Beer has been brewed in monasteries since the middle ages and, although they didn’t actually invent beer, it’s fair to say that monks played an important part in the development of beer as we know it.
Medieval abbeys were basically self-sufficient and, in addition to praying, the monks used to work long hours in the fields producing food for themselves and visiting pilgrims.
Apparently, as part of their altruistic and pious lifestyle, the monks ate very little and brewed beer to provide the calories needed to get them through the day. They also sold beer to nearby towns and used the money to pay for things they couldn’t produce themselves.
Today Trappist monks brew some of the world’s best beers, both for their own consumption and to sell to raise money for charities and the monasteries upkeep.
By definition, Trappist beer is brewed by monks, or under the direct supervision of monks, within the grounds a Trappist monastery. The money raised from selling the beer goes to maintaining the monastery with all other profits being donated to charities and projects in the local community.
There are currently only thirteen Trappist breweries, six of which are located in Belgium. Other Trappist breweries are located in Austria, the Netherlands (Holland), Italy, France, the United Kingdom and the USA.
What is a Trappist beer?
Trappist monks are part of the Cistercian order of the Roman Catholic Church. The order was founded during the seventeenth century following guidelines laid down by Saint Benedict of Nursia and took its name from the La Trappe Abbey in Normandy, northern France. There a total of twenty-two Trappist monasteries, most of which are located in Belgium.
Saint Benedict said that monks and nuns should pursue a simple life dedicated to prayer, study and manual labour. Just over fifty per cent of Trappist monasteries brew their own beer, others produce artisan cheese, jam, honey, bread and chocolate.
A portion of the beer and other produce is for consumption within the monasteries, the rest is sold and even exported overseas. As mentioned at the start of this post, the money raised from selling the beer is used to maintain the monastery, with any profits being donated to Christian charities and projects in local communities.
It’s important to remember that, although there is a brewery within the monastery walls, the monasteries’ main purpose is a religious one. The monks who work in the breweries also spend several hours per day performing more typical monastic tasks, praying and studying the bible.
What does Trappist beer taste like?
Trappist beers are ales, which means that they are produced using yeast strains that ferment at the beer’s surface. Unlike most ales, however, a Trappist beer’s flavour is dominated by the malt bill and type of yeast used.
Forget bitterness and hoppy aroma, Trappist beers are pretty much the antithesis of IPAs. They are often a dark brown or amber colour and full-bodied with complex, sweet caramel flavours and hints of soft fruits and spices.
Each of the monasteries produces its own unique style of beer, and several of them have even developed their own strain of yeast.
Words that are typically used to describe what Trappist beer tastes like include: malty, bready, sweet, spicy, caramel and fruity. The fruit flavours commonly found in Trappist beer include apple, cherry, pear, raisins and dates. Some more mature beers have even been described as having an almost lambic flavour.
Most Trappist beers have a relatively high alcohol content, typically between seven and nine per cent ABV. They usually undergo a longer conditioning process than most commercial ales, and secondary fermentation may occur after bottling when extra yeast and sugar are added.
The Authentic Trappist Product logo
If you’ve purchased Trappist beer, you will have seen that the bottle’s label includes a small black hexagonal logo indicating that it is an authentic Trappist product.
The ATP license is issued by the International Trappist Association and indicates that the beer was brewed on the grounds of a Trappist monastery and that all proceeds from its sale go either to the upkeep of the monastery or for charity.
The ITA polices the use of the Trappist name and prevents breweries which don’t conform to their strict criteria from calling their products Trappist beer. The association has even gone so far as taking brewers to court to prevent them from using the Trappist name.
Even if a brewery is owned by an abbey or monastery and brews the same style of beer, if beer production doesn’t take place in the grounds of a Trappist monastery, it isn’t Trappist beer.
What’s the difference between Trappist and Abbey beers?
Abbey beers are similar to Trappist beers; the only difference is that they aren’t brewed in a Trappist monastery. Many secular breweries use malt-forward recipes and Belgian ale yeasts to create beers inspired by their Trappist counterparts.
Both Trappist and Abbey beers can be grouped into three broad styles: Patersbier, Dubbels and Tripels.
Patersbier, also known as enkel, is the beer that was traditionally drunk by the monks, usually with an ABV of around 5%.
Dubbels are normally a dark-coloured ale with spicy, fruity flavours and plenty of carbonation generated during secondary fermentation in the bottle. Most dubbels fall into the 6% to 8% range of ABV.
Tripels are golden coloured, slightly drier tasting strong ales, with a typical ABV of around 8% or 9%.
Complete list of all Trappist breweries
|De Kievit Trappist Brewery
|De Koningshoeven Brewery
|Mont des Cats Brewery
|Mont des Cats Abbey
|St. Joseph’s Abbey
|Tre Fontane Brewery
|Tre Fontane Abbey
|Tynt Meadow Brewery
|Mount St Bernard Abbey