A Famous Trappist Monk Brewery Is Fighting a Multinational Mining Company for Its Water Supply

The brothers are concerned a nearby mining operation will affect the quality of their signature beer.

The Trappist monks of Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy in Rochefort, Belgium have been brewing beer since the 16th century, and when they moved to a new abbey in 1899, they opened a brewery there too. And although their history stretches back to the 1500s, the past few years have probably contained several centuries' worth of stress and conflict.

The monks have been embroiled in a lengthy legal battle with the Lhoist-Berghmans family, who are among the richest people in Belgium. The Lhoist company—which is the world's largest chalk producer—owns the Boverie lime quarry near the abbey, and they want to dig underneath it, deepening the quarry by 60 feet and extending the time that it could be worked by twenty-plus years.

Rochefort Trappist beer.
Fred De Noyelle /GODONG/Getty Images

The Guardian reports that those excavations would require Lhoist to pump out the water that runs under the quarry, and the monks are concerned that the environmental changes would affect the taste of its beer. (The local spring water is an essential ingredient in the abbey's brew—and it's also used as drinking water in the town of Rochefort.)

The Rochefort monks currently brew four different beers, including the 7.5 percent ABV Rochefort 6—also called "Red Cap" because of, uh, its red cap—the 9.2 percent Rochefort 8 (Green Cap), and the 11.3 percent Rochefort 10 (Blue Cap), which is widely considered to be one of the best beers in the world. Last fall, Rochefort released the 8.1 percent Rochefort Triple Extra, the abbey's first new beer in 65 years, and the first blond beer they'd produced in almost a century.

As for the quarry's proposed plans, the monks have expressed their displeasure as strongly as men who live in near-silence can. According to the Brussels Times, the abbey took Lhoist to court in late 2019, and presented a deed from 1833 that flat-out forbids anyone from changing the course of the Tridaine spring—and since that document was written almost a century before Lhoist's quarry was opened, the monks thought they had a pretty good case.

A court in Marche-en-Famenne agreed, but Lhoist appealed. A higher court in Liege recently issued its ruling, and they've sided with the monks and their 19th century deed too, confirming that Lhoist cannot "remove or divert all or part of the water which supply the abbey." The monks aren't quietly punching the air just yet though: a Lhoist spokesperson says that the company hasn't decided whether it will appeal that decision too. (Did we mention how wealthy the Lhoist-Berghmans are?)

"It is an incredibly complex matter that is hard to explain," quarry manager Geoffroy Fiévet said in 2019. "And of course people choose the side of the abbey and not the quarry. Nobody knows about lime, but everyone likes a Trappist."

People seem to be pretty fond of Trappist beer, too.

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