Dark, a luxurious multi-layered sweetness, and at 11.3% stronger than most quadruples, yet as drinkable as beers several degrees lower in alcohol. It has a knack of transcending you to the middle ages sip by sip while conjuring images of wizened monks perfecting their recipe in some rustic cellar. Perhaps it is the gothic font on the label or the sediment that remains in the bottom of your glass that makes it feel like you are drinking something that is coming from 17th century casks tucked away in a decaying chateau rather than from modern sterilized stainless steel tanks.
Rochefort brews three different types of beer labelled as 6, 8 and 10. All are dark beers. Rochefort 10 is definitely my favorite amongst the Trappists. But it is a beer of secrets. What makes it taste so deliciously unique?
The Rochefort Abbey (or Abbey of Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy) has a brewing tradition going back to 1595. However, that tradition was interrupted thanks again to that pesky French Revolution in 1797 and didn’t resume until 1952. The revival of the abbey and its brewing tradition was thanks to those beloved monks of the Achel Abbey who purchased the delapidated property in 1887 and rebuilt it.
While Achel helped revive Rochefort Abbey, somewhere along the way, Achel and Rochefort diverged in the way they would handle their inevitable status as a touristic destination thanks to the beer. Out of all of the Belgian Trappist beer monasteries and let me include the two Dutch ones as well, Rochefort has probably the least interesting overall experience. There is no adjacent cafe or shop, nothing. Not a single jar of abbey-made honey or cheese. Not even a religious book or candle. To enjoy a Rochefort near to the abbey, one must head into the quaint town center of Rochefort. Back in 2015, I was fortunate to have at least been able to take a peek inside the church and walk around some of the grounds. Today, everything is blocked off due to renovations. Who knows if and when visitors will be allowed some basic access again.
The area around Rochefort Abbey is known for its cycling, mainly the 25km RAVeL ligne 150 which connects Houyet-Rochefort-Jemelle, and also the cave formations, including the famous Grottes de Han which can already be found in travel guides in the early 1900’s. I did a bicycle tour of the region in 2015, but lacking sufficient photos for a blog post, an official Beer & Bike excursion is still on my to do list. However, I decided to add Rochefort to my recent beer abbey hikes.
The hike begins and ends at the abbey, passes both ways thru the center of Rochefort and reaches its pinnacle in the touristic village of Han-sur-Lesse, home of the aforementioned Grottes de Han. Han-sur-Lesse makes a great stop along the way for a beer and/or light meal. In between Han-sur-Lesse and Rochefort is the Parc National de Lesse et Lomme, which is actually a natural reserve rather than an official national park despite the name.
- Starting Point: Rochefort Abbey (there is a small public parking)
- Ending Point: Round-trip
- Distance: 18.9 km
- My Moving Time: 3 hrs 57 mins
- Eating Place: numerous in Han-sur-Lesse and Rochefort
The village is small but has the remarkable neo-romanesque Eglise de Notre-Dame de la Visitation built in 1874. I have no recommendation for the best place to drink a Rochefort in Rochefort. For a town which has a Trappist Brewery as its claim to fame, you don’t really see a quintessential Rochefort beer cafe in the city center. The below beer photo was taken at La Gourmandise which is probably the most central obvious place to enjoy the beer.
Parc National de Lesse et Lomme
The park is criss-crossed with trails. There are also a couple of very nice viewpoints. Expect some uphill climbs when hiking in Wallonia. The forest on this day just seemed to emit a beautiful emerald glow. Remarkably different from the heather-dominated forests in Northern Belgium on the Dutch border.
There are several cafes and restaurants along the street towards the city center. I stopped at Nicolas Bar & Brasserie for an Elfique Triple, a beer made by Brasserie Elfique about 60km northeast of Han-sur-Lesse in Aywaille, Belgium.
Abbaye of Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy
Back in 2015, it was possible to at least enter the church, although not possible to explore without a guide. There is no ticket booth, so any guided tour probably needs to be arranged in advance with the abbey.
Just casually browsing the web to find out what makes Rochefort 10 so special, you can see that it is a popular topic on home-brewing forums. There are many clone recipes (this particular one seems well described), but it seems appropriate that a place as uncatering to beer tourists as Rochefort Abbey would keep some secrets to their recipe. According to Ben Vinken’s Trappist Beers from A to Z, the secret is in a self-cultivated yeast which is responsible for the Rochefort taste.
Regarding the hike, it was enjoyable and honestly didn’t feel like almost 19km. However, in my opinion, the best way to see this region is still by bike. There are a lot of chateaus, provacative chapels, and other beer-related sites (e.g. Brasserie de la Lesse) in the region that can all be accomplished in one sweet ride. This was the format of the ride in 2015, and one of these days I will relive it and publish it here.
Until then, I have to ponder whether all of the secrets of Rochefort 10 and it’s homegrown yeast may have been stored in the mind of the masked monk in front of me at the Rochefort Spar.