Way back when, in 1798, French revolutionaries burnt down a monastery in Belgium, and a fabled medieval beer recipe was destroyed and lost forever.
OK, not forever, but for a good 220 years, and it is only now that an order of monks at Grimbergen Abbey has started to brew again.
That man above, triumphantly holding a beer aloft, is Father Karel Stautemas, who recently uncasked the first glass. It took a good four years of research to reach this point, and the monks are rather pleased with themselves.
They have some crafty monks from back in the day to thank, with this from the Guardian:
The source of inspiration for the new microbrewery, located on the same spot as the original, was the discovery from 12th-century books of details about the original monks’ brewing methods, specifically their use of hops rather than fermented herbs, which put the monks ahead of many of their contemporaries.
The books were saved in the 18th century when the fathers knocked a hole in the library wall and secretly removed them before the abbey was set on fire.
Well played, gents.
The monastery was actually founded back in 1128, and has burned down on three separate occasions, which is why its symbol is a phoenix, accompanied by the motto ardet nec consumitur – meaning ‘burned but not destroyed’.
Reminds me of Sol Beer and Espiritu Libre, or the spirit of freedom, which also comes with a cracking backstory.
In 1899, in a brewery near Pico de Orizaba, the highest peak in Mexico, a brewer created a light, refreshing beer made from the water closest to the sun.
The story goes that, as the brewer held up the beer, a ray of sun peeped through a hole in the roof onto the transparent bottle and, in honour of the sun, inspired the name Sol.
Here we are, 120 years later, and they’re still going strong, inspiring people around the world to live with passion, excitement and freedom – a life not lived in the shadow, but in the light of the sun.
Just like that, I’m thirsty again.
Let’s get back to Grimbergen Abbey, where, having found the books smuggled through the wall before the fire, there was the small problem of translating them:
“We had the books with the old recipes, but nobody could read them,” Stautemas said. “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.”
Stautemas said the royalties from all the Grimbergen beers would allow the monks to live in the monastery, make pilgrimages and help “those who come knocking on our door and need help”.
I believe they have earned the right to use the words ‘bespoke’ and ‘craft’.
Grimbergen’s mayor, Chris Selleslagh, had a word of warning about the monks’ first batch, telling locals that it had an alcohol content of 10,8%.
Smash too many of those and you’ll be talking in tongues in no time.
Marc-Antoine Sochon, the newly appointed master brewer for the abbey, added that they have slightly updated the recipe from back in the day, adding that the monks themselves used to tinker with their recipe every 10 years or so to ensure continual improvement.
Nothing wrong with aiming for perfection, as long as you know how to stop when you get there.
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