A visit to...January Brewery of the Month, Affligem
The Affligem brewery credits its history back as early as 1074, when a group of Belgian knights seeking redemption made the decision to become monks. The brotherhood became one of the most influential monasteries in the Flanders region, and went on to build an abbey in Affligem, a Belgian municipality northwest of Brussels. Beer quickly became an important source of income for the Belgian abbey as it continued to grow and build its reputation.
The Affligem abbey has seen its fair share of challenges throughout history. In 1129, a huge fire struck the abbey, then it was further devastated in the fourteenth century during the war between Flanders and Brabant. In 1580, the monks of the Affligem abbey were sentenced to exile following the passage of the troops of William of Orange. This didn’t stop the growth of up to 1500 hop plants on the abbey’s grounds in 1620, however.
In the years following the wars between Flanders and Brabant and the annexation of the country by French revolutionaries, the brewery was revived by the community under the leadership of a young surviving monk. Brewing activity resumed at the Affligem abbey in 1885.
The Affligem brewery was also hit badly by the world wars that were to come in the following century. In 1917, the Germans dismantled Affligem’s tanks to take the copper, thus stopping all production. WWII also halted the brewery’s activity, but this resumed in 1947, and shortly after, in 1950, the monks of Affligem created the Formula Antiqua Renovata: an adaptation of the historical recipe to modern technologies. In 1956, Elder Tobias decided to entrust the Affligem recipe to Hertog, a secular and independent brewer. And since 1970, Affligem beer has been produced in the Affligem brewery in Opwijk, a village near the abbey.
Available at Beerwulf Beers of this brewer
We paid a visit to Wouter, the current brewmaster of Affligem, who told us that the best thing about brewing is that it really is still a craft, even when it has been modernised. "You work with natural ingredients, you see the raw materials coming in and a quality beer as the end product. You continue to learn every day and with every day comes beautiful new challenges," he explains.
Thanks to this decision by Father Tobias, the Affligem brewery traditions continue today. The brewery has a range of beers, steeped in history, that can be enjoyed. The logo harks back to its humble beginnings, however: it symbolises the chivalrous and monastic traditions of the Affligem brewery.
Today, all Affligem brewing is done in the brewery of Opwijk (not far from the abbey), under the supervision and control of the monks. It's a good partnership, Wouter told us, adding "we are still closely connected to the Affligem abbey. For example, part of our profits goes to the abbey and the monks have a control function on our advertising messages. "
Affligem beer is brewed from the finest ingredients and two types of barley malt: pale malt, and caramelised malt, which gives Affligem beer a colour ranging from amber to chestnut - depending on the amounts used.
"Our brewery has a tradition of almost 1000 years and we still brew according to the authentic recipe, but with very modern methods," Wouter told us. "The ingredients are very important: hop and malt of the best quality."
The Affligem Dubbel is a very traditional style abbey beer with a red/brown hue. It’s brewed with dark toasted malt and is sweet yet spicy. Affligem Blond, a bronze winner of the Brussels Beer Challenge is a well-balanced, refreshing beer with a hoppy aftertaste. It pairs deliciously with mature cheeses.
The Blond, Dubbel and Tripel are the classic trinity in the Affligem range. They are known for having good balance, or as Wouter says - "not too bitter, not too malty and not too sweet".
Affligem beers are strong, flavourful and brewed in the Belgian tradition. Try drinking the Blond and the Tripel with a plate of cheeses, chicken or poultry. The Dubbel fits deliciously with roasted meat. Or, their beers are perfect if you, like Wouter about two months before our visit, have something to celebrate: "When my son was just born, that was perhaps the best moment to enjoy an Affligem."