Val-Dieu, celebrating 800 years of Belgian beer culture
Author: Erik Verdonck / Published: 2016-12-06 11:42:43 +0100 / Last Updated: 7 months ago
VAL-DIEU - Those monks certainly picked some beautiful spots for their abbeys. The rumble of the busy motorway lies far behind me as I swap the flat northern Belgian landscape for the gently rolling hills of the south. Everywhere I look cows and sheep are wandering around a sea of orchards bordered with hedgerows and criss-crossed by hollow roads.
Until, suddenly, that well-known silhouette comes into view with its unmistakable bronze-green spire. Tucked away within all this greenery lies Val-Dieu Abbey, for eight centuries a magnet for pilgrims, and today also a destination for day-trippers, and those who enjoy the good life and good beer.
You simply cannot draw your eye away from this monument of the 17th – 18th-century Maasland renaissance, liberally sprinkled with Romanesque and Gothic architectural influences.
The last monk closed the door on his way out in 2001, and the abbey and its grounds are now managed by a small lay community of about 20 members. But continually since 1997 the courtyard has been fragrant with malt.
The Brasserie de Val-Dieu brewery is housed in the former abbey farm, and the brewing tanks are filled with Val-Dieu Blonde, Brune, Triple, Noël, Grand Cru, and special occasion beers, like the Cuvée 800 that commemorates the 800th anniversary of the Abbey in 2016.
This little panel is assessing three different Val-Dieu Triple brews. Fruity, zesty, malty… aromas and tastes are dissected down to the smallest detail. Are there ‘off flavours’, which point to mistakes made during the brewing process, or has something gone wrong during bottling, causing the beer to oxidise? These brewers work like detectives.
‘It’s always interesting to keep track of how the beer evolves in the bottle,’ Virginie says. ‘The proof of the beer is in the drinking.’
The abbey’s tavern, Le Casse-Croûte, knows just how to serve these beers: the quaffable blonde, the brown abbey beer with touches of mocha, and the dryly bitter, well-balanced triple. If there is no room at the inn then you can taste the beers, accompanied by a meal if you like, in Moulin du Val Dieu, an ancient water mill just across the road from the abbey.
Here you are in the heart of the Land of Herve, known for its pungent, strong Herve cheese. This region is also famous for its fruit syrups (apple and pear), ciders, and beers, as you are reminded at every turn.
Forewarned is forearmed, and you should know that a Herve cheese must be treated with respect! It will reduce an insipid beer to nothing, but a blonde, brown or tripel from Val-Dieu will fit it to a tee. If, even then, you find this cheese is rather on the strong side, we recommend you try a milder Aubel cheese, or perhaps a slice of bread covered in local syrup – to tone down the cheese - and just a smidgen of the Herve.
The syrups get everywhere here: it is also an essential ingredient of Liège Meatballs (Boulets à la Liégeoise), a favourite regional speciality. Connoisseurs can spot the mild and sour syrups from the apple varieties used.
We put this to the test ourselves at lunch in Au Vieil Aubel in the village of Aubel. Marin Bosquin, the co-owner of Brasserie de Val-Dieu, orders a Val-Dieu Brune and I plump for the Blonde.
Before long, the Aubel cheese croquettes – with syrup, of course – and a toasted cheese and bacon sandwich appear on the table. Later on, to go with our grilled ham, we are presented with a stronger beer, Val-Dieu Triple.
We finish our trip with a cheese tasting at Quai des Champs in Herve, coming to the conclusion that a Val-Dieu Grand Cru does have the power to tame even a Herve cheese.
Brasserie de l'Abbaye du Val-Dieu
Recent Blog Posts
KORTRIJK/BELLEGEM - It was in 1892 that Brouwerij Omer Vander Ghinste opened for business in Bellegem, a village near Kortrijk in West Flanders, close to the French border. Since then, ... [ read more ]
RONGY - In Rongy and all around it, spring is in the air. The fruit trees are in bloom and nature has put on its most beautiful face. I’m on my way to Brasserie de Brunehaut, a brewery surrounded by o ... [ read more ]
WESTMALLE - If you order a Westmalle you’re likely to be served with a Tripel. This is no coincidence as this strong blonde Trappist beer now accounts for 75% of the beer output of this abbey brewery. ... [ read more ]
TONGEREN - After a fifty-year wait the moment has finally arrived. Once again, the city of Tongeren can boast its own brewery and city beers. The story commences with the 2009 ... [ read more ]
You must be logged in to leave a comment
MARBEHAN - Fifteen years from its inception, the Brassigaume Festival has put itself firmly on the map. For microbreweries in the South of Belgium, this is the main showcase to display their wares.... [ more ]
Enjoy a Belgian abbey beer and you will taste the fruits of a long tradition that is thankfully still around today. For centuries on end, abbeys were the ‘engine’ of the economy. It is hard to o... [ more ]
RULLES - The Gaume region is situated between the forests of the Ardennes and the French region of Lorraine. But here, around Orval and Virton in the far south-eastern corner of Belgium, the sun ... [ more ]
Monks have made an important contribution to the success of Belgian beers. Unlike the majority of their historical contemporaries, they were literate, and thus able to document the... [ more ]
Beer Tourism Newsletter Signup
Enter your name and email address on the right and click "SignUp" to join.