It’s been a long time between drinks for monks at Grimbergen Abbey — more than 200 years, actually, if we’re getting into specifics.
- It’s the first time the abbey has brewed beer since it was ransacked by the French in 1795
- Brewers have reviewed 12th-century books detailing the original monks’ brewing methods
- Grimbergen’s monks will have to follow the rules of Belgium’s Trappist beer makers
The Belgian abbey was ransacked and had its brewery smashed in 1795 by French troops.
But a tradition of beer making that dated back to the 12th century will be revived with plans to build a new brewery at the monastic complex in Grimbergen, a town north of Brussels.
It won’t be for the faint-hearted, however — a beer is expected to contain about 10.8 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV).
“For us, it’s important to look to the heritage, to the tradition of the fathers for brewing beer because it was always here,” said Father Karel Stautemas, who will become one of five to six workers in the new brewery.
“Brewing and religious life always came together.”
The discovery of books detailing the original monks’ brewing methods has become a source of inspiration for the new microbrewery.
Remarkably, the recipes were saved before the monastery was set alight in the 18th century — a group of quick-thinking fathers secretly removed the books from inside a library wall and put them into safe keeping.
“We had the books with the old recipes, but nobody could read them,” Father Stautemas told The Guardian.
“It was all in old Latin and old Dutch. So we brought in volunteers.
“We’ve spent hours leafing through the books and have discovered ingredient lists for beers brewed in previous centuries, the hops used, the types of barrels and bottles, and even a list of the actual beers produced centuries ago.”
Grimbergen’s monks will follow the rules of Belgium’s Trappist beer makers, even if they are not a Trappist order, requiring them to brew within the abbey walls, control the brewing and steer profits toward maintaining the abbey and supporting charitable causes.
The abbey was founded in 1128 and has been tied to commercial brewers since the 1950s when local brewer Maes asked the monks to use the Grimbergen name and emblem on its “abbey beer”.
Marc-Antoine Sochon, an expert at Carlsberg who will be the project’s brewmaster, said the 10,000-hectolitre-per-year facility aimed to make limited edition versions of beer already brewed on a commercial scale under the Grimbergen name.
However, while the microbrewery hopes to pay homage to the original monks, Mr Sochon conceded 18th-century beer tasted a bit like “liquid bread” — so inevitably, the recipe will change.
“We will keep the same yeast, which will bring all the fruitiness and spiciness and we will start to dig into more innovations, such as barrel ageing, dry hopping,” he said.
It expects to produce its first ales in late 2020.