Grimbergen Abbey monks to brew beer from medieval recipe

A microbrewery is to be built inside the walls of Grimbergen Abbey near Brussels after monks finally uncovered the long-lost recipes and brewing techniques recorded in medieval manuscripts.

Father Karel Stautemas, sub-prior at Grimbergen Abbey, who is studying to be a brewer to join the microbrewery team.

The project has been several years in the making. Last year, the Belgian monks expressed a desire to begin brewing their own beer again, but were unable to locate the original recipe. It was reported at the time that four researchers had been trawling the archives for a year with no success, and were only halfway through the abbey’s collection.

The process had been further complicated by the fact the documents, which date from the 12th century and have survived three fires, were written in Latin and Old Dutch.

After more searching, the recipes and techniques used have been uncovered and will be used to create a series of limited-edition brews at a new microbrewery on site.

After playing a key role in searching for the recipes, father Karel Stautemas, sub-prior of the abbey, is to undertake formal brewing training alongside his other day-to-day roles. He and other fathers of the abbey will support head brewer Marc-Antoine Sochon.

Father Stautemas said: “Beer has always been part of life in the abbey and we are proud of the beers we have today. We’ve really enjoyed reading more about past brewing traditions in the pages of these ancient texts. We’ve spent hours leafing through the books, which are written in Latin and Old Dutch, 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.

“This new knowledge adds to our brewing heritage and I’m really looking forward to combining this with my training to revive brewing at Grimbergen Abbey. We will continue to study further to learn more of the book’s undiscovered secrets.”

Head brewer Sochon added: “The microbrewery will be a place for us to combine modern, inventive methods with the ancient Grimbergen brewing heritage. We’re excited to use these books to bring back the medieval techniques and ingredients to create new beers that perfectly complement the excellent offering and flavours of the existing Grimbergen beers, such as Blonde, Blanche and Double-Ambrée.”

The range of beers currently produced under the Grimbergen brand share the name of the monastery as well as its phoenix emblem and motto. Beers were first made on site in 1128, however the brewery was moved away from the abbey in the 18th century. It is now made at the Alken-Maes Brewery for the Belgium market while a Carlsberg-owned facility brews it under licence for international markets.

At the launch event at the abbey, Grimbergen unveiled a limited-edition 10.8% ABV Grimbergen Triple d’Abbaye which it said is an example of the type of beer that will be brewed at the microbrewery, once it has been constructed. The beer was aged in whiskey barrels for five months according to a similar technique that was used to brew beers in the 1500s.

The microbrewery, complete with a visitor centre, is expected to open to the public in late 2020. It will also house an on-site restaurant and bar and will have the capacity to produce three million 33cl bottles each year.

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