I always see Grimbergen in French supermarkets, and their Blonde is a staple in the fridge when I’m on the continent (this is of course being written pre-Brexit, so we’re still able to actually travel to France…).
What I hadn’t quite realised was that there’s more than one of the same beer, with the same label, brewed by two different (but substantial) breweries.
This beer was apparently originally brewed by Norbertine monks in the Belgian town of Grimbergen (so the name makes sense). The Norbertine abbey was founded in Grimbergen in 1128 (by Saint Norbert – cool name). The monks in this abbey started brewing beer, and became famous for providing hospitality and their home-brewed beer to visitors. The recipe was handed down from generation to generation for centuries, before the monastery was closed down at the end of the 18th century by French invaders (mean!). The abbey was reestablished years later, but no brewing was resumed.
In 1958, Brouwerij Maes (of Maes Brewery) got in touch with the monks about commercialising the dark beer that they were famous for. The beer went on to be brewed under the brand name “Grimbergen” in Waarloos until 1978, and then Brasserie Union in Jumet. In 2007 production moved again to the Brouwerij van Alken (Brewery of Alken), located in, surprisingly, Alken (North-East Belgium), under Alken-Maes.
Now, the journey doesn’t stop at this point like you might expect. In 2008, Alken-Maes was taken over by Heineken International, and as part of this takeover, the brand name Grimbergen was transferred to the Carlsberg Group, but with Heineken retaining a long-term license to use the brand name in Belgium.
So, now we’ve got this beer being brewed in two different countries, by two different companies. That’s a bit confusing. But to make it even more confusing, Carlsberg brew their version in their French Kronenbourg Brewery. And in the Netherlands they sell the Belgian brewed version, but it’s marketed by the Grolsch Brewery.
Of course, to make things even more fun, the different breweries have come up with different varieties (that you can only get in that country). I’m not going to list them all – but the one I’m drinking here is the 6.7% ABV French brewed “La Blonde“.
The label has always featured a phoenix, with it becoming more prominent on labels since 2010 when they went through a modernisation exercise. The slogan translates as “burned but not destroyed”, referencing both the Burning Bush of scripture, and that the abbey was also ravished by fire on multiple occasions, but survived.
After all that history – what is it like?
Well, for a 6.7% beer, it’s surprisingly light both in golden colour, and in taste. The foamy head doesn’t hide the sweet, fruity, malty aromas, which are carried directly into the taste. It’s a top-fermented beer (like Hoegaarden Radler Lemon & Lime and Meantime London Pale Ale), and that helps in the general roundness of flavour.
I feel like I should tell you more, but I’ve written enough as it is. In summary – very drinkable, easy to source in Europe, and enough of a punch to do some damage if you try to drink too many of them.
Very drinkable, but a bit too strong for a session beer
Very drinkable, easy to source in Europe, and enough of a punch to do some damage if you try to drink too many of them.