Experiencing silence

We’ve just happened to come upon an issue of the 1/16 magazine. And there we found loads of interesting articles: like a report on the Trappistenbrouwerij Abdij Koningshoeven. And because we immediately started browsing, we want to share this rediscovery with others. Here, however, there’s space for only a brief summary; there’s more about the subject in the magazine.

Silence begins with mindfulness. Whatever or whomever we focus on will grow. Silence is the white space between the letters – these sentences, which could also be taken from a modern-day lifestyle magazine, are in fact the ancient principles of the Trappist monks in Koningshoeven Abbey near the Dutch city of Tilburg. Authenticity, wisdom, sustainability and hospitality embody their values: “We want to do the right thing” – and this is what the monastic community indeed endeavours to do, not least with the Trappistenbrouwerij Abdij 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.

In our present-day era, the Trappist beers play a special role. To qualify for using this appellation, three basic rules of the Trappist community have to be complied with: firstly, the beer has to actually be brewed inside the monastery’s walls (in contrast to abbey beers, for example) and secondly, brewed by the monks themselves or at least under their instructions. The third condition is that the profits from beer sales serve to earn a living for the monks and some of them be donated to charitable causes.

It was over 135 years ago, in 1881, that the first Cistercian monks from France appeared in the region around Tilburg, and purchased a piece of heathland with some farms and a large sheephold. The local populace also called these five farms “King’s homesteads”, in Dutch “Koningshoeven”, because they had previously belonged to the Dutch King Willem II. Because the revenues from farming on the infertile heathland did not initially suffice to earn a living for the monks, they quickly decided to build a small brewery, which went into operation back in 1884. In order to finance the plans to build a new abbey, just seven years later the monks built a new, larger brewery with a malting tower, which today, next to the monastery, still dominates this unique combination of a religious foundation and an industrial facility. Construction of the small brewery marked the beginning of the first (and for almost 130 years only) Trappist brewery in the Netherlands. Even today, the brewery constitutes the abbey’s major source of income. There are currently 21 monks living and working there, including some quite young men.

After the brewery had grown into a mid-tier operation by the 1960s, and was brewing bottom-fermented dark beers plus pilsner, Dortmunder and bock beers, de Koningshoeven cooperated with a Belgian brewery from 1969 to 1979. Then the monks took the brewing into their own hands again. They ventured a new beginning, developed the La Trappe brandname, and under this appellation launched characteristic top-fermented beers.

In 1989, the brewery was then completely modernised, and one decade later began the alliance with the Dutch Bavaria Brewery. The Trappist beers are now produced on behalf of and under the supervision of the monastery. Father Isaac shares the management duties with the secular Director Thijs Thijssen. When Thijs Thijssen began working for the brewery 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. The reasons for this exponential growth are multi-layered. 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.

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 Quadrupel Oak Aged: one bottle every second.

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