What Is A Trappist Beer?

Have you ever heard of Trappist beer? If you are interested in special beers with an exciting story, then you might have come across the term. It is definitely worthwhile to learn about these special beers, because they should be among the best in the world.

Strict rules for the name

The name Trappist beer is reserved for only a few beers in the world. To be precise, there are currently exactly 11 breweries worldwide that are allowed to label their beers as Trappist beer. The authentic Trappist beers can be recognized by a small, hexagonal emblem with the inscription “Authentic Trappist Product”.

The ATP seal is awarded by the International Trappist Association based in Belgium. The following criteria must meet a beer if it is to bear the ATP label:

The beer is brewed in a monastery brewery by Trappists – members of a particularly strict Cistercian Order – or under their supervision.
The brewery is directly subordinated to the Trappist monastery and follows the principles of monastic life.
The brewery may not serve the profit. Proceeds from the sale of beer may only be used to cover the subsistence of the members of the Order and for the maintenance of the monastery, as well as for charitable purposes.

Although there are Trappist monasteries and abbeys all over the world – there are about 170 worldwide – that’s how all the breweries that make Trappist beer are, with one exception in Europe. But how did the devout Trappists come to build breweries within their monastery walls?

The brewing tradition of the Trappists

The Trappist order originated in the 17th century from the Order of the Cistercians. The principles of the religious life of the Trappists, however, date back to the time of the transition from antiquity to the Middle Ages. At that time, in the year 529, the hermit Benedict of Nursia founded a monastery halfway between Rome and Naples. The named after him Order of Benedictines is considered the oldest Western Order. Benedictine monks were required to follow the principle of “Ora et labora” (“praying and working”) and to lead a simple life of inner contemplation.

But over the centuries, the Benedictines moved away from this simple way of life: they built ever more magnificent monasteries and no longer lived only from their own hands, but came to riches through interest income, leasing and the raising of tithing. Finally, in the 11th century, some monks, who relied on the original ideals of St. Benedict, founded the Monastery Cîteaux (Latin: cistercium) near Dijon in eastern France. The result of this reform was the Order of Cistercians, which spread rapidly throughout Europe. But the story was repeated: like the Benedictines, the Cistercians began gradually to move away from the simple, secluded way of life.

In the 17th century, therefore, there was again a reform: In the French Normandy, more precisely in the monastery La Trappe, was created by a split of the Cistercian Order of the Order of the Cistercians of stricter observance. The monks and nuns became known as Trappists. Formally, the order was founded only in 1892. Until today, the members of the Order lead a life characterized by silence and simplicity; they organize their daily routine after the numerous services, the first of which take place before dawn. This makes them one of the strictest religious orders in the Catholic Church. They are also called “the silent monks” because they only speak the essentials and even use sign language so as not to break the silence.

The physical work of the Trappists serves as the antipole to the spiritual life. The monks and nuns, for example, look after the kitchen, the laundry, the garden or the library of their monastery or produce handicrafts, personal care products or food. In this tradition are also the monastery breweries in which the monks brew beer in person.

Overview: 11 Trappist breweries in portrait

Of the world’s 11 breweries that label their beers Authentic Trappist Product (ATP), there are seven in Belgium, one in the Netherlands, one in Austria, one in Italy and one in the USA. Due to the comparatively high concentration of Trappist breweries in Belgium, the Belgian Trappist beer is the best known worldwide.

A German Trappist beer, which meets the criteria of the association, does not exist. Until the 1960s, beer was brewed in the Trappist Abbey of Mariawald in the Eifel. But then the production was stopped; meanwhile, the abbey was completely dissolved due to the lack of young monks.

But the original recipe has survived: The Bitburger brewery, which is also based in the Eifel, then brews the Fluitter Tripel. Named the top-fermented strong beer with about 9% vol. after the craftsman Heinrich Fluitter, who set up a statue of Mary in the middle of what is now the Eifel National Park in the 15th century, thus laying the foundation stone of the later Mariawald Abbey. According to the strict rules of a Trappist beer, the Fluitter Tripel is no longer; only “according to the original recipe of the Trappist Abbey Mariawald” is written on the label. And since the recently dissolved Mariawald abbey was the last Trappist monastery in Germany, it is more than questionable whether a Trappist beer will once again be born here.

There is another special case in France: The Trappist Monastery Mont-des-Cats still makes beer, but no longer in its own walls. Previously, the monastery had its own brewery near the Belgian border, which was not rebuilt after its destruction in the First World War. Since 2011, the beer is brewed according to the original recipe – but in the Abbey of Scourmont in Chimay, Belgium. Thus, it may not carry the ATP seal, but in contrast to the Fluitter Tripel still be sold as Trappist beer. Incidentally, the same monastery also brews the beer named after the municipality of Chimay, probably the best-known Trappist beer. What other names you should know, we tell you in our overview of all existing, certified Trappist beers worldwide.

1. Achel (Belgium)

The Belgian town of Achel was named for the Abbey there and the Trappist beer, which is brewed in the monastery brewery. The Abbey of Achel was – as many other churches and monasteries – destroyed during the French Revolution, but rebuilt in the mid-19th century as a monastery with its own brewery. In the First World War Achel had to survive the next test: When the occupiers confiscated the copper kettles in 1917, among other things, the brewery was destroyed; the Trappists had to flee. After that, no Trappist beer was brewed in Achel for a long time. Only at the end of the 1990s, the brewery was repaired again. In the meantime, visitors to the monastery can choose from a variety of Trappist beers: a golden-blonde and an amber-colored draft beer, each containing 5% vol. are served only at the hostel; In addition, there are two bottled strong beers with 9.5% vol. The typical Belgian dubbel, a double-brewed spice beer, and the triple, a particularly intense, strongly alcoholic beer, are among the Trappist beers of the monastic brewery of Achel, which is one of the smallest Trappist breweries with annual output of around 4,500 hectoliters.

2. Chimay (Belgium)

The already mentioned abbey Scourmont is the Trappist monastery of the municipality of Chimay, which gave its name to the famous Belgian Trappist beer. Since 1862 Chimay is brewed. One of the monks began cultivating the yeasts from the Chimay beers in the late 1940s – they still characterize the typical taste of the Trappist beers of Chimay. The output of the monastery brewery is remarkable: around 130,000 hectoliters are now brewed annually, and part of the production is exported all over the world. The monks of Chimay have set up their own foundation to raise the proceeds from the sale of the popular Trappist beer to various charitable purposes. The range includes the Chimay dorée (4.8% vol.), In which light notes of orange peel and coriander resonate; the Chimay rouge (7% vol.), the oldest Chimay beer also known as Chimay Première; the Chimay blanche (8% vol.), which, despite its name, is rather amber in color and reminiscent of nutmeg and raisin; and the Chimay bleue (9% vol.), a strong beer with a light caramel note, which improves its taste in cellar storage.

3. Orval (Belgium)

Small but fine is the offer of the Abbey Orval: Only one Trappist beer is brewed there – in terms of taste Orval is in no way inferior to other Trappist beers. The top-fermented specialty with 6.2% vol. Apart from water, hops, malt and yeast, it also contains sugar candy – this is not unusual for Trappist beers. Spices are also often used, as the Trappist beers produced in Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy and the USA are not subject to the purity requirement in Germany. The Trappist beer from Orval owes its intense, hoppy taste to the so-called hop plug; a second, uncooked hops, while the beer is already stored. This is usually the case with English beers like India Pale Ale (IPA).

4. Rochefort (Belgium)

After the Rochefort abbey was closed during the French Revolution and declined rapidly, towards the end of the 19th century, the monks of the Achter Abbey took the old walls under their wing and rebuilt Rochefort – this time with a brewery. The dark Trappist beer Rochefort, re-cataloged in the bottle, is available in three variants. The oldest variety is the malty, slightly bitter Trappistes Rochefort 6 with 7.5% vol. The Trappistes Rochefort 8 was actually created in the mid-1950s as a Christmas beer. But it was so successful that it was included in the permanent range. The offer is rounded off by the Trappistes Rochefort 10 with a proud 25.50° P original wort and 11.3% vol.

5. Westvleteren (Belgium)

The Trappist beer from Westvleteren is a true legend. After a US website voted it the best beer in the world in 2005, there was a hype that the monks would never have thought possible in the sleepy Belgian village. Crowds of tourists overran the small monastery brewery, everyone wanted to try some of the mysterious best beer in the world, which is only available on the spot in nondescript bottles without labels. So extreme was the rush that the Trappists finally commissioned a spokesman who was to appease the crowds and the press and keep away from the monastery – only so the monks could still pray and work in peace.

Despite the unquenchable demand Westvleteren’s Trappists brew nothing more than the usual 4,800 hectoliters a year – after all, the brewing of beer should not disturb the monks’ quiet life. That the sale of the already small amount of Westvleteren beer takes place only under strict conditions, curious beer tourists may probably taste even less: Who is not deterred by the hour-long busy signal on the reservation hotline and finally comes through, must register by phone, the license plate of the car The coveted Belgian Trappist beer is picked up, and then receives a pick-up time. Two, with luck, three boxes of 24 bottles Westvleteren receives each pickup – if he arrives punctually. Anyone who has received his beer will not get any for the next 2 months.

What is not intended as an advertisement, but can be understood as a deterrent, proves in this case as probably the most effective advertising strategy ever: The fabled Westvleteren is still one of the most sought after beers in the world. Westvleteren 12 with 10.2% vol. Is especially in demand. and an aroma of sweet dried fruit and brown sugar; Also available are another dark and a light beer. Incidentally, the Westvleteren must not be resold – nevertheless, every now and then, some bottles make it into the sale “under the hand”, of course, at a multiple of the actual price. While this may not be in the spirit of the Trappists, let’s be honest: who could resist the opportunity to taste perhaps the best beer in the world?

6. Westmalle (Belgium)

Trappist beer has been brewed in the abbey of Westmalle since 1836. Belgium is famous for the beer Dubbel – it is said that the first beer of this kind was brewed in Westmalle. Apart from Dubbel (7% vol.), A triple (9.5% vol.) Belongs to the Trappist beers of Westmalle. With an output of about 120,000 hectoliters annually Westmalle is one of the largest producers of Trappist beer.

7. Stift Engelszell (Austria)

Gregorius, Benno and Nivard were three Trappist monks who shaped the history of the Austrian Abbey Stift Engelszell, and they are named after the three Trappist beers that are brewed there. The abbey, which, like many other monasteries, has since been disbanded and was temporarily used as a factory and as a private residence, is today the only Trappist monastery in Austria. The collegiate church is a popular tourist attraction due to its impressive Rococo style. But the visit only becomes really interesting when you personally meet the three monks Gregorius, Benno and Nivard – naturally in liquid form.

8. La Trappe (Netherlands)

The La Trappe beers, named after the French monastery from which the Trappist order spread throughout the world, are brewed in the abbey of Onze Lieve Vrouw van Koningshoeven. In the monastery shop, visitors to the more than 130-year-old beer brewery will find an extensive range of Trappist beer. Among them are the sparkling, slightly hoppy blonde (6.5% vol.); the ruby red, fresh and mild Dubbel (6.5% vol.); the triple (8% vol.) with a fruity note and a well-balanced bitterness and the quadruple (10% vol.), the strongest among the La Trappe beers. Also the summery Witte Trappist – a bottled fermented, unfiltered beer with fresh hop aroma and 5.3% vol. – and a classic bock beer with 7.3% vol. are part of the offer. Last but not least, De Koningshoeven brews the first organic Trappist beer with the tasty La Trappe Puur (4.7% vol.).

9. Zundert (Netherlands)

The turbulent history of Onze Lieve Vrouw van Koningshoeven Abbey has led to the founding of another Dutch Trappist brewery: The monastery brewery De Kievit in the Dutch town of Zundert is named after the small farm that became a refuge for Trappist monks from Koningshoeven Abbey at the end of the 19th century. In 1900 they founded the Abbey of Zundert. However, the beer available today was brewed only over 100 years later: in 2013, the Zundert came on the market; a top-fermented Trappist beer in the bottle with 8% vol. The monks say: You have to research this beer. Spicy, sweet, bitter – there is a lot to discover here in terms of taste.

10. Spencer (USA)

Spencer, the brewery of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, is also a very young Trappist brewery: it was only in 2013 that it was the first outside Europe to receive the ATP seal. The certification was preceded by two years of intensive research, during which the monks circulated books on the bastard tradition of the Trappist order and visited all the European Trappist breweries to taste the beers and acquire as much knowledge as possible about the art of brewing. With success: Today, an extensive selection of Trappist beers complements the homemade jams for which St. Joseph’s Abbey has been known for over 60 years. Even a small craft beer range has been created: thanks to the creative master brewers of the Spencer Brewery, an Imperial Stout, an IPA, a party beer and a Pils with the beautiful name “Feierabendbier” are now available as Trappist beers.

11. Tre Fontane (Italy)

The Italian Tre Fontane monastery is a very old Cistercian abbey in the heart of Rome, where members of the Trappist order have been living since 1868. The deep golden Trappist beer brewed by the monks of Tre Fontane has a fruity note and a warm, mild eucalyptus aroma – a special feature among the Trappist beers. The leaves are harvested by the monks from the numerous eucalyptus trees growing around the monastery. With its high carbonated content, the Trappist beer by Tre Fontane tastes light and refreshing, but at 8.5% vol. quite strong. The microbrewery of the monastery is the youngest among the certified Trappist breweries: since 2015, the Trappist beer is available in the monastery shop and in selected restaurants in Rome.

Conclusion: a myth that you can taste

Certainly, the mysterious stories surrounding the Trappist order and its often destroyed and rebuilt abbeys and monastic breweries also make up a considerable part of the fascination of Trappist beers. Nobody will doubt that their taste is something very special. An excursion to a Trappist abbey with tasting of the specialties of the house – from cheese, jam and honey to biscuits and chocolate to liqueurs, wine and the delicious Trappist beers – will probably stay in the memory for a long time.

Although the continuing loss of members makes the Trappist order difficult and puts the remaining abbeys and monasteries to the test, brewing beer still plays its part in continuing to support the monks and nuns and the convent buildings. The centuries-old brewing tradition of Trappist beer remains alive and – as the establishment of several micro-Trappist breweries in recent years proves – is currently a veritable revival is under way. The craft beer fever does not stop even in front of monks! We are curious to see which specialty beers Trappists are still thinking of in silence and seclusion.

What’s your prefered Trappist beer? Feel free to share it with all of us in the comment box below – cheers.

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