Grimbergen beers haven’t been brewed at the abbey in over 300 years.
Perhaps you’ve had a Grimbergen before. The line of Belgian beers isn’t particularly hard to come by in part because, even though the brand is named after a monastery, the brews haven’t been produced by monks since 1797. Instead, starting in 1958, the abbey simply began licensing its name to other, larger breweries. Recently, however, the Grimbergen monks have been interested in relaunching their authentic, abbey-brewed beers. Just one problem, though: No one can find the original recipe.
Unlike the famous Coca-Cola example where the secret recipe is supposedly kept under lock and key, Grimbergen faces a more pedestrian problem, and one that’s potentially far more difficult to solve: The original recipe may just be lost in the annals of time.
For the past year, four volunteer researchers have been digging through some 35,000 books and documents archived by the abbey since its founding in 1128, according to The Guardian. The plan is to build a new microbrewery “in the same place as where the brewery stood here until 1797,” which the abbey’s subprior, Karel Stautemas, says is possible, “because we know the location, we have already found it in our archives.” Other details have been revealed as well. “We also have documents showing that the fathers then bought barley from local farmers,” he continued. “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.”
Still, Stautemas said he also hasn’t given up and is still hoping to drink some original Grimbergen at a brewery launch party in 2020. “They are not even halfway through [the records],” he reportedly said. “It is not such an easy job either, because those texts are in Old Dutch. But there is good hope that the recipe will turn up. And then there is the question: do we still like that medieval beer today?” Who knows, maybe the beer is so bad the monks destroyed the recipe on purpose?
Even if the original Grimbergen recipe never turns up, however, it’s not like Belgium has a shortage of actual monk-produced brews. The most famous group is probably the Trappist breweries—where beer is made by Trappist monks to support the actual monastery—which includes big names like Rochefort, Westvleteren, Chimay and Orval.