Monks to relaunch abbey beer – but can’t find original recipe

The monks of the Belgian monastery of Grimbergen have expressed a desire to begin brewing their own beer again but there’s a hitch – they can’t find the original recipe.

The range of beers produced under the Grimbergen name today, have ties with the monastery including the name and its phoenix badge and motto but the beer itself stopped being produced at the abbey in the 18th century and the Alken Maes Brewery has produced it for the local market since 1958 and a Carlsberg-owned brewery makes it under licence for international markets.

Many visitors, however, are unaware of this and continue to ask for the beer when at the abbey.

So much so in fact that the brothers have decided to revive their monastery’s brewing tradition – even on just a small scale.

Keen as the monks are to revive their abbey’s famed medieval beer, the problem is that while the ingredients are known, the original recipe is lost.

Four researchers have been leafing through the archives for a year with no success and they’re only halfway done, their search hindered by multiple documents written in Old Dutch.

Subprior Karel Stautemas is reported as saying that the archives have revealed where the old brewery stood and more: “We also have documents showing that the fathers then bought barley from local farmers. We even know all the ingredients. The only thing we do not know is how much we have to take from each. The composition is unavailable for now.”

It’s perfectly possible the recipe is completely lost to history. Founded in 1128, the monastery has been destroyed three times in its history; firstly by the Duke of Brabant in 1145, then by Protestants during the Wars of Religion in 1566 and then by anti-clerical French revolutionaries in 1798.

It was after rebuilding the monastery in the 16th century that the monks adopted the image of a phoenix rising from the flames and the motto: ‘Ardet nic consumitur’ – ‘burned but not destroyed’.

Whether that is the truth or not as far as the recipe is concerned is another matter, as it has reportedly not been seen for over 200 years – when the monastery was destroyed by the French. When the monks returned in the 1840s they did not revive their brewery.

Both Alken-Maes and Carlsberg have reportedly offered support for the building of a micro-brewery on the site of the original brewery.

It is hoped that the brewery can be constructed and the first beer brewed again at Grimbergen by 2020.

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