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Author: Kayleigh Haemers

By in News Comments Off on Leaving a Legacy

Leaving a Legacy

When Luc Van Honsebrouck took charge of Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck in the 1960s, he set about turning it from a pilsner brewery into one which focussed on specialty beers. “My father was a visionary,” says Xavier Van Honsebrouck, the fifth generation of his family in the business. “He took a radical decision in the sixties to no longer focus on lager brewing. Our brewery was ahead of its time and we’re still now reaping the benefits.”

Now they produce over 20 different specialty beer brands. The latest addition to the line-up is ‘Filou’ (8.5% ABV), which Xavier translates from the French as ‘Rascal’. It’s a beer which falls somewhere between a Tripel and a Strong Golden Ale, brewed with 100% pilsner malt an a hop bill which includes Golding, Saphir and Saaz. “Every owner of a family brewery has to make one great new beer,” says Xavier: “I believe the Filou is the second beer for me after successfully launching the Kasteel Rouge.”

brasserie1The brewery has recently undergone a complete rebuild and has moved a few kilometres from its original home in Ingelmunster to a new facility in Izegem which is 5 times the surface area of the old one. Annual production capacity has increased from 100,000 to 250,000 hectolitres and by the time it’s complete, it will have cost more than €45 million. This huge investment to more than double the capacity of the brewery together with Xavier’s ambition to create his own ‘great new beer’ offer an insight into his vision for the future and the obsession he has with his own legacy as a family brewer. “I’m soul mates with Hans Depypere of Brouwerij St. Bernardus,” says Xavier. “He’s an entrepreneur. He’s not in it for the money. Either am I. If you wake up and the first thing you think about is money, then you’re doing something wrong.” It may not be money that drives Xavier, but there’s no doubting Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck are commercially shrewd operators.

They’ve enjoyed success in markets as diverse as Japan and Mexico with their Kasteel, Bacchus and St. Louis ranges. Export accounts for 55% of what they produce. “In Israel, the number one Belgian beer is Stella Artois,” says Frederic Boulez, Commercial Director at Van Honsebrouck. “The number two Belgian beer is Kasteel Rouge.” Their strategy at home focuses on the restaurant, café and hospitality sector. “In the pub they try it and in the shop they buy it,” says Frederic. “Belgium is a pub market. We are really pushing Filou in the Horeca now.” In an attempt to continue the good work of his father, Xavier is thinking big. “Our dream is to be the number one location for beer tourism in Belgium,” he says repeatedly. It’s a mantra you hear from a number of staff members at different parts of the brewery.

Their new facility the ‘Bierkasteel or ‘Beer Castle’ will welcome not only people with a passion for beer, but there are plans to host everything from corporate seminars to wedding receptions. Their foeder room is strategically placed beside their brasserie, so diners have the visual backdrop of 8 upright oak vats (4 of 200 hectolitres and 4 of 50 hectolitres), all of which have just been shipped in from France. Xavier sees innovation as the key factor for securing that legacy. They’re one of the few breweries to have the equipment and technical know-how to produce beers of spontaneous fermentation, top fermentation, and mixed fermentation under one roof.

And they don’t shy away from developing new products. “Once a month we meet with a panel of experts to brainstorm,” says Xavier. “We recently released Barista (11% ABV), a beer with a chocolate flavour and a basis of coffee. For us, no idea is too crazy. Belgian brewers often think within the box, but we’ll become a brewery museum if we do that.” Innovation doesn’t mean you can’t remain true to your heritage. “The U.S. breweries copy us,” he says. “But they’re learning from us. We need to be more creative. We have to remain in front. But that doesn’t mean making IPAs. We want to promote and protect Belgian beer. And I want to protect my family tradition.”

By in News Comments Off on Bierkasteel ‘beer castle’ opens today

Bierkasteel ‘beer castle’ opens today

The new Van Honsebrouck brewery at Emelgem in Izegem has opened its doors. The impressive fortress-like structure took two years to build at a cost of €40 million. The Bierkasteel – literally, the Beer Castle – is not just a brewery, it also hosts a visitor centre, a brasserie, is a conference and event venue, and has its own shop. Far from being just a beer production facility, Van Honsenbrouck’s Bierkasteel has ambitions to become one of the biggest tourist attractions in West Flanders.

A successful and established name on the Belgian brewing scene, the Van Honsebrouck brewery was bursting out at the seams of its historic home in the centre of Ingelmunster. In order to grow, the company had to move, and so a new Beer Castle was planned on the site of a former furniture factory in Emelgem, a village in Izegem.

“It’s modern, but there’s still a nod to the old castle at Ingelmunster,” explains events manager, Bruno Lambert. “We’re writing new history here. For the first time in a century a brewery has been rebuilt from the ground up. But the castle remains on our logo and in the fabric of our building, with its medieval-style towers.”

The Bierkasteel is open to visitors six days a week.

Tours on weekdays start at 10:30am, 2pm, and 4:30pm. At weekends you can book Saturday moring tours by making a reservation through the website. Tickets for the tours are €15 for adults; €7.50 for under-16s; and €12 for members of groups of 25 people or more.

Tours start in the impressive Throne Room, where a movie welcomes visitors. Famous local actor, singer and beer lover, Wim Opbrouck, provides narration for the brewery’s videos, which also feature animation and photos from the brewery’s huge archives.

Everything in the new brewery tour is accessible for disabled visitors.

The Bierkasteel is a big step for the Van Honsebrouck brewery, a family company with roots going back to the start of the 19th century.

Production at the new facility has doubled to 20 million litres, produced with the help of 74 large boilers and 2,000 square-metres of bottling plant alone, where 30 different beers are packaged for sale, coming off the production line at the rate of 20,000-bottles-per-hour. An area the size of two football pitches is needed just to store the brewery’s stock.

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 The bottling plant

Tradition is respected too. The giant foeders (great wooden vats) in which Belgian beers are often matured are filled with Bacchus and St Louis beers – all 30,000 litres of them – slowly coming of age for 18 months.

The unique atmosphere of the Foeder Hall can be enjoyed as an event space, and has just hosted its first wedding celebration with the Bierkasteel’s brasserie handling the catering.

brasserie

All visits end with a tasting session and the chance to grab a couple of bottles to take home from the brewery shop. As well as the beers you’ve seen being made, you can also enjoy Van Honsebrouck beers in top-quality pralines from the local chocolatier Parfait.

You can also enjoy the brewery’s products in the brasserie, which is open every day from 10am to 10pm. Beer in the 140-seat restaurant is not just an accompaniment to the food, but a creatively used ingredient in an exciting seasonal and local menu. But if it is just a beer you’re after, please pop in, grab the extensive beer menu and maybe head for the terrace to enjoy the view.

Van Housenbrouck’s Bierkasteel is also a high-quality meeting or conference venue. “Anyone can organise a company event or meeting here, with or without a guided tour of the brewery,” says Bruno. “We run a bar for our guests, and our meeting rooms come in a wide variety of capacities.” There is parking for 250 cars onsite, office facilities, and a staff canteen.

The stately welcome room at the Bierkasteel.

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This article was originally published by Het Laatste Nieuws.

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