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Trappist beer is brewed by Trappist breweries. Ten monasteries — six in Belgium, two in the Netherlands, one in Austria and one in the United States — currently brew beer and sell it as Authentic Trappist Product.
The Trappist order originated in the Cistercian monastery of La Trappe, France. Various Cistercian congregations existed for many years, and by 1664 the Abbot of La Trappe felt that the Cistercians were becoming too liberal. He introduced strict new rules in the abbey and the Strict Observance was born. Since this time, many of the rules have been relaxed. However, a fundamental tenet, that monasteries should be self-supporting, is still maintained by these groups.
Monastery brewhouses, from different religious orders, have existed across Europe since the Middle Ages. From the very beginning, beer was brewed in French Cistercian monasteries following the Strict Observance. For example, the monastery of La Trappe in Soligny already had its own brewery in 1685. Breweries were later introduced in monasteries of other countries as the Trappist order spread from France into the rest of Europe. The Trappists, like many other religious people, originally brewed beer to feed the community, in a perspective of self-sufficiency. Nowadays, Trappist breweries also brew beer to fund their works and charitable causes. Many of the Trappist monasteries and breweries were destroyed during the French Revolution and the World Wars. Among the monastic breweries, the Trappists were certainly the most active brewers. In the last 300 years, there were at least nine Trappist breweries in France, six in Belgium, two in the Netherlands, one in Germany, one in Austria, one in Bosnia and possibly other countries.
Today, ten Trappist breweries are active— 1 in Austria, 6 in Belgium, 2 in the Netherlands, and 1 in the United States.
In the twentieth century, the growing popularity of Trappist beers led some brewers with no connection to the order to label their beers "Trappist". After unsuccessful trials, monks finally sued one such brewer in 1962 in Ghent, Belgium.
The Dutch brewery De Koningshoeven produces Trappist beers – branded La Trappe – that are able to carry the "Authentic Trappist Product" logo. Their use of the International Trappist Association logo was withdrawn in 1999, but was restored in October 2005 (see Brouwerij de Koningshoeven for details). A second Dutch Trappist beer, branded Zundert and produced by Abdij Maria Toevlucht, made its debut in December 2013, and has also been granted permission to use the International Trappist Association logo.
In 1997, eight Trappist abbeys – six from Belgium (Orval, Chimay, Westvleteren, Rochefort, Westmalle and Achel), one from the Netherlands (Koningshoeven) and one from Germany (Mariawald) – founded the International Trappist Association (ITA) to prevent non-Trappist commercial companies from abusing the Trappist name. This private association created a logo that is assigned to goods (cheese, beer, wine, etc.) that respect precise production criteria. For the beers, these criteria are the following:
This association has a legal standing, and its logo gives the consumer some information and guarantees about the product.
In 2012, the trappist brewery of the abbey of Engelszell, Trappistenbrauerei Engelszell in Engelhartszell, Austria started brewing beer at the monastery (the former production had stopped in 1929) and in the same year obtained the Authentic Trappist Product logo for their beer.
In December 2013, Maria Toevlucht's abbey (Zundert, the Netherlands) and St. Joseph's Abbey (Spencer, Massachusetts) were both granted the ATP logo for their trappist beers.
The German Trappist abbey of Mariawald has not been producing beer since 1953 (however it uses the same Authentic Trappist Product logo for its other products).
There are currently ten breweries allowed to display the Authentic Trappist Product logo on their products:
|Brewery||Location||Opened||Annual Production (2004)|
|Brasserie de Rochefort||Belgium||1595||18,000 hL (480,000 US gal)|
|Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle||Belgium||1836||120,000 hL (3,200,000 US gal)|
|Brouwerij Westvleteren/St Sixtus||Belgium||1838||4,750 hL (125,000 US gal)|
|Bières de Chimay||Belgium||1863||123,000 hL (3,200,000 US gal)|
|Brasserie d'Orval||Belgium||1931||45,000 hL (1,200,000 US gal)|
|Brouwerij der Sint-Benedictusabdij de Achelse Kluis (Achel)||Belgium||1998||4,500 hL (120,000 US gal)|
|Brouwerij de Koningshoeven (La Trappe)‡||Netherlands||1884||145,000 hL (3,800,000 US gal)|
|Stift Engelszell||Austria||2012||2,000 hL (53,000 US gal) (capacity)|
|St. Joseph’s Abbey||United States||2013||TBD|
|Brouwerij Abdij Maria Toevlucht||Netherlands||2014||TBD|
‡ — Recognition for La Trappe beer was withdrawn between 1999 and 2005.
The French abbey of Sainte Marie du Mont des Cats has been selling Trappist beer since June 16, 2011. This abbey has no brewery at this time and does not plan to build one in the near future, for reasons of cost and brewing skills. They have not excluded rebuilding one brewery in the future. The Trappist beer sold by Mont des Cats is produced by the Chimay brewery and does not wear the "authentic trappist product" logo.
The designation "abbey beers" (Bières d'Abbaye or Abdijbier) was originally used for any monastic or monastic-style beer. After the introduction of an official Trappist beer designation by the International Trappist Association in 1997, it came to mean products similar in style or presentation to monastic beers. In other words, an Abbey beer may be:-
Trappist beers are all top-fermented, including La Trappe Bockbier, and mainly bottle conditioned. Trappist breweries use various systems of nomenclature for the different beers produced which relate to their relative strength.
The best known is the system where different beers are called Enkel/Single, Dubbel/Double and Tripel/Triple. These terms roughly describe both the amount of malt and the original gravity  for a Dubbel and triple for a Tripel, marking the casks accordingly. Enkels are now no longer brewed as such.
Colours can be used to indicate the different types, dating back to the days when bottles were unlabelled and had to be identified by the capsule or bottle-top alone. Chimay beer labels are based on the colour system (in increasing order of strength red, white and blue). Westvleteren beers are still unlabelled.
There is also a number system (6,8 and 10, as used by Rochefort), which gives an indication of strength, but is not necessarily an exact alcohol by volume (ABV). Achel combine a strength and a colour (of the beer itself—blond or brown) designation.
The 'Dubbel' is a Trappist breweries naming convention. The origin of the dubbel was a beer brewed in the Trappist Abbey of Westmalle in 1856. 'Westmalle Dubbel' was imitated by other breweries, Trappist and commercial, Belgian and worldwide, leading to the emergence of a style. 'Dubbels' are now understood to be a fairly strong (6%-8% ABV) brown ale, with understated bitterness, fairly heavy body, and a pronounced fruitiness and cereal character. Examples are: Westmalle Dubbel, Chimay Red/Premiere, Koningshoeven/La Trappe Dubbel and Achel 8 Bruin, Rochefort 6.
Tripel (trippel), is a naming convention used by Belgian Trappist breweries to describe the strongest beer in their range. Westmalle Tripel is considered to be the foundation of this beer style, and was developed in the 1930s. Achel 8 Blond, Westmalle Tripel, Koningshoeven/La Trappe Tripel, and Chimay White/Cinq Cents are all examples of Trappist tripels, but this style has proven even more popular among secular breweries like St. Feuillien, Bosteels and St. Bernardus. Tripels as a style are generally beers with an alcohol content ranging from 8% to 10% ABV.
Most Trappist breweries also feature a "patersbier" or "fathers' beer" that is only available within the monastery. This variety is designed to be consumed by the monks themselves, although it is sometimes offered at the monastery's on-site café. The term "patersbier" does not designate a style as such; it is usually a weaker version of one of the regular beers, and may only be offered to the Brothers on festive occasions, both of these facts relating to the Trappist tradition of austerity. Examples include Chimay Dorée and Petite Orval.
Enkel, meaning "single", is a term formerly used by the Trappist breweries to describe the basic recipe of their beers. There are now no Trappist (or secular) breweries using the term. Instead, "Blond(e)" (La Trappe, Westvleteren), "5" (Achel) or "6" (Rochefort) are used to describe the brewery's lightest beer. An Enkel could fulfil the role of a patersbier, as was the case with De Koningshoeven's when it was in production.
Quadrupel is the name Koningshoeven gave to a La Trappe ale they brew which is stronger than their tripel.
The official Trappist breweries produce the following beers for consumption:-
In addition to the above, a lower-strength beer is sometimes brewed for consumption by the Brothers (patersbier) or sold on site.
Belgian breweries have a tradition of providing custom beer glasses: with Trappist breweries, this often takes the form of providing "chalice" or "goblet" style glasses. The distinction between goblet and chalice is typically in the glass thickness. Goblets tend to be more delicate and thin, while the chalice is heavy and thick walled. Some chalices are even etched on the bottom to nucleate a stream of bubbles for maintaining a nice head.
The idea of visiting Trappist monasteries to sample their beers has become more popular in recent years, partly due to promotion by enthusiasts such as the 'beer hunter' Michael Jackson. Some brewing monasteries maintain a visitor's center where their beers can be tasted and bought (sometimes with other monastic products such as bread and cheese). Visits to the monastery itself are usually not available to the general public, although visitors can overnight in some of the monasteries (like Achel) if their purpose is non-touristic.