IZEGEM/INGELMUNSTER - Summer 2015: the first test brews are flowing out of the tanks at Castle Brewery Van Honsebrouck’s new brewery in Izegem. There have been no rash or rushed decisions from these brewers.
They have taken on board lessons learned from the limitations of the company’s old Ingelmunster brewery.
They have studied the latest technological developments to see which of them will improve the quality of their brews.
And, they have taken into account, wherever possible, the wishes of all the staff involved, as well as the needs of visitors and beer lovers who soon be welcomed on tours of the new Izegem site.
“We are now brewing for real so we can compare the brews made here with those from Ingelmunster,” brewmaster Hans Mehuys explains.
“The wort will be ready in about five hours. Over here, a brew comprises of 115hl, in Ingelmunster it will range between 175hl and 200hl. Smaller brews are more energy-efficient and are ideal as part of a continuous brewing process. Moreover, we are gaining flexibility.”
Hans is letting the fresh wort flow from the filter tank. We taste the luke-warm, sugary water. “Kasteel light,” Hans laughs. Until early November, brewing will be done in parallel in both locations, Ingelmunster and Izegem.
Ingelmunster will close its doors on November 6th. This is when the bottling plant will be transferred to Izegem as well as the beer tanks. The official opening of the new brewery is scheduled for January 2016.
Project manager and brewer Alex De Smet pushes the building plans towards me and launches into an enthusiastic explanation straight away.
In no time at all the margins of the document are covered in scribbled clarifications and comments as he assembles the pieces of this brewing jigsaw for me.
I was already aware that the new brewery is far larger than the previous one. But what other differences are there between Izegem and Ingelmunster?
The most obvious difference is that Castle Brewery Van Honsebrouck will be based on a single site, uniting production, logistics and visitor facilities, including hospitality.
And the new buildings have been designed to be very flexible. In Izegem, Van Honsebrouck will be able to brew in larger volumes, quicker than before and in a greater variety that can include small batches.
Adding together 10 brews of 11,500 litres each, spread out across five working days each week, you arrive at a brewing capacity of 25,000,000 litres-per-year.
This more than doubles the brewery’s existing capacity. As mentioned, an added advantage is that the brewer can now manage smaller brews – of 5,000 litres – with no problems thanks to the new production equipment.
This flexibility has been built into the way the raw ingredients are managed too. There are six large malt silos, holding 30 tonnes each, for the storage of pils malt, raw wheat and pale ale malt.
The plans also include four smaller malt silos for specialty malts, like cara munich for example, or roast malts. In a seperate cooling chamber, 20kg bags of hop pellets will be stored. For the brewers, everything is to hand in the right amounts.
“At Izegem we have four breweries going into one,” says Alex De Smet. “We have all the equipment to produce top-fermented beers, mixed fermentation beers, spontaneous fermentation beers - lambiek and gueuze - and a microbrewery to follow the latest trends and tastes. This means that we have 5,000l fermentation and storage tanks at our disposal.
“This also applies to filtration. We do not use gravel filters. The yeast residues are removed from the beer by a centrifuge.
This turns out to be a very efficient way of filtering both small and large volumes. An added advantage is that, after filtration, more of the taste remains than with a gravel wort filter. This piece of equipment guarantees consistent quality irrespective of volume.”
Then Alex takes me from the world of high-tech to the world of tradition. A brand new cooling basin or koelschip has been installed.
Soon the lambiek will cool down here and ferment spontaneously as it comes in contact with local ambient bacteria. This fermentation will continue in new, oval-shaped foeders (giant barrels). These vertical foeders will be filled with a Flemish oudbruin bier called Bacchus, and the used cognac barrels will be used to mature Trignac to produce barrel-aged Kasteel Tripel.
I notice that the production of the top-fermented beers is kept completely separate from the spontaneous-fermentation beers after the boiling of the wort.
The cleaning of the two beer types is done separately too, so the brewer avoids undesirable ‘infections’ of his top-fermented beers.
Once again, flexibility is at the order of the day in the fruit beer rooms and the krieken (a sort of Morello cherry) maceration chamber. Here the brewer has everything he or she needs to develop fruit beers from lambics, top-fermented beers or Vlaams oudbruin – it is a blender’s paradise.
A Craft Beer Haven
The brewery has a central spine – a system of pipes throughout the site – that governs the entire production flow: the transfer of the wort to fermentation and cold storage tanks, from the tanks to the bottling plant, cleansing, water supply... It’s easy to see it as a beer highway, with fully automated traffic.
The new brewery also hosts 15,000m2 of storage space including warm rooms.
“It is going to be a joy to work in this brewery,” Alex laughs. “Everything is so efficient here. This frees up the hands of our operators for quality control."
"They are gaining time that they can put to good use to develop new beers – also in smaller volumes – more quickly, to closely monitor the development of beers in the foeders, etc."
"That is how we will know exactly which elements have a positive or negative influence on the taste of our beers and we can intervene in the process if necessary."
“We are geared up for brewing around the clock in three shifts. Besides regular production we have plenty of capacity to introduce any number of special editions with specially designed packaging.”
The lab, located in the middle of the production area, plays a crucial role at Izegem. This is where the water is analysed, the raw materials are checked and where the quality of the brews are tested and compared.
Visiting the Castle
For the first time, Van Honsebrouck will welcome visitors. The Ingelmunster site was not suitable for guests, but at Izegem brewery tours will be held. Soon you will be able to follow the entire production process in a safe and food-safe environment. Visitors will be guided around the brewery without ever coming into physical contact with production.
Your visit will start at the central square on the first floor. This is where you’ll see the brewing hall and the foeder chamber behind a glass wall.
Make your way to the brewhall to be initiated into the secrets of the brewing process. Then follow the central axis, the backbone, towards the water tanks, the yeast propagation area and the bottling plant.
The tour finishes with a tasting session in the brewery tavern, with a shop to browse for souvenirs. The bar and store are also open to the public during the weekend when no brewing is done.
Last but not least, the brewery has everything needed for the corporate events, seminars, trade fairs and product launches. Castle Brewery Van Honsebrouck plans to make these facilities available to companies and societies. In addition, the brewery is planning to organise networking events, either on its own or in collaboration with partner companies.