Stella Artois has long history in Belgium
Leuven, Belgium, located about 15 miles from Brussels, not only is InBev’s corporate headquarters, but it also is home to Stella Artois, one of the company’s three flagship products. InBev can trace its brewing past all the way back to 1366 in this Flemish city, and Stella Artois’ roots date back to 1926, when it was introduced as a limited-edition beer for the Christmas season. The beer, which takes the name Stella from the Latin word for star, has risen to the top of the company’s lineup as a year-round, and now global product.
The main production facility for Stella Artois is located across the street from the company’s new, recently completed headquarters building, and is one of more than 100 breweries the company operates around the world. With a capacity of 6.5 million hectoliters per year, the Leuven brewery has been designed for flexibility. It produces 30 varieties of beer, including three versions of Stella Artois; Jupiler, the leading beer brand in Belgium; Leffe; and several other beers for the Dutch market.
The facility runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Like Stella Artois and Jupiler, most products brewed in the plant are lager pilsners, but it produces a number of other products, including darker beers. While production has, at one time or another, been located at many points in Leuven, the current facility was built in 1992. Because of their different temperature requirements, brewing, fermentation and bottling all take place in separate buildings located adjacent to one another.
At nearly 60 meters tall, the raw materials silo building next to the brewhouse serves as the brewery landmark, with a large Stella Artois logo at the top. It holds grains used for brewing, such as barley malts and corn grits, as well as hops. The silo feeds the brewing process, which begins with milling of the malts.
The grains are hammer milled in preparation for the mashing process, during which they are mixed with water and boiled to convert their starches into sugar. The facility makes use of 80 underground wells located on the site, and water is purified through several processes depending on whether it will be used for brewing or for other purposes.
The brewhouse contains 15 stainless steel brew tanks, and each brew, or batch, measures 650 hectoliters. The process takes four to five hours for each brew. The corn and malt are first raised to the boiling point in separate vessels for about an hour, and then are combined. The enzymes in the grains are reactivated and begin to convert the starch into sugar at an optimum temperature of 62 to 72 degrees C.
When the sugar conversion is complete, the spent grains are filtered out to be used elsewhere as cattle feed. Once the spent grains are removed, the remaining liquid, called wort, is boiled and hops are added for flavor and aroma. It is finally clarified using a centrifuge system and is ready for fermentation in the building next door.
In addition to the commercial brewery, the Leuven brewhouse features a microbrewery that is used for training purposes. The small brewery contains all of the equipment found in the larger brewery, but at 1 percent of the size, or 650 liters per brew. InBev also has a similar microbrewery at one of its facilities in Canada.
From wort to beer
The fermentation building houses 72 fermentation and maturation tanks, and is where beers such as Stella Artois spend a total of 20 days to become finished products. Beers such as Leffe are fermented at a higher temperature and spend less time in fermentation and maturation.
Several batches of wort are combined in vertical fermentation tanks that measure 16 meters tall. Yeast is added to the wort to facilitate the conversion of sugar into alcohol. When fermentation is complete, the yeast collects in a cone at the bottom of the tank, and is removed for reuse in the future.
The fermentation process takes approximately six days, during which the temperature is strictly controlled. When fermentation is complete, the beer is still considered “green” and requires maturation for another 14 days to stabilize. The product then goes through a final filtration and on to packaging.
A finished product
The final process at the Leuven plant is bottling, and the facility has a total of eight packaging lines that fill product in glass bottles, cans and PET bottles, as well as kegs. In addition to bottling the beers produced in Leuven, the packaging lines bottle products brought in by tanker trucks from other InBev breweries, in fact 14 percent of the beer bottled at the plant is actually brewed at another facility.
Beer that is produced in Leuven is fed into the filling lines from the brewery’s 30 bright beer tanks where it underwent final filtration. The plant has four bottle filling lines, three of which fill glass bottles, and one that fills PET. The facility uses a number of returnable bottles, which are cleaned in the bottle washer and examined by two high-tech inspection systems to ensure they are properly cleaned and not damaged. The bottles are filled and capped, and then pasteurized in a tunnel at 60 degrees C for 20 minutes. They are then labeled and packed into cases.
The glass bottle filling lines operate at a speed of 150,000 bottles per hour, and the canning line, which uses a similar process, runs 140,000 cans per hour. In all, 40 percent of the beer bottled in Leuven is filled in cans, 30 percent in bottles and 30 percent in kegs.
Smaller than the glass and can filling lines, the PET line begins with bottle preforms, which are blown onsite at a rate of 6,000 bottles per hour. The bottles are rinsed, filled and labeled. Like the other packages, the PET bottles are pasteurized, but they are flash pasteurized at a higher temperature for a shorter time than tunnel pasteurization.
Finished products are palletized and stored in a conditioned warehouse prior to shipping. The facility loads 200 to 300 trucks per day with outbound shipments, and product is shipped on a first-in, first-out basis. But high demand keeps the facility running on a nearly just-in-time basis, and most product spends less than 48 hours in the warehouse. BI
Two of InBev’s beers that are native to Belgium are Stella Artois and Jupiler, and both are brewed at the Leuven brewery. Despite their common Belgian heritage, the brands have distinctly different personalities, with Stella Artois taking on a global image of “supreme quality and worth,” and Jupiler one of unabashed masculinity.
Along with German beer Beck’s and Brazil’s Brahma, Stella Artois is one of InBev’s three flagship products. It is the fifth-largest international brand and is available in more than 80 countries. The brand often is served in a trademark chalice glass, and its marketing efforts often are tied to the film industry and the Queen’s Club Tennis Tournament in the United Kingdom.
Jupiler is Belgium’s leading beer brand, and is said to have an accessible flavor and easy digestibility. According to the company, “Jupiler understands men like no other brand,” and its marketing follows in that vein. The brand is the official sponsor of Belgium’s Jupiler League football and also supports the country’s national football team.
In addition to their traditional packaging, both of the products are produced at the Leuven brewery in a unique PerfectDraft keg, a 6-liter beer keg designed to be used in an in-home draft system. Available in Belgium and Luxembourg, PerfectDraft is the result of a partnership between InBev and Royal Phillips Electronics. It combines the lightweight keg with an appliance that features a tap handle, internal cooling system and pump. The system is intended to keep the beer at optimal conditions of 3 degrees C, and once installed, the beer stays fresh for four weeks.
The system was launched last August with the two Belgian brands, as well as the Diekirch brand in Luxembourg. It retails for 199 euro for the appliance, and 14.99 to 15.95 euro per 6-liter keg.