Tilburg (abbey Our Lady of Koningshoeven)

About the beers of Tilburg (may 24th, 2005)

Since 1997, many discussions were held, in the beerlovers world, concerning the status of the beers of the abbey of Tilburg. These discussions started when an agreement was signed between the abbey of Tilburg and the brewery BAVARIA (www.bavaria.nl).

It seems that a confusion originated from the removal of the "authentic trappist product" logo of the La Trappe beers. A detailed analysis was given in our previous newsletter, about the trappist status of a beer.

As an addition to this analysis, it is important to know that, following what brother Bernardus, from Tilburg, told us :

  • "Our abbey did not sell grounds or buildings or whatever to Bavaria. We only have, since 1997, a cooperation agreement with Bavaria concerning the brewery "De Koningshoeven". The brewery "De Koningshoeven" (which rents our buildings, located on our grounds) is brewing the "La Trappe" beers for us. We have the responsiblity for the supervision of the operations from the beginning to the end. However, the brewery "De Koningshoeven" has the exclusive right to put our beer on the market. La Trappe is under our control and remains the property of the community. It must be known that the marketing is determined by us, and is also under our control and responsibility."
  • "In 1997 , we chose this kind of cooperation, because we felt it was impossible for us to stay in the actual beer market. Moreover, the management of a big brewery is not one of our priorities, but we still need the financial incomes of the brewery to help our own living and to help our subsidiaries in Indonesia and Kenya."
  • "The real link that we keep with the brewery, is that, over the fact that the brand remains our property, one of us is responsible for the good execution of the cooperation agreement. Some brothers work in the brewery, doing manual work on packaging."

So many wrong things were said about the beers of Tilburg on different english and french beerforums that I felt it was important to start a more objective analysis based on articles and official declarations (some points have still to be confirmed). Here are my conclusions and (still) some hypothesis :

  • The brewing company "De Koningshoeven" is a subsidiary of the dutch brewing company Bavaria nv
  • The abbey of Tilburg rents buildings (located on the grounds of the abbey) to the brewing company "De Koningshoeven". (We use the expression "brewing company" instead of "brewery" because the word 'brewery' can designate a building with its equipments as well as a legal structure and organization.).
  • The abbey is not the owner of the brewing equipment anymore, which was sold to the brewing company.
  • The brewing company "De Koningshoeven" (Bavaria), brews "La Trappe" beers inside the buildings of the abbey, with its own employees.
  • The master brewer is a non religious. He is employed by the abbey (to be confirmed). Let us remind that the recipe is always owned by the abbey, although the beer is brewed by a partner.
  • The responsibility for supervising the operations belongs to the monks, who remain owners of the "La Trappe" brand and of the recipe. This supervision probably consists in an overall supervision of the operations, rather than a day to day detailed production control, which is made by the employees of the brewing company.
  • Beer, once produced, appears to be sold to the partner (Bavaria or its subsidiary), which is the exclusive owner of the right for distributing "La Trappe" beers. The conditions of sales, price and margins are naturally part of the agreement between the abbey and its partner.
  • Monks still work in the brewery, on the manufacturing of special packagings. Like in many other abbeys, they do not brew themselves.
  • Monks have the responsibility and the control of the publicity. However, it would be logical to imagine that Bavaria, through "De Koningshoeven", also plays a role concerning the publicity and marketing of the beers, and may have its own influence into the process of creating new beers or restarting old recipes (eg. bockbier), this is probably part of the partnership. ("We created a foundation.. where the director of the brewery reads and presents his reports... and where we approve publicity and give our agreements for a new beer like "La Trappe Wit" (Father abbot : interview by BPM, Oct-nov 2003).
  • It is likely that the International Trappist Association (ITA), questioned Tilburg about the wear of the hexagonal logo (Authentic Trappist Product : ATP) when they signed their agreement with Bavaria. Discussions were held inside the ITA ("we were not supported by some members of the ITA", "For the ITA, we are a problem " (BPM Oct-Nov 2003) .
  • It's probably ethical considerations, related to the respect ot the 3 rules defined by the ITA, which led the discussions inside the ITA, moreover monks at Tilburg admit that, at that time, "not everything was clear for us in this new form of cooperation". This may be what made the monks of Tilburg decide to remove the logo at that time. As the father abbot of Tilburg said, "some collegas of the ITA did not accept our decision easily" (note : the decision to remove the logo) (Bier Passie Magazine, Oct-Nov 2003)
  • Anyway, the monks of Tilburg never gave up to claim the logo again. Following our sources, the abbey of Tilburg may intend to ask for the hexagonal logo back in 2005 and it is likely that a decision has to be made by the ITA before or during summer... more information will be given if anything happens.
  • Despite the loss of the logo, it is important to know that the abbey of Tilburg, following the judgement of 1962, had (and still has) the right to name its beers "trappist". In other words, "La Trappe" are trappist beers.
  • The cooperation with Bavaria allowed to maintain a production and sales of beer, despite an aging community and a strong competition on the beer market. It must be recalled that, in the past, Tilburg already signed agreements with external brewing companies, especially concerning the distribution of their products. The efficient sales network of Bavaria will surely help increasing the sales and get back to a better profitabilty.
  • Although "De Koningshoeven" brews "La Trappe" beers inside the abbey, it also brews "non trappist" beer, like pilsners ("Moreeke", "De Kroon pilsener"). The brewing equipements were designed, from a long time, to brew important batches. The better use of the equipement will also help get back to a better efficiency and profitability.
  • The "controversy" about the "La Trappe" beers probably originates in the fact that the communication about all this was not sufficient in the beginning, and mostly in dutch. Anyway, it is clear that the situation was rather complex, and that did not help in understanding what happened. There was also a real confusion, in many beer lovers' heads, between what is a real trappist beer (judgment of 1962), and what is an "authentic trappist product" (rules of the ITA).

Conclusion

I personaly consider that being compliant to both the two definitions (1962+ITA) is a very strong and positive advantage for a trappist beer. (please consult the newsletter #4 for more information).

This advice has nothing to do with the quality of the beers, it is more or less linked to the respect of a certain brewing tradition, and is more an ethical than a technical vision of things.

Let us hope Tilburg will be able to wear the hexagonal logo again in the near future.

Finally, the keypoint is probably that La Trappe beers still exist thanks to this cooperation, and that we can still enjoy them today. What would have happened if the agreement had not been signed ?

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