Xavier Vanhonsebrouck made a dream come true with his Bierkasteel. In 2016, on a greenfield site at the Belgian town of Izegem, he joined forces with Krones to build a brewery that in this order of magnitude had not been built in Belgium for more than a century. In 2019, he once again took a decision that emphasised his entrepreneurial boldness: for the first time, Vanhonsebrouck began to fill its tradition-steeped products in cans – something totally new on Belgium’s specialty beer market. For this purpose, the brewery invested in a compactly dimensioned line from Krones.
All over the world, the beer market is being transformed. “Craft beer is now on everyone’s lips, but for us here in Belgium these hand-crafted brews are not really anything new. Our specialty beers have a long tradition behind them, essentially they’re in a way the grandparents of the present-day craft beer,” explains Xavier Vanhonsebrouck, CEO and proprietor of Kasteel Brouwerij Vanhonsebrouck. And so it’s hardly surprising that these tradition-steeped Belgian beers are also benefiting from the ongoing upturn, and their worldwide popularity is rising.
But the proprietor of this Belgian specialty brewery is not the sort of man to rest on the laurels of tradition and an enviable reputation. And because he’s a visionary, he also charts courses that at first glance may appear to be rather unusual. “I believe that the future of beer packages in general lies in the can,” says Xavier Vanhonsebrouck. “It’s like a small keg, and doesn’t let any light through, which crucially improves the quality of the beer. In terms of transportation, too, the can scores highly, because it can be space-savingly packed in trays or cartons. And instead of three truckloads for glass bottles you only need one truck for the same amount of beer in cans.”
Focus on sustainability
He sees the most significant advantage, however, when it comes to sustainability: “In our operations, the can is a non-returnable package. So no water is required for cleaning it, and it can be 100 per cent recycled,” he explains. This high proportion is owed to Vanhonsebrouck’s well-thought-out packaging concept: in the end-of-the-line packaging, the handle is integrated directly into the carton design, and can be unfolded with a single manipulation. The carton itself, moreover, is made of recycled paper, which can, of course, be subsequently recovered.
For the container dress, too, Vanhonsebrouck has ensured a combination of cost-efficiency and sustainability: when sizeable quantities of beer are being canned, the brewery uses preprinted cans. Only in the case of small batch sizes are blank containers fitted with sleeve labels. These in their turn likewise meet the brewery’s stringent ecological stipulations: for instance, thanks to a perforation, the sleeves can be very easily separated from the can – and thus from the aluminium.
Experience proves persuasive
In order to achieve the vision of specialty beers in cans, in 2018 Vanhonsebrouck began looking for a suitable partner – and didn’t have to look far: “Krones did a brilliant job with our greenfield brewery project, which is why they were also the first vendor we contacted about the canning line – and we found their concept very persuasive,” relates Production Manager Hans Mehuys.
Production was already up and running six months or so after order placement. “We’re currently using the canning line for one or two days a week – and we only need one operator for it. Besides our best-selling Kasteel Rouge, we’re also running our latest brand Filou on it, plus small batches of other specialities like fruit-based beers, IPAs or porters,” he explains. Since most of the beers have alcohol contents of more than 8 per cent, the brewery also uses small 0.25-litre cans in addition to the 0.33 and 0.5-litre sizes.
Compact canning line
Vanhonsebrouck can handle up to 17,000 containers per hour with its new compact line. The first technical highlight is simultaneously the heart of the line: the Craftmate C. This meets the stringent requirements of all those brewers who produce relatively small batches – and for whom Krones’ otherwise customary Modulfill C can filler would be overdimensioned in terms of both technology and space requirement. Thanks to its compact and easily accessible layout, the Craftmate can be accommodated on a minimised footprint. In technological terms, by contrast, it incorporates field-proven features from the large can filler series, like a volumetric filling system with 24 electro-pneumatically controlled filling valves and inductive flow meters. When it came to configuring its Craftmate, Vanhonsebrouck was already thinking one step ahead, too: for example, the machine would also be able to inject nitrogen into the beer or even can wines.
After seaming and fill level inspection, the cans are passed to the next Krones specialist for the low output range, the LinaFlex Compact. Here, too, the engineering is based on Krones’ field-proven pasteuriser technology – it’s just that it’s accommodated in a compact machine housing. This is the first pasteuriser in this order of magnitude on the market, for instance, that can operate with a dynamic PU control. The CHESS heating system has likewise been space-savingly integrated.
For drying the cans, Vanhonsebrouck uses two Linadry units. Depending on the type of beer involved, the Sleevematic M installed downstream either dresses the cans in labels or allows them simply to pass through. Whether with or without a sleeve – in the dry end, all the cans are fed into the Variopac Pro WT, which groups the containers into 6-, 12- or 24-can packs and then places these in a wrap-around carton.
A far-sighted partner
“With a project like this, it’s important to have a vendor that thinks exactly the way you do,” emphasises Xavier Vanhonsebrouck. “We’re the first Belgian specialty brewery to have ventured the step into canning. We embrace visionary thinking, and have the future firmly in our sights – and that applies to Krones as well.”
Now that the preconditions have been put in place with the new line, the next step for Vanhonsebrouck is to get consumers, too, to appreciate the idea of specialty beers in cans. “That’s not going to be easy,” admits Xavier Vanhonsebrouck. “But with attributes like quality and sustainability, we have cogent arguments to advance – and I’m confident that our customers will quickly come to recognise these advantages.” But no matter whether it’s cans or glass bottles: when it comes to enjoying the beer itself, nothing’s really changed: after all, without exception, Belgium’s beers are drunk from glasses.
A tradition-steeped brewery
As a Belgian specialty brewery, Vanhonsebrouck has concentrated on making beers with top-fermented, spontaneous and mixed fermentation – and produces almost 30 types of them. The Kasteel Rouge, a high-strength beer with a cherry aroma, is sold in more than 60 of the world’s countries. The latest addition to the portfolio is Filou, a Belgian Ale with an alcohol content of 8.5 per cent.
In 2016 Kasteel Brouwerij Vanhonsebrouck joined forces with Krones to build a brewery castle on a greenfield site. It’s not only the architecture that connotes grandeur; the technology installed is also a veritable Eldorado for brewers, since in the brewhouse different fermentation processes and batch sizes can be run. Besides the 250,000-hectolitre brewery, Vanhonsebrouck also modernised the existing 20,000-bph glass line, adding some new machines from Krones. And for visitors, too, the new brewery offers a real experiential treat for beer-lovers: guided tours through the facility, while a visitors’ centre provides information themed around Belgian specialty beers. The guests can then fortify themselves in the restaurant or pub, and in a beer boutique also buy packaged enjoyment to take home with them.