In search of the monks behind one of the world’s great beers, the Monkey traveled to Rochefort, deep in the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium. These shots from his 2002 journey reveal a few of the marvels of Rochefort.
Though based in Antwerp for much of his stay in Belgium, the Monkey did make his way to the hilly and lush Ardennes region of Belgium, in the French-speaking southern half of the country known as Wallonia. In the pleasant town of Rochefort, the Monkey explored the ruins of the Château Comtal. Work on the castle, which is perched elegantly atop a hill with views in all directions, began in the mid-11th Century, with various additions right through the 20th Century.
The captivating but degraded ruins that you see in the foreground here are the result of a few centuries of cannibalizing the stones for construction elsewhere, and the lost fortunes of the family who once owned the castle. Between 1966 and 1971, the Château Comtal’s demise was thwarted by declaring it and its surrounding gardens a monument. A local group, the Friends of the Château Comtal, have managed its upkeep by opening the ruins to visitors.
The Monkey stops for a photo overlooking some of Rochefort’s beautiful old houses along the Rue Jacquet.
Just outside Rochefort, the Monkey visited the St. Remy Abbey, which dates from the 13th Century. The monks here are from the extremely austere Trappist order, which originated in France in the 17th Century but was driven out during the Revolutionary era. Aside from performing their religious duties, it is here that the 20-odd monks and some secular assistants produce the three Rochefort beers: 6, 8 and 10.
St Remy is one of only six officially licensed producers of Trappist beers (meaning beers produced by the Trappist order of monks). All of them—Rochefort, Orval, Chimay, Westvleteren, Westmalle, and Achel—are in Belgium, with the former three in Wallonia and the latter three in Flanders. Achel is the most recent arrival, beginning production in 1999. The beers vary in taste, but share the technique of refermentation in bottle, resulting in decidedly strong and flavorful beers.
A seventh abbey/brewery, in Koningshoeven, Netherlands, recently fell off the list after the monks there went into business with the secular Dutch brewery Bavaria to continue producing their La Trappe beers. While the monks retain the recipe and ownership of the brand, they removed the Authentic Trappist Product logo from their bottles, saying that the 12 remaining monks at the abbey no longer had time to actively participate in the brewing process. It was, in fact, the Koningshoeven monks who initiated the Authentic Trappist logo, trying to block commercial brewers from passing their wares off as Trappist when they were not. This resulted in the term “abbey” beers, which technically the La Trappe beers now are due to the abbey’s dealings with Bavaria. Two better known abbey beers are Grimbergen and Leffe, both from Belgium.
The Monkey gets his spelunk on! Rochefort’s Grotte de Lorette cave was discovered by an unfortunate dog and his owner, when the dog fell through a hole in the ground in 1865. Today there are stairs that permit a slightly more controlled visit to this subterranean wonderland.
A slightly crooked photo of the Monkey enjoying the serene landscape around Rochefort.
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