Important news from Belgium for beer lovers — the monks of Grimbergen Abbey have managed to piece together long-lost information about the ingredients and methods used to brew their different beers going back in the Middle Ages, and have started to brew beer again. The rediscovery of the recipe is a kind of historical detective story where language plays a key role.
The story starts with the monks of the abbey, who like other monks of the Middle Ages, brewed, and enjoyed, beer. (In fact, some monks fasted during Lent and drank only specially brewed beer that was a kind of liquid bread during that period — which probably made for an interesting Lenten season.) The Grimbergen Abbey brews were known far and wide, and their ingredients and the methods used by the monks were set down in books first written in the 12th century. The monks continued to brew their beer, changing their recipes periodically, until 1798, when French Revolutionaries, who were no friends to religion, burned the monastery to the ground. The 1798 incident is one of three times that the monastery has burned down.
But the monks of Grimbergen Abbey are resolute. Fortunately, some of the monks rescued the 12th-century books and stored them, but the recipes and methods were thought to be lost because no one could read the writing, which was in a mixture of old Latin and old Dutch. Four years ago, the monks at the monastery decided to tackle the problem and invited volunteers from the community to help them in trying to decipher the writings. Together they were able to identify ingredient lists, the types of hops and bottles and barrels that were used, and even the names of the different beers the monks brewed over the centuries.
Now the monks, in partnership with Carlsberg which offers a number of the Abbey’s previously known beers for sale, have built a new microbrewery on the site of the original brewery and have started to brew a beer based on some of the old recipes and methods. It’s a heady brew — 10.8% alcohol, by volume — and will be sold by the glass in Belgium and France.
A toast to the indomitable beer-loving monks of Grimbergen Abbey, and the volunteers who helped them to recover a bit of liquid history!