Brouwerij St. Bernardus

Jun 27, 2019

The Beginning – It’s no coincidence that the St. Bernardus brewery of Watou is to be found on the street called ‘Trappistenweg’. The brewery’s name, as well as the character of its beer, are very much grounded in the Trappist tradition.

And less than ten kilometres away, just across the border with France, you’ll find the reason for the connection – in the shape of the Trappist abbey of Mont des Cats (Katsberg).


1900 – 1930

In the early 1900s the Trappists fled the Mont des Cats (named after an ancient local tribe) and escaped to Watou. There they took up residence at the ‘Patershof’ farm (also known as ‘Courtewyle’), just a stone’s throw from the current brewery. They renamed their new home, the ‘Réfuge de Notre Dame de St Bernard’ – and it was to prove a refuge in practice as well as in name. But why did these monks come to Belgium at all? In France they had to pay tax on their revenues and that was not (yet) the case in Belgium. Safe in their new home the monks took up cheese-making.

1930 – 1934

As France took on a more tolerant attitude towards religious communities the monks of Mont Des Cats decided to cross back over the border. Their vacated dairy was taken over by Evariste Deconinck. Later the Réfuge’s site would become the property of the Bruges Public Centre for Social Welfare.

1934 – 1946

During this period Deconinck expanded the dairy. Today the Brouwershuis where they made cheese on Trappistenweg (Trappist Road) is a guesthouse. Back in the 1930s it was producing two different branded cheeses: ‘St Bernard Watou’ and ‘Port Salut de Watou’.

1946 – 1992

Not long after the Second World War, Evariste Deconinck was invited by the Trappist monks at Westvleteren to brew and market their Trappist beers under licence, originally covering a 30-year period. Brewmaster Mathieu Szafranski (who was of Polish descent) brought his considerable know-how to the new site, bringing both recipes and the famed St Sixtus yeast as a new brewery was established right next to the cheese workshop. The cheese-making business was sold in 1959 with the equipment and the brand name going to the Poperinge milk dairy, St.Bertinus, which would later itself be acquired by the Evlapo group. In 1986 Belgomilk took over the business. In the early 1960s Guy Claus, the husband of Bernadette Deconinck (the daughter of Evariste) joined the brewery, opening up the opportunity for talks with Westvleteren Abbey to renew the licence agreement. In 1962 a new 30-year deal was signed to keep the beer flowing until 1992.

1992 – 1998

In 1992 the agreement expired for good, as the Trappist breweries had decided to award the “Authentic Trappist Beer” label exclusively to beers that had been brewed inside an abbey. From then on, the brewery’s beers were marketed under the St.Bernardus brand name. This period was marked by uncertainty as the brewery tried hard to revive its fortunes and inject new life into its brand.

1998 – 2018

Hans Depypere took over the brewery in 1998 and, slowly but surely, put it back on the rails. Under his management, brewery sales grew from a few hundred thousand litres to a high of 4 million litres according to 2017 sales figures. This required a fair amount of investment, so far this has meant the opening of an entirely new wing in 2018, where they have incorporated space for additional warehousing, a new brewery shop, a new venue for meetings, conferences and parties, a new reception area for brewery tours and, to top it all off, an impressive 360° rooftop bar that also serves as a tasting room and goes under the eloquent name of ‘Bar Bernard’.


St. Bernardus Abt 12 is widely regarded as one of the best beers in the world. It is therefore no surprise that it is our brewery’s flagship beer, ranked at the very top of the St. Bernardus beer hierarchy. It is brewed in the classic quadrupel style and adheres to the original 1946 recipe. – 10% ABV

St. Bernardus Tripel is a traditional abbey beer that follows the classic tripel style. In the Watou region a tripel is often referred to as a ‘Bernadetje’. A fine tribute that pays homage to Bernadette, the youngest daughter of Evariste Deconinck, the man to whom the monks of Abbaye Sainte Marie du Mont des Cats sold their Belgian property in 1934. – 8% ABV

St. Bernardus Wit is a traditional unfiltered Belgian white beer. It was developed in collaboration with Pierre Celis, the legendary master brewer who founded the Hoegaarden brewery, brewing their signature beer that was the driver of the resurgence of white beer in the 1950s. – 5.5% ABV

St. Bernard us Christmas Ale is a dark seasonal brewed in the classic Quadrupel style of Belgium’s best Abbey Ales. Similar to all the beers from our brewery, it greets the drinker with the signature aroma of St. Bernard us’ house yeast strain (in use since 1946!) and a beautiful brown hue. Rivaling the complexity of the Abt 12, St. Bernardus Christmas Ale offers a spicy, mint-like flavor profile exuding the tastes of warming alcohol, fermented molasses, apricots, licorice, and marzipan that are highlighted by the perfect balance of brewing sugars.  – 10% ABV

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