In 1844, the idea came to Father J.-B. Jourdain, parish priest of Virelles, who was passing through Scourmont, to facilitate the founding of a colony of Cistercians.
The abbot soon spoke about it to the Prince de Chimay, who liked this proposal very much and instructed M. Jourdain to open negotiations on this subject with the Father Abbot of Westmalle.
Over the next several years, the priest of Virelles tried to engage the Westmalle abbot but realized no progress. He then addressed the matter with the Prior of Saint-Sixte.
The latter accepted the foundation and, the formalities completed, appointed fifteen religious to carry it out. The location intended for them was in the town of Forges, in the hamlet of Scourmont, 9 km from the small town of Chimay. It bore the characteristic name of "Hauts marais" ...
The monks arrived on July 22, 1850. The farm which served as their home, built for poor sharecroppers, was in no way suited to the regular life of a community. The land was nothing but quagmires and swamps. As if that were not enough, the weather conditions were appalling.
From the first days, the monks therefore had to carry out land clearing and construction simultaneously. Thanks to their work, their spirit of poverty and their commitment to overcoming the obstacles facing them, by 1863 the religious had completed the construction of all the regular places. On September 14, 1871, the priory of N.-D. de Scourmont was erected as an Abbey.
During the war and the German occupation, N.-D. de Scourmont suffered greatly. On May 28, 1940, the first evacuation of the entire population of the cantons of Couvin and Chimay took place. On their return, on July 3, the monks found their monastery looted. Once again expelled on April 12, 1942, the community took refuge in Momignies, at the Boarding School of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. On September 1, 1944, after liberation, the monks were able to return to their abbey, which had suffered considerable damage inside. The abandoned lands, the reduced livestock, the lost materials did not discourage the monks, who set to work as in the first days of the foundation and re-established the abbey as we know it today.
THE Brewery (I)
From the start of his superior office, Father Hyacinthe Bouteca thought of providing the monastery with a brewery that would provide income to the community. Father Hyacinthe combined his talents as an architect with very practical qualities as a contractor, foreman, even as a mason.
It was to prove decisive in the construction of the brewery.
Thus, during the demolition of the farm school, at the end of 1859 and during the following year, he organized this work so that the stones, bricks and frames recovered could be used for the construction of stables, cisterns and the new brewery whose plans he was finishing. The lay brothers were tasked with assisting the specialized workers who, using dynamite, began digging the brewery's wells.
There is no document specifying the date on which the faculty to establish the brewery was requested, but the abbey has a copy of the official document, dated November 28, 1861, which authorizes this.
The buildings of the brewery, as well as those for the dairy, were completed in 1862. The last authorizations were delivered at the beginning of 1863 by the members of the Permanent deputation of the provincial council of Hainaut, who in their meeting of January 10, 1863, declared that "Sieur Bouteca Liévin is authorized to establish for the service of La Trappe, at Forges, two steam engines intended, one of the force of 8 horses to move the millstones and accessories of a brewery, l other, of the force of a horse, to beat the butter, apparatuses fed by two boilers with steam." The Governor's authorization was taken on January 31, 1863. All the legal requirements being finally satisfied, the monks could then take care of making beer ...
The first brew made under the personal direction of Hyacinthe Bouteca was made by the seculars who had set up the brewery. They thus made a so-called Bavarian double beer, of which they made two or three brews before giving it up. They then decided to make stronger beer developed by Father Hyacinthe, whose recipe still serves as the basis for current beer.
It was only around 1864-1865 that the monks could brew continuously. But still it was necessary to sell the beer. Advertising was therefore made for the Cistercian beverage, which soon gained a reputation and attracted many customers. Until 1866, bottling and packaging took place in the kitchen cellar. The monks washed the bottles in one room, corked them in an adjoining room and packed them in the vaults.
It seems that at the beginning, the brothers were going to deliver the beer to homes, a yoke on the shoulders and a basket of 12 bottles in each hand ... it did not last and they adopted a more appropriate method of sending.
After some time, the abbey dispatched two kinds of beer: one was called strong hygienic beer, at a price of 0.55 F per bottle (glass included) and tarred beer at 0.70 F per bottle (glass also included). The tarred beer was put on sale around 1875 and it differed from the first only by the fact that it was stored in barrels previously coated with tar! We don't know why they made this beer.
When the brewery was set up, they naturally stopped buying beer for the use of the community and made a lighter one, as is still the case today.
The brewery of the monastery ...
In 1914, during the German occupation, the brewery declared 43 tons of flour used the previous year. The First World War forced the cessation of the brewery's activities in 1915, and they would not resume until 1919. It was not until February 1920 that the first beers were marketed. This was an "intermediate beer" until the strong beer could be put on sale, the latter requiring a long stay in the cellar (one to two years) according to our information.
In the interwar period, Chimay was sold in a large bottle and titrated 4 ° to 4.5 °. The quality of production left much to be desired. In 1942, the Germans emptied the abbey. But the postwar period saw a strong expansion of the brewery.
The monks' attachment to the monastic brewing tradition is famous, but discerning the valid elements of progress is also a well-established monastic tradition. Thus, after the misfortunes of the Second World War, the monks of Chimay in 1944 had to restore their brewery. They decided to rethink everything based on the best achievements of the famous brewery school of the Catholic University of Louvain, through Professor De Clerck.
After a few years of studies, experiments and trial and error, in 1948 the new direction of the brewery was established. It was also at Easter 1948 that a prototype brew was launched, which would become the Chimay Bleue. Beer and cheese were more and more appreciated and, with increasing demand, the monks found themselves obliged to increase their production to satisfy a clientele which, no longer limited to the people of the region, extended to almost all of Belgium.
In 1955, with sales increasing, the abbey decided to entrust the distribution of its beer to the Brasserie de la Perle for a large part of Belgium.
On March 30, 1959, Father Théodore De Haene became a brewer and his action was remarkably effective.
The brewing fathers follow one another ...
When Father Théodore retired, Father Vinel succeeded him for two years before being himself replaced by Dom Thomas Vilain. The latter died in June 2000.
The brewing room, renovated in 1989, allows for two daily brews. The racking was transferred in November 1978 to the industrial complex of Baileux, a few kilometers from the abbey.
The 1999 production reached 105,000 hL, and the goal of 120,000 hL for the early 2000s was achieved.
The Baileux site performs the bottling and also hosts the marketing and sales departments. It is an example of modernity and productivity, which leads to the fact that Chimay is today probably the most famous Trappist beer in the world. This one obtains good export results, in particular to the USA and Japan.
But this significant production is also explained by certain social choices made by the abbey in the 1960s, in response to the question: must the community live without taking into account its local environment?
In response, Father Théodore (†) enlightens us on the social philosophy of the Abbey of Chimay.