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French Trappists restore brewing tradition

Added: Friday, February 17th 2012

A new Trappist beer has been launched in French Flanders by the monks of the Abbey of Holy Mary at Monts des Cats. The monks lost their brewery early in the 20th century and their new beer is currently being brewed for them by Chimay, the biggest Belgian Trappist brewery, until they can raise sufficient funds to install their own brewing equipment.

The monastery stands on a small hill near the town of Godewaersvelde. Monts des Cats takes its name from a Germanic tribe, the Chatti, that once lived in the area. The first abbey on the hill was closed during the French Revolution. Trappist monks built a priory in 1826 and this was given the status of an abbey in 1847. A brewery was added that year and was supervised by the abbot, Dom Lacaes. Consumption of beer was solely for the monks.

The brewing plant became delapidated and a new brewery was installed in 1896 with a capacity of 100 hectos. The beer was sold commercially to raise funds for the upkeep of the abbey and its quality was praised. In 1898, Father Eugene Arnoult wrote: "The trade of beer of Trappist fathers extends far, in the large cities of the north, in Paris, and in all France. Their product, under the name of 'fine beer', has a well-deserved reputation: its blond colour, its lightness, the smoothness of the hops employed make it a worthy rival of the so-famous Pale Ales."

But the separation of church and state early in the 20th century forced many monks to leave Monts des Cats and brewing ceased in 1905. In 1918, the abbey was destroyed by a bombardment during the First World War.

The brewery was never rebuilt but in June 2011 the abbot arranged for Chimay to produce a beer for the abbey. It's sold alongside the abbey's famous cheese and sales will once again be devoted to the upkeep of the church buildings. It's hoped at some stage that sufficient funds will be raised for the monks to install their own brewing equipment.

Both abbeys are at pains to stress that the new beer is produced solely for Monts des Cats and is not a relabelled version of a Chimay beer. The beer is 7.5% and is called Monts des Cats Biere Trappiste. It's amber coloured. It's likely that it is brewed using the usual Chimay raw materials: pale Pilsner malt and caramalt, with German Hallertau and American Galena hops. The 75cl version has a cork and wire cradle.

The beer has enormous condition -- the cork flew out of the bottle when slightly turned. It has a dense, rocky head of foam and a beautiful russet/amber/deep gold colour. The aroma is dominated by a massive bouquet of peppery and spicy hops with a blood orange fruit note and a cracker biscuit maltiness. Bitter hops build in the mouth but with a good balance of tart fruit and chewy malt. The finish is long and complex, with tangy fruit, peppery hops and rich malt. The beer, in the Trappist style, is bottle conditioned and should improve for a year or two.

The monks say the beer is available only from the abbey but the Brussels beer shop Beer Planet has some in stock:


Mont des Cats