De Achelse Kluis
The Monastery of Our Lady of Saint-Benoît is located in the municipality of Achel, in Campine (Belgian Limburg)
In 1687, in Meersel, a small hamlet dependent on the municipality of Merle, Jean de Wyse, a wealthy shipowner from Bréda, built a monastery intended to receive Capuchins.
This convent, prosperous until the Revolution, was then sold like so many others, while the monks were driven out.
In 1838, a vicar serving Meersel began talks with the Father Abbot of Westmalle to allow Trappist monks to repopulate the former home of the sons of Saint Francis. Arrangements were made and signed on March 16, 1838.
However, the monks found the Meersel monastery unable to provide the peace and silence required for their way of life. At that time, they learned that another convent, located in Achel, was available ...
The Achel establishment was built in 1684 by hermits of Saint-Joseph and inhabited by them until the Revolution. It then became the property of Baron Jean Diederick, who had rented it to three different tenants who shared the land.
On April 9, 1845, an agreement was concluded whereby the property passed into the hands of the religious, free from all servitude. Considerable work was necessary to restore the building to its cloister form; the fields and pastures, neglected or fallow, required great care as well.
March 19, 1846 was the day fixed for the move. Everything took place under excellent conditions. Carts, loaned free of charge by certain manufacturers in Tilburg, transported personnel and equipment. The next day, in the afternoon, the monks arrived at Achel ...
Dom Joseph-Marie de Moock (see image), first Prior, governed the community from 1839 to 1868. He restored the old buildings, added a hotel, workshops and a brewery, created in 1850.
The third abbot of Notre-Dame de Saint-Benoît was Dom Bernard-Marie van de Seijp, elected on June 20, 1882. He founded the abbeys of Echt, N.-D. of Sion and St-Rémy of Rochefort, and had the three new monasteries built himself.
At the start of World War I, Achel was occupied by the Germans. On October 19, 1914, the monks were forced to leave, some to Tegelen, others to N.-D. of Sion. The situation continued in 1917, so Dom Lans had barracks built on the part of the garden located in Dutch territory and most of his religious followers returned there.
On May 10, 1940, during the German invasion of World War II, the monastery was unharmed. But on January 14, 1943, after a visit from the Gestapo, the religious had to leave the monastery within two hours. They were all to join N.-D. of Sion, on the orders of the Germans, but 50 of them went to Tegelen.
In September 1944, the abbey was liberated. By then, though, a dozen shells had fallen on the buildings, causing a lot of damage.
In 1946, the community gathered to celebrate the centenary of the foundation which coincided with the laying of the first stone of a new monastery (March 21). The old monastery, dilapidated and too small, no longer met the needs of the community, which at that time numbered more than a hundred monks, only five of whom were Belgians.
The new abbey was then built according to the traditional plan of the order, according to data from the architect, Jos Ritzen of Antwerp.
THE Brewery (I)
When the small community of Meersel-Dreef settled in Achel in 1846, the convent no longer had the brewery that had been present a few decades earlier.
The first beers served at the newly occupied monastery were purchased from local brewers. The main suppliers were Koeckhofs de Achel, FH Spaas, J. Simons and the widow Ballings de Hamont.
The convent experienced growth and, as required by monastic life, tried to remain isolated as much as possible from outside life. The abbey sought an authorization to brew its own beer; this was granted by a royal decree of July 12, 1850. Invoices that may have been kept by the abbey show that the cooper Koeckhofs de Achel as well as Mr. Kloosterman (surely a predestined name!) contributed to the installation of the brewery's tanks.
This first brewery was probably not fully operational until around 1852. A malt house was also installed on site. The hops were bought in the Liège region, renowned for its quality production, from the firm Carpay (Carpet?) in Oupeye.
What was the volume of production at this time? We do not know, but it is likely that the production was exclusively reserved for the community. Some documents attest to deliveries of beer outside the abbey, but this was quite rare.
According to the memoir of Father Edmond Van Well, water for the brewery came via an underground pipe connected to the nearby Tongelreep stream. Father Van Well states that the quality of the beer was very good, and the abbey then brewed a strong beer of 12° called "'T Patersvatje" (the little keg of the Father) which compared favorably with the other regional beers of the time.
The identity of the first brewer is not known, but the name Ceusters appears regularly in excise declarations, and perhaps he was indeed the first brewer. Wouters Vessem became the brewer in 1872, followed by Gerard Slegers until 1912. Only one brew per month was declared for excise duty, confirming that production was mainly for the monastic community. A testimony from 1894 shows that it was also sold outside the abbey.
THE Brewery (II)
During the 1914-1918 war, the abbey came under German fire and the monks were forced to leave and live in cabins nearby.
A German seizure order for tin and copper led to the dismantling of the brewery, whose equipment, with a declared weight of 725 kg, was taken apart and sent to the Vivegnis brewery in the province of Liège.
Once the war was over, the abbey filed a war damage claim with the Ministry of War, seeking funds to renovate the convent and rebuild the brewery. However, this request did not succeed, as the convent had been put in the name of two Dutch monks. This state of ownership lasted until 1925, but the means to rebuild the brewery remained lacking and the restoration project was abandoned.
Eighty years after the last beer was brewed at Achel, the idea of a brewery resurfaced. The new brewery was founded in September 1998, making Achel the sixth Belgian Trappist brewery recognized as an Authentic Trappist Product.
In the meantime, the monks of Saint Benoît had their beer produced by various Belgian breweries. Thus the De Kluis brewery in Hoegaarden, then managed by Pierre Celis, came to produce a "Trappistenbier De Achelse Kluis" soon renamed "Sint Benedict - Trappisten Abdij." When the De Kluis brewery burned down in 1985, production was taken over by Sterkens in Meer, which then brewed a "Kluyserbier Achel." Next was the Teut brewery in Neerpelt from 1991 to 1995.
In 1998, the monks decided to resume production themselves. They did tests on several types of beer, initially two blondes and a dark of strengths between 4% and 6%. The first beers were available only on draft, with no bottling planned. Brother Thomas, the famous Westmalle brewer, came to design the first "drafts" of Achel's beers. Brother Antoine (a former Rochefort brewer) then retired at Achel abbey and brought the project to life, developing and improving the beers.
The range of beers continued to evolve. During the first years, Achel produced a brown pressure grading 5%, a blonde pressure grading 5%, a triple 8% refermented in the bottle, and a brown 8% in the bottle. Occasionally a dark beer about 9% stronger was also brewed. The St Josef d'Oppiter brewery lent a hand for the bottling of lager beers.
Nowadays, the range is structured as follows: (source: AIT Association Internationale Trappiste)
The Achel 5: typically amber-red color, no sugar, which keeps its generously sweet taste completely intact, 5% alc.
The "5" golden blonde, offering a slightly richer and more lively palette of flavors.
The blonde "8" in the bottle: slightly cloudy golden blonde with a full and delicate taste.
The brown Achel Extra, grading 9.5°.
All brewed with the typical "Trappist Achel Yeast."
Among Achel's Trappist beers, the "8" is bottled, but the blonde and brown "5" are only available at the Achelse Kluis inn.
In January 2021, Achel's mother abbey, Westmalle, decided to give up Achel's ATP label. This is because the last two monks residing at Achel Abbey have joined Westmalle. Achel beer will continue to be brewed, but now at Westmalle.