The Abbey brewery: a dream come true
Our Abbey brewery has been open for over six months now. Which means it’s the perfect time for a chat with the brewery’s driving force Joris Brams, who encouraged our priests to brew beer on the abbey site again. “A brewery in Park Abbey: that was my dream.”
The story of the Braxatorium Parcensis brewery is partly the life story of Joris Brams (51). “Park Abbey has a special place in my heart. My parents’ house used to be next to the abbey. My father drove me to school here - it was a shortcut to St. Peter’s College,” he recalls.
Joris refers to times when the abbey was abandoned. “This might make me sound very old, but we could skate on the ponds almost every winter in those days,” Joris says with a laugh. “I also got up to a lot of mischief here in every building I could get into. That’s how I know the abbey like the back of my hand. I sometimes know the way better than the grounds manager!”
After his studies, Joris left Leuven. As an industrial engineer, he opted for an adventure across the Channel, but fifteen years later, he returned to his roots. “My father fell ill and passed away shortly after. He absolutely wanted to be buried in the abbey’s cemetery. That’s how we ended up coming here more often.”
At the time, Joris was the director of a company that makes cider and beer. “My managers asked me to do something with Belgian beer. At that time, I put forward the idea of brewing low-alcohol abbey lager. After a mass, I talked about it with Abbot Swarte and Jos Wouters, who would later be Abbot General of the Norbertine order,” Joris explains.
Joris’ lobbying activities led to the Heverlee beer. “A delicious lager from the Martens brewery, the oldest family brewery in the country. We started working with maize from the vicinity of the abbey to make this beer. We shipped the result to the United Kingdom, where the beer is very popular.”
The Norbertine priests have been able to support many charities with the proceeds from the Heverlee beer. They have also invested in the cooperative “Braxatorium Parcensis” (Bra-Pa). This is the abbey brewery, which has been operational since September 2019 in the guest quarters of our abbey.
Braxatorium Parcensis is unique because it is a reconstruction of the historic brewery. “It was sold as scrap metal after the French Revolution. We still have documents of that in our archive,” Joris notes. “It was my dream to restore history. Bra-Pa is now at exactly the same place where the brewery stood hundreds of years ago. Upstream, at the first mill.”
Construction was not easy. “This space was dilapidated, there was no floor in it and light came in through the roof, so we had to wait for the restoration. Then we had the incredible fortune that Gert Chapelle wanted to get involved. He has achieved the impossible with his company. Because this is a heritage site, we were not allowed to build a fire or to do any welding. And we only have one door, 1 m 37 cm wide. Bringing the brewing boilers into the building had to be done with precision to the millimetre!”
There is also no chimney in the room. “That is why we built an innovative condensation drying cabinet. We also focus on zero emissions: our electricity comes from wind and the sun, the water comes from the water supply under the abbey ponds, etc. We also work in a circular way: all of the draff (grain remnants, ed.) goes to the abbey’s cows,” Joris explains.
Libertus and Quirinus
The Bra-Pa brews refer to historical figures. “Libertus refers to Libertus de Paepe, who made the abbey flourish in the 17th century. Soon we will also make an abbey triple in honour of Saint Quirinus of Neuss. The abbey has a relic of this patron saint.”
Each beer has a number and its own style. “We work with seasonal crops, such as organic grain from BoerEnCompagnie, or beetroot from the vegetable garden. Libertus 1 was an amber-coloured beer, 6.5%, while Libertus 2 was more of a Duvel type. Libertus 4, with beetroot, will be a little more subtle again.”
In the Abbey shop and online
Bra-Pa would normally participate in the Leuven Beer Weekends in April, but they were postponed due to the coronavirus crisis. “That gives us time to think about Libertus 5. It will be a fruitier beer with summer ingredients. Something to look forward to after the lockdown,” Joris concludes.