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Belgian Monks to Resurrect Bygone Brewery

After a break of more than 200 years, Belgian monks at the Grimbergen Abbey are on the verge of brewing beer again.

The abbey, with its phoenix emblem with the Latin saying “Ardet nec consumitur,” [Burned but not destroyed], was ransacked and had its brewery smashed by French troops in 1795.

However, plans of reviving a beer making tradition that dates back to the 13th century and the building of a new brewery at the monastic complex in Grimbergen, north of Brussels, are in play. It is expected to produce its first ales come late 2020.

A day after the local council approved the brewery plan, Father Karel Stautemas shared with Reuters, “For us, it’s important to look to the heritage, to the tradition of the fathers for brewing beer because it was always here.” Karel, one of the 11 Norbertine canons living in the abbey, also adds, “Brewing and religious life always came together.”

He will soon take a course at the Scandinavian School of Brewing in Copenhagen this year, and will become one of the five to six workers in the new brewery.

Father Karel Stautemas.

An expert at Carlsberg and the project’s brewmaster, Marc-Antoine Sochon, explained that the 10,000 hectolitre-per-year facility is aimed to make limited edition versions of beer already brewed on a commercial scale under the Grimbergen name.

Sochon said, “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.”

The abbey which was founded in 1128, 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.

The abbey earns royalties, with about 1.5 million hectolitres of its brand now produced globally, with Heineken unit Alken-Maes brewing and selling it in Belgium, while Carlsberg crafts it largely in France for other markets.

Even if they are not a Trappist order, Grimbergen’s monks will follow the rules of Belgium’s Trappist beer makers, requiring them to brew within the abbey walls, control the brewing, and steer profits toward maintaining the abbey and supporting charitable causes.

Photos courtesy of Yves Herman.

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