10 February 2023

Belgium loses Trappist beer Achel but adds new brewery at Maredsous abbey

Belgium | The renowned Trappist beer Achel will no longer be able to market itself as a Trappist beer, leaving only five breweries of its kind in Belgium.

The news, which broke on 25 January, follows the recent purchase of the Saint Benedict Abbey of Hamont-Achel – better known as the Achelse Kluis – by Belgian entrepreneur Jan Tormans. About three years ago, the last two monks had left for the Westmalle Abbey, another famous Trappist brewery, which then put the abbey up for sale.

Achel was stripped of its official Authentic Trappist Product (ATP) seal in January 2021 already, after its brewing process ceased to be formally supervised by local monks. This is a prerequisite for being designated an ATP.

However, given that the Achelse Kluis was still legally owned by Westmalle Abbey, Achel was able to continue to market itself as a Trappist beer, although it now sported the monastery’s coat of arms, instead of the seal. At the same time, investments were made to increase the brewery’s capacity to 5,000 hl per year, from 4,500 hl previously.

Achel beer will continue to flow although monks have left

Jan Tormans has signed a purchase agreement for the abbey. He wants to focus primarily on brewing and increase production to 40,000 hl beer in a few years’ time. Even though he cannot use the label Trappist, he will likely use the brand Achel and will continue to brew its recipes. The Trappist history of the brewery will be relegated to the website.

Depending on the conditions of sale, which were not disclosed, he will also have to ensure the maintenance of the buildings, which are listed, as well as the abbey’s 25 ha of land. Some of the buildings are in dire need to renovation, Belgian media say.

Mr Tormans heads the Tormans Group, an independent engineering firm with four offices in Belgium. The son of a farmer and an engineer by training, he started his company in 1999 with 20 engineers. Today, he employs more than 400. In 2022, the Torman Group had a turnover of EUR 36 million (USD 39 million) and a gross margin of 14 percent, the Belgian newspaper De Tijd reported.

With the sale of the Achel abbey, only five official Trappist beers now remain in Belgium: Westmalle, Westvleteren, Chimay, Orval and Rochefort.

There are also two abbeys carrying the official ATP seal in the Netherlands, one in Italy, one in Austria and one in England. In May 2022, the only Trappist brewery in the US closed its doors.

Maredsous Abbey now has its own brewery

Probably inspired by Carlsberg establishing a microbrewery for its Grimbergen abbey beer at the Grimbergen monastery, Belgium’s brewer Duvel, together with the cheese producer BEL, has invested in a microbrewery at the Maredsous abbey in Anhée, south of Namur. It was opened on 27 January and the investment is said to have come to EUR 1.5 million (USD 1.6 million).

Although it was founded in 1872, the abbey only began brewing in 1947. Since the 1960s, its beers have been brewed by Duvel. The most recent sales volume of Maredsous beers is put at 34,000 hl. There are also gins and whiskeys available under the Maredsous label. BEL has the licence to produce Maredsous cheeses.

Commenting on the investment, Duvel’s CEO, Michel Moortgat, was quoted as saying: “It fits in perfectly with the extension of our cooperation with the abbey for the next 20 years.”

The abbey’s mensa was converted to a New York-style restaurant, media say, indicating its brand-new look. The brewery will only be operational for a few days a week, as the bulk of Maredsous’ classic beers are still brewed at the Duvel brewery in Puurs. The intention is to brew specific beers in limited quantities in the abbey.

Brauwelt International Newsletter

Newsletter archive and information

Mandatory field