Though the Belgian brand survived, the nearly 900-year-old abbey itself hadn’t made a beer since the 1790s.

By Mike Pomranz
May 22, 2019
Andrew Francis Wallace/Getty Images

After a more than 200-year absence, Belgium’s Grimbergen Abbey is finally brewing again — using a mix of old and new methods to create a beer that is hoping to return the 12th-century abbey back to its days of beer glory.

Almost exactly a year ago, we discussed Grimbergen’s plan to resurrect their in-house brew. Though Grimbergen beers aren’t hard to find, these Belgian-style ales simply license the Grimbergen name. The abbey itself hadn’t produced a beer since it was burnt down in the 1790s and rebuilt without brewing facilities. But over the past four years, the abbey has dedicated itself to not only making beer once again, but also trying to follow similar methods to what Grimbergen monks used hundreds of years ago.

Yesterday, the abbey poured the first glasses of all of that hard work: a 10-percent ABV ale developed with the help of books salvaged from the old abbey but crafted by new brewmaster Marc-Antoine Sochon, who comes courtesy of brewing giant Carlsberg, which owns the right to produce and sell Grimbergen beers outside of Belgium.

“We had the books with the old recipes, but nobody could read them,” Father Karel Stautemas, the abbey’s subprior, said according to 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.”

However, Sochon told Reuters that, ironically enough, this return to brewing at the abbey also borrowed a number of techniques that Carlsberg uses to make their mass-produced version of Grimbergen. “We will keep the same yeast, which will bring all the fruitiness and spiciness,” he said. As a result, in many ways, the abbey will simply be producing limited-edition versions of the Grimbergen beers modern drinkers are used to.

Still, the Grimbergen Abbey didn’t go through all that trouble just to churn out small batches of a beer that already exists. Stautemas reportedly took a course at the Scandinavian School of Brewing and will be one of the monks actually working in the new brewery. And the abbey will continue to experiment with different batches. “We're excited to use these books to bring back the medieval techniques and ingredients to create new beers,” Sochon told NPR.

Grimbergen says it plans to have its first beer ready for sale by next year when the abbey also plans to open a bar and restaurant for visitors.

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