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Brewing in the monastery

Authenticity, wisdom, sustainability and hospitality embody thevalues of the Trappist monks in Koningshoeven Abbey near the Dutch city of Tilburg.: “We want to do the right thing” – and this is what the monastic community indeed endeavours to do, not least with the Trappistenbrauerei Koningshoeven affiliated to the abbey. For filling the particularly upmarket 0.75-litre bottle, with its champagne natural cork, the brewery de Koningshoeven has now commissioned a new bottling line, installed by Krones in its entirety as a turnkey order.

When Thijs Thijssen, the secular Director of the brewery de Koningshoeven, began working there in 1999, the annual output was running at about 10,000 hectolitres. Back then, Krones had just installed a new returnable-glass line rated 11,000 bottles per hour. This is still filling the 0.3-litre bottles today, plus 0.33-litre bottles for the Belgian market, which are packed in returnable crates, full-size cartons, six-packs or display crates. The output has meanwhile risen to more than 80,000 hectolitres, with annual growth rates in double figures.

A prominent role was played by the inauguration of the brewery’s own tavern with its beer garden, which hosts up to 150,000 guests each year. Around 30,000 of them also book a tour of the brewery. “These are our best opinion-multipliers”, says a gratified Thijs Thijssen. Quite generally, the Trappist brewery also benefits from the trend towards specialty beers, likewise manifested in the Netherlands by the booming craft brewery scene. “This is very good for the beer culture,” he says.

A bottle every second

For generally supplying the brewery’s own tavern and the catering trade with draught beer, in 2008 de Koningshoeven installed a kegging line rated at 80 kegs an hour. The only weak point now was the old line for filling the upmarket champagne bottles, which was running at the leisurely speed of 2,000 bottles an hour. Against the background of rising demand in this segment, particularly, in 2014 the Trappist brewery decided to replace this line by a new one, and asked Krones to install it in its entirety. It started operation in November 2014, and is now filling 3,600 bottles per hour, both the 0.75-litre standard bottle and the 0.375-litre bottle for the brand Quadrupel Oak Aged: one bottle every second. For the future there is an option, e.g. by retrofitting a crowner, to also fill the 0.33-litre returnable bottle, then at a speed of 6,500 bottles per hour.

“Our returnable-glass line was also supplied by Krones, you know. We’re familiar with the technology, and are definitely satisfied with it. For service support, too, it’s important to have a dependable partner at your side,” explains Peter Korsten, Senior Engineer and Technical Innovation Manager. “Kosme is as far as we’re concerned synonymous with Krones. The basic components of the filler and the labeller conform one-hundred-per-cent to Krones’ standards of quality. That’s a big plus, since we already knew we could rely on it,” adds Project Manager Ger Toonen, “which is why it was advantageous to place the entire order with Krones.”

Cold or warm filling

The line features a Kosme Barifill filler with components to Krones’ own standard, like the VKP level-controlled filling valve with pneumatically controlled valve functions. The compactly dimensioned, and concomitantly space-saving filler, thanks to its modularised construction, facilitated fast installation and commissioning. In terms of hygiene and microbiological safety, too, this filler is predestined for bottling beer. “The oxygen pick-up is perfect, at less than 0.02 milligrams per litre,” explains Bottling Hall Manager Peter Willems.

Currently, de Koningshoeven is operating with cold-filling at five degrees Celsius. Yeast and sugar for secondary fermentation in the bottle are held in readiness prior to filling in the bright-beer tank. There is also an option, however, for warm-filling at 20 degrees Celsius. A corresponding mass flow meter for inline dosage of yeast and sugar for post-maturation in the bottle has already been integrated into the product feed line. “Warm-filling with inline dosage would have the advantage of saving energy, the yeast would be brought up to temperature directly and distributed more evenly in the beer,” explains Ger Toonen. At de Koningshoeven, all beers are given three weeks of secondary fermentation inside the bottle in maturation chambers, except in the case of the brand La Trappe PUUR a freshly hopped, light organic beer.

For closing the bottles with natural corks, and fitting the wire cage, Krones installed a block solution, comprising a natural corker from Arol and a Drahtomat wire cage applicator from Robino & Galandrino. The brewery de Koningshoeven also subsequently had Krones’ newly developed high-pressure fobber integrated into the natural corker. The brewery’s staff had seen it on Krones’ stand at the BrauBeviale in 2014, and bought it immediately. A closure inspector is likewise installed directly in the corker. Any missing or incorrectly positioned closure would be immediately detected here, and the bottle ejected, so as to avoid any soiling of the downstream machines by an open bottle. The brewery ensures optimum protection for its kit by sourcing the appropriate lubricants with KIC Krones.

Bottle orientation with embossing detection

A Kosme Unicol was installed as the labeller, designed for applying precut labels using cold glue. Even before the new line had been installed, de Koningshoeven had revamped the design of the 0.75-litre bottle. Whereas beforehand the bottle was smooth and dressed in a wrap-around label, it is now attractively embossed with the brewery’s name and dressed in front and back labels. The closure had been changed back from a plastic to a natural cork, and likewise has the brewery’s logo printed on it. “For bottle orientation with embossing detection Krones provided us with a very simple and affordable solution, featuring a laser photo-cell. Which meant we could do without expensive camera-based detection,” says Peter Korsten. “For our marketing work, this bottle orientation capability and high-precision dress are particularly important,” concurs Director Thijs Thijssen.
After filling, closing and labelling, a Checkmat inspects the bottles for an accurate fill level and correct label placement. Packing and palletising in the line are still being performed manually, though in future an automatic solution may be found here as well.

“Until the monks decide that it’s enough”

“For me, this is a very special workplace inside the venerable walls of the monastery, and on top of that in a segment of the beer market that’s really doing well,” explains Thijs Thijssen. “It’s a lot of fun.” Today, 45 per cent of the production output is already being exported, most of it to Belgium. This may be about to change, however: since the beginning of 2016, de Koningshoeven has found a seriously reputable importer for the hitherto untapped market of Germany, in the shape of the German Nordmann Group. “A huge potential for us,” is Director Thijs Thijssen’s verdict.

Here in the abbey, he emphasises, the focus is on human beings. The monks want their staff to be happy. This is why, for example, there is no three-shift operation scheduled involving night-time working. The Trappist monks of Koningshoeven Abbey have also decided that there are no longer going to be any additions to the range. “The future,” opines Director Thijs Thijssen, “is looking very good for us.” Investment in advertising has already been largely wound down, since the beer from the Trappists in de Koningshoeven more or less sells itself. “We’ll keep on growing for a bit, until the monks decide that it’s enough.”


The customer's Website: www.koningshoeven.nl/en

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