Grimbergen is undoubtedly one of the best known abbey beers although Grimbergen abbey stopped brewing the beer in 1797 when the abbey was dissolved by invading French revolutionaries. This could change soon since the monks consider brewing their own beer again. They plan to build a micro-brewery and an adjacent visitors’ center at the abbey and hope to start production in 2020.
The beer, which is sold today under the brand name Grimbergen, is brewed in Alken, Belgium, by Alken-Maes brewery, which is since the sale of its former owner Scottish Newcastle in 2008 part of Heineken. However the brand is owned by Carlsberg group and Grimbergen beer for consumption outside Belgium is brewed at Carlsberg’s Kronenbourg brewery in France.
Today’s Grimbergen beer does not have a lot in common with the beer originally brewed at the abbey. When Brouwerij Maes (Maes Brewery) contacted the monks at the abbey in 1958 they were just looking for a name to promote their own dark beer. Until today the family of Grimbergen beers increased to five varieties including Blonde, Rouge, Double Ambrée and Blanche – a light yellow Belgian-style white beer with flavours of yellow fruits, citrus, cloves, coriander and bergamot – as well as Noël, a winter beer with flavours of caramel, liquorice, ripe fruits and a note of macerated prune.
In order to differentiate from the industrial beers, which will be continued to be produced outside the abbey, the monks plan to brew an own exclusive hand-crafted beer following the historic archetype. Currently they search in their archives for the original recipe, which is not easy because the monastery has been destroyed and burned down three times since its foundation in 1145. This is also reflected in the monastery’s emblem of a phoenix rising from the flames and the motto: ‘Ardet nic consumitur’ – ‘burned but not destroyed’. Still, the monastery has a huge archive, mostly written in Old Dutch.
"35,000 books and meters of filing cabinets. Somewhere in between is the medieval recipe of our abbey beer. Four men have been looking for that document for a year," says subprior Karel Stautemans, who wants to revive the old history of beer brewing at the abbey. “Since the French Revolution, Grimbergen has not been brewed in the abbey itself, but people have a right to an authentic beer,” he adds.