There’s more to France than wine, striped t-shirts and surrendering. They also knock up some remarkably tasty beers, apparently. One such producer is La Brasserie Historique de l’Abbaye du Cateau, a small family brewery located in Northern France. They are responsible for the celebrated Vivat range of beers, which are famed for their intense flavours and aromas that have seen them triumph in a number of international competitions.
The brewery is based in the heart of an ancient Benedictine abbey, on the site of the former Abbey of Saint-Andre. In 1775, the Abbey operated a successful brewery. It operated until 1926 and produced 10,000 to 12,000 hectolitres per year. At this time it was put on the market, where it sat, slowly fading to ruin.
Then in 1995, the Friends of Catésis, in partnership with the City of Le Cateau, came up with the idea of running tours of the now dilapidated site. The aim was to save the building and to preserve the area’s brewing heritage. The tours were very successful, which enabled the group to have the site deemed a Historic Monument in March 2000. At this point Jean Luc Butez, a man passionate about brewing, bought the brewery with a partner and set about restoring it to its former splendour.
It took more than 4 years of work, with much of the restoration hampered by the constraints and special obligations of the historic listing. Undeterred, the renovation moved forward and the results are striking. The entire brewery has been restored; roofing, windows, electrical upgrading, installation of new brewing equipment, along with a new restaurant and seminar room.
The renovation doesn’t stop there; Butez has designs on the buildings surrounding the brewery. His goal is to make a brewery complex dedicated to beer, with a museum, a tavern, a gourmet restaurant and a conference room that can accommodate over 100. Grand plans indeed, and after 75 years of closure and a hell of a lot of work, brewing has been brought back to the former Abbey of Saint-Andre.
Tonight’s beer is their most successful, Vivant Triple. Even its name is steeped in local heritage. Vivat is a local exclamation of applause or joy; a viva, from the Picard language of the area. Picard is closely related to French and is spoken in two regions in the far north of France and in parts of the Belgian region of Wallonia, Tournai, and part of the district of Mons. Picard is not taught in French schools and is generally only spoken among friends or family members.
Enough of the history lesson. How does this local brew hold up?
Light straw in colour, crowned with a whopping, thick, pillowy white head. It certainly looks like a tripel; it smells like one as well. Candied fruits pour out of the glass; ripe banana and pineapple sprinkled with phenolic spice. The excitable carbonation seems to push the aroma out. It smells fantastic.
It tastes even better, laden with fruit and honey. Pears and apples mix together with mangos on a wheaty bed. It’s like the best bowl muesli you’ve ever had. Cloves, sugars and spice round off the flavour, with the distinctive Belgian yeasty twang. It feels thick thanks to the huge carbonation, making for a real meal in a glass.
As it slowly warms the alcohol notes become present, showing off the beers heft. But it slips down easy and is a beer I’ll definitely be trying again. Its birthplace might have it playing second fiddle to its Belgian cousins but don’t let that deter you. To quote nineties musical travesty Sash! “Encore une fois”.