskets

    New returnable-glass line

    The Varioline is, of course, only one component in the new turnkey line from Krones, which extends over two levels.

    A crowner able to handle two crown sizes (with diameters of 26 and 29 millimetres) has been integrated in the filler. This is because the 0.75-litre champagne bottle is also closed with a crown, not with a natural cork. “This reduces oxygen pick-up,” is the reason given by Project Manager Carl Alsberghe.

    “The new line was commissioned in the peak season, during the pandemic at that! This obviously entailed certain challenges for both our team and the Krones crew. Still, Krones invariably mobilised all the requisite resources to find suitable solutions,” says Project Manager Carl Alsberghe. “We’ve been favourably impressed with Krones’ after-sales service across the board. Looking back on many years of cooperation with Krones, we’ve always been able to rely on hands-on support.”

    What brewery boss Omer Jean Vander Ghinste singles out for special praise is the closely dovetailed work of the Belgian and German staff from Krones in the preliminary planning stage for the filling line. “It was not least the experience we’d gained with various Krones machines in the old bottling line and with the top-notch service support that tipped the scales in favour of Krones again,” he explains. “Krones boasts substantial expertise in remote maintenance, and if someone has to come and actually look at things here, they send can-do service support specialists for mechanical and electrical installation, some of whom come from the Belgian subsidiary. What’s more, you can invariably rely on any spares needed being delivered promptly,” is his verdict. “We opted for Krones because we wanted to make sure that the new line offers us a high level of availability and top performance. After all, this is our only bottling line, our main product OMER. is filled exclusively into bottles, and in terms of total sales this container type accounts for around 70 per cent of filling. This shows quite clearly just how crucially important the new line is for us,” emphasises Omer Jean Vander Ghinste.

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