A visit to the Rochefort Trappist
Monastery and its Brewery
The contents of this Web page
are based on a visit to Rochefort, by John White, in the company of others, these
being: Tim Webb (Good Beer Guide Belgium, (www.booksaboutbeer.com, White Beer Travels Web page), and co-author, with fellow Beer Hunt organiser, Chris (Podge) Pollard, of LambicLand LambikLand (click here for details));
Hoegaardier, Pierre Celis (1925-), see below, and his colleagues Es Emiel and
Roland van den Borne; Yvan De Baets of the "Brasserie de la Senne" (De Zenne Brouwerij) (www.brasseriedelasenne.be) and the co-organiser of the excellent Bruxellensis Beer Festival (www.festivalbruxellensis.be, White Beer Travels Web page), who at the time of the visit was with the
Brewing School, at the "Institut Meurice", in Brussels (www.meurice.heldb.be);
Chuck Cook; Fred Waltman (websites on beer in Franconia (www.franconiabeerguide.com)
and Los Angeles (www.labeer.com)); home
brew expert, Tom Rierson; and John Allison (the Webmaster of the Boulder, Colorado-based "Hop Barley and the Alers" Homebrew Club, hopbarley.org).
Unless otherwise indicated, the photos were taken on the 28th of October, 2003,
by John White, of White Beer Travels.
At the start of the visit,
Brother Pierre, who has been at Rochefort since 1968, emphasised that although
they were brewers at Rochefort, they were first and foremost Trappist monks and
that, therefore, he would like to show us the Monastery as well as just its brewery.
We were all very grateful that he did; it truly is an exceptional place to visit,
in its own right, as I hope you will glean from this Web page. Brother Pierre
has been responsible for the brewery since 1997, the year that he took over from
the famous Brother Antoine, see below, who, subsequent to
his retirement from Rochefort, was involved, along with Brother Thomas from Westmalle
(www.trappistwestmalle.be), in the
setting up of the Trappist brewery in Achel (www.achelsekluis.org),
which, after closing down in 1912, commenced brewing again on the 8th
of December, 1998. The first sale to the general public was on the 5th
of February, 1999. Note that although Rochefort has an influence over brewing
at Achel (choice of raw materials, etc), the latter is, in fact, the senior monastically,
as it was monks from Achel who founded the modern-day Trappist Monastery in Rochefort,
is typical on arrival at a brewery before a visit, one wanders round and weighs
up the place and takes the odd photo. Here is Rochefort's Church, where the monks
pray. The general public can attend services, see below.
It was rebuilt in 1993. Tim Webb can be seen on the right.
is a bell pull by the entrance, but before we had chance to pull it, a monk opened
the door and beckoned us in. It was none other than the famous Brother Antoine,
who was for many years in charge of brewing at Rochefort. He is meant to be in
retirement, but is often to be seen at Rochefort, where he still has an office,
of Chuck's group visiting Rochefort travelled from La Roche-en-Ardenne, others
from Brussels and one mega name in the Belgian Beer world, Pierre Celis (1925-), travelled
from his home in Hoegaarden, where he was born. In this town, in 1966, Pierre first commercially brewed the famous Hoegaarden
Wit Bier, which is White Beer or Wheat Beer in English. When his De Kluis Brewery was taken
over by Interbrew (now InBev), he moved to Austin, Texas, to create Celis White, which is
now brewed for him by Van Steenberge (www.vansteenberge.com),
in Ertvelde, near Ghent, in Belgium. In this photo above, which was taken by Chuck
Cook, Pierre Celis and John are in the Monastery's Welcome House. Pierre was eighty-one years old on the 21st of March, 2006. As you can see, the stay in Austin has given Pierre a liking
for wearing a bolo tie.
Cook is on the left in this photo above, which was taken in the Monastery's Welcome
House, soon after our arrival. Pierre Celis is talking to his colleague, Es Emiel.
Brother Pierre is pouring a Rochefort 8o, the middle beer in the
brewery's range of three top-class beers. Note that Rochefort 8o and 10o are imported into the USA by Merchant du Vin (www.merchantduvin.com), who also import Trappist beers from Orval (www.orval.be, White Beer Travels Web page) and Westmalle (www.trappistwestmalle.be and (for its bar) www.trappisten.be).
the entrance to the brewery, there is a display cabinet with old bottles and glasses
and samples of the dry raw materials used to produce the three Rochefort Trappist
Beers. The samples do not include Coriander, which previous visitors have been
told was an ingredient, although it is not mentioned in Jef van den Steen's book, see above, and it was declared not to be used on this
October, 2003 visit. We did not asked whether it had been phased out; the
denial on this occasion, could, of course, be just a manifestation of the secrecy
that is a common trait of many brewers.
photo above shows some of the old bottles in more detail; these are screen printed
ones that are no longer used. The dish on the left contains one of the types of
Malted Barley used at Rochefort, only the finest being specified by Rochefort.
As can be seen, the raw material in the other dish is labelled "Amidon de
Blé", which is "Wheat Starch", in English. Note that, at one time,
Maize Flakes (Corn Flakes) were used instead of Wheat Starch, but the Corn Flakes were replaced when it became more difficult to guarantee that they were not produced from GM Corn.
As is clearly evident in the photo above the Rochefort brew house truly is special,
the stained glass producing some superb effects on the magnificent copper vessels.
It really is the "Cathedral of Beer" that Jef van den Steen describes
it as in his Trappist book, see above. In the photo, Tim
Webb can be seen taking in the wonderful scene. Note the cross on the wall, a
feature in the brew house of all Trappist breweries.
This is the photo of Brother Pierre in the brew house, mentioned above, that was taken by Chuck Cook, to accompany his article on Belgian Trappist Breweries that appears in the May 2004 edition of All About Beer. Even in this low resolution version, one can really see the superb effect that the light coming through the windows has on the wonderful copper vessels. I took a similar photo, but Chuck's somehow captured the effect perfectly, so I had no hesitation, with Chuck's permission, in using it here, rather than my own.
The photo above shows one of the three cylindro-conical fermenters that were installed at Rochefort, in 2002: two 40,000 litre ones and a 23,000 litre one. A Back up supply of the yeast used in the fermenters is stored at the Louvain-la-Neuve Brewing School; Rochefort's Brewery Manager, Gumer Santos, studied there and, indeed, is still involved with it. The fermenters were quite warm to the touch.
The same yeast is used for the second fermentation in the bottle, as in the main fermentation that takes place in the vessels shown in the photo to the left. there being no lagering (tank maturation) prior to bottling. In Jef van den Steen's book, see above, Brother Pierre is quoted as saying that the cylindro-conical fermenters were installed because they are more efficient, and the CIP (Cleaning In Place) automatic cleaning system is more effective. He points out that there is a more precise utilisation of detergents, which is more economic and has less impact on the environment. These type of fermenters have been in use at the Chimay Trappist brewery (www.chimay.com), since 1992, and one has been in use alongside conventional open fermenters, at the Orval Trappist brewery (www.orval.be, White Beer Travels Web page), since 1999, the plan being to install five more there, to also completely replace the open fermenters.
to right in the photo above are: John White of White Beer Travels, Brothers Pierre
and Antoine of the Rochefort Trappist Monastery; and Pierre Celis, from the famous
White Beer town of Hoegaarden, in Belgium. It was taken by Chuck Cook, in front
of the brewery. Brother Antoine started work in the Rochefort brewery, in 1956, after entering the monastery, in 1952. From 1976 until his retirement, in 1997, he was Rochefort's master brewer. He retired to Rochefort's Mother (founding) Trappist monastery, Achel (www.achelsekluis.org), which reintroduced brewing, in 1999, under the control of Brother Thomas, from the Westmalle Trappist monastery (www.trappistwestmalle.be), Westmalle being Achel's Mother monastery. However, in 2001, because of Brother Thomas's failing health, the Abbot at Achel, persuaded Brother Antoine to come out of retirement. In his first year, He introduced a Tripel and, with all his experience in producing dark beers at Rochefort, in May, 2002, he produced an unfiltered, 8% Bruin, in bottle. Brother Antoine has since also retired from Achel, see below.
is in the Famenne area of Wallonia, the French-speaking [Southern] half of Belgium. It is next to the more well known part of Wallonia, called the Ardennes, a strikingly beautiful and surprisingly hilly part of the country.
A symbol of the Ardennes is wild
boar. Brother Pierre has a family of them as pets, in the grounds of the Monastery,
one of which can be seen in the photo above.
St. Benedict of Nursia is said to have formulated his famous Regula Monachorum,
or Rule, although the one now generally quoted from is a revised version produced
by a monk from Aniane, in the South of France, also, somewhat confusingly, a St. Benedict (Benoît)
(750-821). He codified The Rule into a small missive divided up into seventy-three chapters,
annotated with the dates on which each should be read out in the Chapter House
of a Monastery or cathedral. The famous chapter six, for example, is read
out on the 24th of January, the 25th of May, and the 25th of September.
In approximately 200 words, it gives the reasoning for the vows of silence;
something which is no longer practised. Fortunately, from a beer lover's point
of view, the most important part of the Rule of St. Benedict is still in
force, i.e. in chapter 48, it states: "You are only really a monk when
you live from the work of your hands". Hence, Trappist Monasteries around
the world produce, for example, soap, cheese, children's clothes, farm produce,
wine, etc. Seven (six, in Belgium, one in The Netherlands) produce Trappist Beer! The above photo was taken in
the Rochefort Monastery's Chapter House. Brother Pierre has the Rule of St. Benedict
in his hand, with John Allison and Chuck Cook in the background. After the Abbot
reads the chapter of the day, it is discussed by the gathered monks. Further,
detailed background on Trappist Monasteries and breweries and their history is
to be found on the White Beer Travels page featuring Orval, which can be reached
by clicking here.
is often said that Trappist Monasteries are rather austere places. I have not
found this to be the case at all; every one that I have been has been most attractive
and imposing. As can be seen in the photo above, Rochefort has some marvellous
stonework and superb architectural features.
church within the Monastery is relatively modern, a detailed history of it being
presented in Jef van den Steen's book, see above. However,
the cross above the entrance to the church, featured in the photo above, dates
from the 16th Century. Other impressive old features include a 17th Century
sundial on a wall.
is the meal place setting for the Abbot, the piece of wood on the top of the serviette
having the legend "P Abbé" (Père Abbé, which
means Father Abbot). The Abbot is elected by the monks. Note the water on the
table, the monks at Rochefort only having beer with their meals on National Holidays.
Pierre is shown here in the Monastery's library, which is full of rare books and
manuscripts. These are books in a number of languages, including, of course, Latin.
Later additions tend to be in French, the language of the Monastery, given that
it is in Wallonia. Note, however, that Flemish was the language used until 1952.
well as books, the monks at Rochefort use the Internet to provide appropriate
information, and, of course, can communicate by e-mail. The computer for this
is in the library, see the photo above.
the brewery itself, our group of visitors often got very strung out as the various
pieces of equipment grabbed people's attention. This shows the group gathered
together, en route to the 12.15pm service (Sext, Sexta in Latin, Sexte in
French), one of a number of daily services in the Monastery's church. Everyone
in the group attended this service, just prior to having lunch. The church was
rebuilt in 1993, in a Neo-Roman style. It incorporates a labyrinth or maze, made
from inlaid alabaster from Spain. It is the masterpiece of the new church. Note
that alabaster is a form of Gypsum (Calcium Sulphate), this being an important
constituent of the water used by breweries in the famous English brewing town
of Burton upon Trent.
the above photo, taken in the Church, the monks can be seen in the background,
with the congregation in the foreground. Around seventeen monks attended the service.
The second and third monks on the left are Brothers Antoine and Pierre. The labyrinth
is on the floor, in front of the public pews. It represents, "Le Chemin
de Jérusalem" (The Road to Jerusalem); it is based on the one
in Chartres Cathedral, in France. Click here,
or on the above photo, to see a higher resolution photo featuring the maze, with
a representation of the city of Jerusalem in the centre, a place of pilgrimage
in the Middle Ages. Such mazes can also represent "The Road to Paradise [the
the church service, we passed the brewery again, en route to the Welcome House,
where Rochefort most kindly provided us with lunch. The brewery is the building
behind the tree in the photo above.
Tim Webb and Pierre Celis are in discussion at the lunch table. As can be seen,
lunch was accompanied by Rochefort 8o, i.e. guests can have a
beer on a normal day of the week, but not the monks themselves.
the photo above, Brother Pierre is serving our group the first course at lunch,
a rather nice vegetable soup.
as we were about to leave, I could not resist taking this photo of Brother Antoine,
at the door of his "former" office in the brewery. Brother Antoine has, in his time, retired from the post of master brewer, st both Rochefort and Achel, see above.
The Abbey itself is not open to the general public, but one can go into its church and, indeed, take part in services within it. It is to the North of the town, signed "Abbaye de St-Rémy", to the right off the N949 National Road (rue de Ciney) (GPS at turn: 50.172059o N, 5.211141o E). In Jef van den Steen's book, see above, a walk in the vicinity of the monastery is described, this including a place in the town of Rochefort itself called
the Maison Saint-Hubert (Rue de Dewoin 8, tel 084 22 30 66), this being on the Northern edge of the town, with the monastery itself being a little further North. To quote Jef: "In the Maison Saint-Hubert is the Abbey's shop, which sells monastic products: Bread (Trappist, Novice's Bread, Walnut Bread, Organic Bread, etc), Tarts (Quiche Lorraine and Fruit Tarts); and Beer from Rochefort and other Trappist breweries." Unlike the other Trappiast monasteries in Belgium, there is no bar in close proximity to the Rochefort monastery where its beers can be sampled, but of course, all of the town's bars and restaurants have them, some of the latter using the monastery's beers in dishes that they serve up, Jef giving three examples of these in his book, complete with recipes. There is a Drinks Warehouse with a good selection of beers near the monastery, "Drink Scaillet-Brisbois", Parc d'Activités 13, rue de Ciney (N949 National Road), tel 084 22 11 21. Scaillet once commissioned Magnum (1.5 litre) bottles of Rochefort 8o, which were manually filled at the monastery. There are also Christmas versions in Magnums, with holly on the label, for example, Rochefort 8o Cuvée 2006 "Christmas".