After more than 220 years, Grimbergen abbey will soon start brewing beer again. The brewery has just received the permit to start building a new 10,000 hl brewery in August with the financial help of Danish Carlsberg Group. The brewery is expected to be operational in the second half of 2020. "In the place where the old brewery once stood, we are now going to house the new one," the abbey’s subprior, Father Karel Stautemas who initiated the project four years ago and who will be later involved in the production together with five or six workers, told Het Laatste Nieuws.
In the presence of the town’s mayor and 120 journalists and enthusiasts, Stautemas uncasked the first beer which was brewed by Marc-Antoine Sochon, Liquid Implementation Manager Craft & Specialities at Carlsberg Group following the old recipe.
After the abbey was burned down by French revolutionaries in 1798, brewing at the abbey was discontinued. In 1958 the abbey was contacted by Brouwerij Maes to commercialize the dark beer that Maes had developed under the brand name Grimbergen.
Maes merged in 1988 with another local Belgium brewery in Alken to form Alken-Maes brewery, which was acquired in 2000 by Scottish & Newcastle (S&N), a brewing company headquartered in Edinburgh, Scotland. When in a joined bid Heineken and Carlsberg took over S&N in 2008, the Grimbergen brand was transferred to Carlsberg but Heineken got a long lasting license to continue brewing the beer for the Belgium market in the brewery in Alken. Following the take-over, Carlsberg started brewing the Grimbergen beer for the international market at their newly acquired Kronenbourg brewery in France.
For this reason, there are today two different types of Grimbergen beer which both do not have a lot in common with the original abbey beer. However, the new beer which will be soon be brewed at the abbey comes much closer to the original recipe.
The historical records of the brewery were saved by the monks from the fire in 1797 but forgotten over time. “We had the books with the old recipes, but nobody could read them,” Stautemas was cited in a report published this week by 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.”
Following the historical records, the new Grimbergen beer with 10.8% alcohol by volume will be stored in wooden barrels, relying on local soils and leaving out artificials additives.
However, the subprior has also to admit that the brew presented this week is not the same as 220 years ago.“I don’t think people now would like the taste of the beer made back then,” he said. And Sochon added: “In those times, regular beer was a bit tasteless, it was like liquid bread.”
When asked if he does not feel uncomfortable with the commercial tie-up with brewing giant Carlsberg, Stautemas pointed out that the royalties help the monks to pay for their daily lives, make pilgrimages and help “those who come knocking on our door and need help”. Without the financial support of Carlsberg the realization of the project which was announced exactly one year ago (inside.beer, 8.5.2018) would not be possible.
In order to promote Grimbergen Carlsberg has recently launched a commercial featuring the story of monks saving the historical recipe book from fire when the Grimbergen abbey was burned down during the French Revolution.