The History of the Brewery
13 June 2019
In 1814 Jan-Baptist Victoor settled as a hermit in the woods of Westvleteren, where monastic communities had already living long before. The history of the Saint-Sixtus Abbey started when some monks of the French abbey Mont-des-Cats joined the hermit in 1831.
Aside their monastic activities the monks also cultivated the fields around the abbey, produced cheese… in order to be self-supportive. Already in the early days beer was brewed in small quantities, not for sale but just for their own consumption. The Saint-Sixtus Abbey’s archive reveals that the first expenses for a brewery were made in June 1838.
In May 1839, the Abbey received a brewer’s licence signed by king Leopold I on April 19, 1839. Most likely a first test brew was produced the same month. In June 1839 the first official brew was produced. The 25,45 Belgian francs paid for the rights of the two brews bear witness to this.
The first brew house was installed in the first monastery, where most likely the forge was located later. In 1849 the monks not only built a new church but also a second monastery.
Around 1860 a vast complex of buildings for amongst others sheds, a guesthouse, barns and a second brewery, was built. It remained however a small domestic brewery for personal use.
Only from 1878 on production increased due to a good turnover of the tavern ‘In de Vrede’. Between 1886 and 1896 a third brew house, fully operational as from 1896, was built.
On 20 March 1922 the monks started the expansion of the brewery. On 27 October 1927 for the first time steam was used to brew in the modernised, fourth brew house. This brew house was operational till 5 January 1990.
In the early 70’s a couple of adjustments were made to the mill and the brew house. The abbey community bought a malt mill and malt transport was mechanized. The open refrigerated coolship was replaced by a closed wort cooler in 1976.
In 1976 a fermentation room with six open yeast vessels and a laboratory were installed. Fermentation in open yeast vessels, a method that is used very rarely, is essential for the ester profile of the Trappist Westvleteren. A laboratory was built next the fermentation room to follow the brewing process more precisely.
In 1979, a bottling line was put into operation with a capacity of around 12,000 bottles per hour.
Almost a century and a half after the first brew house was put into use, preparations were made for the construction of a fifth brew house. The present brew house was officially put into operation in 1990.
In 1999, on the occasion of the opening of the In De Vrede meeting centre, the dark Westvleteren 6 was replaced by the Westvleteren Blond, a fresher version of the former 6.
A continuous pursuit of quality improvement with respect for tradition and the environment.
The new bottling plant was put into operation in 2013. Since 2014, two brews are made per brewing day. This meant a considerable saving in terms of energy consumption and man-hours.
The lager cellar and the fermentation chamber were modernised and automated, but because the capacity did not change, production also remained unchanged. The production amounts to approximately 6,000 hectolitres annually, spread over 42 brewing days.
In 2016 a new secondary fermentation unit with storage space was built.
The monks also invested in a new, large water treatment plant. Recently, the Abbey also partly supplies its own energy thanks to a large photovoltaic installation on the roof of the water treatment plant.