Westmalle (abbey Our Lady of La Trappe of the Sacred Heart)

- History of the brewery of Westmalle (1/2)

Like many other abbeys at that time, the monks of Westmalle had to provide for their needs by their own means. The privileged drink of the monks was the running water. But the monks did not forget the ancestral recommendations of the abbot De Rancé, founder of the Trappists, who recommended the use of the drink of the area.

The abbey knew important extensions: there was a pharmacy, a printing works, a library, a weaving workshop and… a brewery. Construction of the first brewery of the abbey of Westmalle began on August 1, 1836, was completed before the end of the year. The first brewers were indeed the monks. Among them were Father Bonaventura Hermans, doctor of pharmacy, who had the knowledge of the plants, and Father Albericus Kemp, who had already worked in a brewery. He was consequently familiar with the handling of the tools and equipments of a brewery, and that helped much.

The first brew was tasted on December 10, 1836, in the refectory of the monks. The register of accounts indicates that it was a cooper of Westmalle, Adriaan Weens which delivered the 12 wood barrels which were used for the first brew, for the sum of 130,91 Belgian francs. He accepted only hundred francs, because the monks could not pay more…

From the beginning, excise duties were paid. In 1856, these were 22 francs per white beer batch and up to 43 francs for every brown ale batch. Sales of yeasts were organized, which brought up to 11 francs per batch. The marketing of beer really started in 1861. The monks of Westmalle knew that Chimay had been marketing their beer since 1859, and this had been a topic of discussion in Westmalle. There was then a monk in Westmalle, brother Ignatius Van Ham, a Prussian, who was experienced as a brewer. He had arrived at the abbey with a number of his tools.

In 1860, the sales of Westmalle beer were irregular. The account books mention a sale of brown ale for sixty Belgian francs on January 1, 1861. In 1865, Father Van Ham decided to enhance the installations in order to finance the new foundations in Congo. In 1897, the capacity of the brewery was increased with the installation of a new mash tub of 40 hectolitres. In 1901, some administrative worries obliged the fathers to undertake a refitting of the brewery. Everything was regulated as of July 25 of that year.

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Pater Bonaventura Hermans († 1873)

Monk working at the bewery - 1966