The Authentic Trappist Monk Beers
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:
- The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist abbey, by or under control of Trappist monks.
- The brewery, the choices of brewing, and the commercial orientations must obviously depend on the monastic community.
- The economic purpose of the brewery must be directed toward assistance and not toward financial profit.
This association has a legal standing, and its logo gives to the consumer some information and guarantees about the produce.
There are twelve Trappist breweries in the world from which six in Belgium: Westmalle, Westvleteren, Achel, Chimay, Orval and Rochefort. Their beers are easy to recognize thanks to the hexagonal logo of an Authentic Trappist Product, which means that the beer was brewed within or in the close vicinity of the walls of a Trappist monastery under supervision of the trappist monks. Other six Trappist breweries are : La Trappe and Zundert (Netherlands), Stift Engelszell (Austria), Spencer (USA) and Tre Fontane (Italy).
The brewery must be of secondary importance within the monastery and there should be no intention to make profit. Margins are in this philosophy less important and the trappist monks have less pressure to reduce costs. They have no problem to use the best, more expensive ingredients, guarantee for a product of top quality. The main goal is to cover the expenses of the trappist monks, and what remains should be donated to charity. Drinking a Trappist beer is therefore always a bit charity (beside the pleasure it offers).
The high concentration of Trappist beers in Belgium is an important part of the specificity of the Belgian beer culture.
Achel brewery or Brouwerij der Sint-Benedictusabdij de Achelse Kluis is a Belgian Trappist brewery, and the smallest of the seven currently approved Trappist breweries. It is located in the Abbey of Saint Benedict in the Belgian municipality of Achel. It brews five trappist beers.
The history of the brewery goes back to 1648, when Dutch monks built a chapel in Achel. The chapel became an abbey in 1686, but was destroyed during the period of the French Revolution. In 1844, the ruins were rebuilt by monks from Westmalle, and various farming activities began. The first beer to be brewed on the site was the Patersvaatje in 1852, and 19 years later in 1871, the site became a Trappist monastery, with beer brewing a regular activity.
In 1914 during World War I, the monks left the abbey due to German occupation. The Germans dismantled the brewery in 1917 to salvage the approximately 700 kg of copper. In 1998 the monks decided to begin brewing again. Monks from the Trappist Abbey of Westmalle and Rochefort Abbey assisted in the building of the new brewery. In 2001, the brewery released the Achel 8° beers. Like all other Trappist breweries, the beers are sold in order to support the monastery and charities.
Chimay Brewery (“Bières de Chimay”) is a beer brewery in Chimay, southern Hainaut, Belgium. The brewery is located in the Scourmont Abbey, a Trappist monastery, and is one of the seven breweries worldwide that produce Trappist beer. They make three widely distributed ales: Chimay Rouge, Chimay Bleue, and Chimay Blanche; and they make one patersbier exclusively for the monks. The monastery also makes four varieties of cheese.
The brewery was founded inside Scourmont Abbey, in the Belgian municipality of Chimay in 1862. The brewery produces three widely distributed ales and a patersbier exclusively for the monks; they are known as Trappist beers because they are made in a Trappist monastery. It was the first brewery to use the Trappist Ale designation on its labels.
As with all other Trappist breweries, the beer is sold only for financial support of the monastery and good causes. The brewery business pays rent for use of the property within the abbey, which is used to support the monastic community. The majority of the profit from the sale of the beer is distributed to charities and for community development around the region. As of 2007, sales figures for Chimay products exceeded $50 million per year.
The water for the beers is drawn from a well located inside the monastery walls. The filtered solids from the beer mash are recycled into livestock feed which is given to the same cows that produce the milk for Chimay cheeses. The beer is transported from the monastery to the bottling plant 12 km away, which can fill 40,000 bottles per hour, of which many are returns. The beer is then refermented in the bottle for three weeks before being shipped around the world. Fifty percent of Chimay beer production is sold on the export markets. The brewing plant was updated in 1988, and as of 2005 produced 12 megalitres annually.
The brewery is located inside the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy, near the town of Rochefort, and has been brewing beer since 1595. There are approximately 15 monks resident at the monastery. The monks are very secretive about the brewing process and the brewery is not open to the public, therefore much of the information publicly known about the brewery comes from only a few sources.
Like many strong Belgian beers, those produced at Rochefort age well and can be cellared for at least five years whilst maintaining quality. Each of these beers is brewed to the same recipe, with the only difference being the alcoholic content.The water for the beers is drawn from a well located inside the monastery walls.
As with all other Trappist breweries, the beer is only sold in order to financially support the monastery and some other charitable causes. The monks will not increase production based on demand or profit motives, but only enough to support themselves, resulting in a fairly limited supply of beer. In practice, there is currently no shortage through regular channels.
Orval Brewery (French: Brasserie d’Orval) is a Belgian trappist brewery located within the walls of the Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval in the Gaume region of Belgium. The brewery produces two beers, which are marketed as trappist beer, Orval and Petite Orval.
Evidence of brewing goes back to the earliest days of the monastery. A document written by the abbot in 1628 directly refers to the consumption of beer and wine by the monks. The last of the brewers to be a monk was Brother Pierre, up until the 1793 fire. In 1931 the present day brewery was built, employing lay people and intended to provide a source of funds for the monastery reconstruction. It was designed by Henry Vaes, who also designed the distinctive Orval beer glass. The first beer was shipped from the brewery on 7 May 1932, and was sold in barrels rather than the bottles of today. Orval was the first Trappist beer to be sold nationally around Belgium.
De Koningshoeven Brewery (Brouwerij de Koningshoeven) is a Dutch Trappist brewery founded in 1884 within the walls of the abbey Onze Lieve Vrouw van Koningshoeven in Berkel-Enschot (near Tilburg).
The abbey opened a brewery inside the monastery in 1884 in order to finance the monastery and contribute to charitable causes. Despite this goal, the brewery was run as a commercial enterprise. The abbey owned several bars in the area and produced lager under its own “Trappist” brand as well as contract brewing for several private labels. In 1969, the abbey licensed the brewing operations to the Artois Brewery (now InBev). In 1980 the deal with Artois ended, and the monks went back to brewing themselves, this time a top fermented beer which had been made in limited quantities since 1950s only. Over time the brewery introduced more varieties, first with Dubbel and Tripel in 1987, then in 1992 they introduced Blond. Between 1993 and 2000, the brewery also marketed a brand called Enkel. The brewery also produces the world’s only Trappist witbier. The brewery also used to produce the Jopen beer.The brewery started exporting in 1985, and in 1989 the brewery was modernised.
From 1980 until 1999, the brewery was largely run by the monks. Due to the difficulty of the ageing monks continuing to operate the brewery, a limited liability company was set up as a subsidiary of the large commercial brewer, Bavaria. In 1999 the new company began to take over day to day operations, renting the buildings and equipment from the abbey.
As a result of this agreement, a dispute arose with the International Trappist Association, the body that governs the labelling of goods as Trappist. They claimed that this new method of operation was against the regulations that permitted the beer to display the Authentic Trappist Product logo. Whilst the beer continued to be brewed within the abbey walls, the arrangement with Bavaria was felt to be too commercialised. As a result, the brewery withdrew their use of the logo on 1 December 1999. However, the brewery continued to label the beer as Trappistenbier.
After a lengthy study by all parties, and a review of the agreement between the abbey and brewery, the beers were granted the right to display the logo again as of September 9, 2005. As part of this settlement, the monks have taken a more active control of the brewery day to day operations, working several hours each day.
This post was updated on December 20, 2013 to include three new additions to the official list of Trappist Ales. The list was originally posted August 11, 2011.
Stift Engelszell Trappist AleIn 2012, the Abbey of Engelszell in Engelhartszell, Austria started a their own brewery and began production of their unique Trappist ales: Gregorius and Benno. The Austrian abbey received permission to use the “Authentic Trappist Product” logo the same year. According to the official website, the first brew was the Gregorius and is a dark triple sitting at 9.7% Alc. Production on the Gregorius began in June 1, 2012 with the second variety following on May, 30, 2013. The second beer, Benno, is a bright Dubbel style beer sitting at 6.9% Alc.
The abbey was founded in 1293 by Bernhard of Prambach, Bishop of Passau, as a Cistercian monastery. In 1786, Engelszell was dissolved by Emperor Joseph II and the buildings were subsequently put to several secular uses, including as a factory and as a residence.
In 1925, Engelszell was occupied and re-founded as a Trappist monastery by refugee German monks expelled after World War I from Oelenberg Abbey in Alsace. These monks had found temporary shelter in Banz Abbey but were looking for a permanent home. Initially established as a priory, in 1931 it was elevated to the rank of an abbey, and the former prior, Gregorius Eisvogel, appointed abbot, in which office he was dedicated by Johannes Maria Gföllner, Bishop of Linz, at a ceremony in Wilhering Abbey. On 2 December 1939, the abbey was confiscated by the Gestapo and the community, numbering 73, evicted. Four monks were sent to Dachau Concentration Camp, while others were imprisoned elsewhere or drafted into the Wehrmacht. At the end of the war in 1945, only about a third of the previous community returned. They were augmented, however, by the refugee German Trappists expelled from Mariastern Abbey, Banja Luka, Bosnia, under their abbot Bonaventura Diamant.
The monastery lives mostly from its agricultural produce. It has become known both for its liqueurs and for its cheese, Engelszeller Trappistenkäse. In May 2012, the International Trappist Association approved Engelszell to be the 8th producer of Trappist beer, and only the second outside of Belgium.
St. Joseph’s Abbey
St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts is the first American monastery to produce an official Trappist Ale and the first outside of Europe. The abbey was awarded the right to use the “Authentic Trappist Product” logo in 2013.
“At a meeting yesterday of the International Trappist Association in Brussels, the Spencer Trappist Ale was awarded the ‘Authentic Trappist Product’ designation,” François de Harenne, Commercial Director of the Orval Trappist brewery, told the Belgian Beer Specialist on Dec. 11.”The decision was made after several controls made on the premises during the last weeks…We also were lucky enough to taste the beer.”
According to the official website of the brewery, “Our recipe was inspired by the traditional refectory ales known as patersbier (“fathers’ beer” in Flemish). These sessionable beers are brewed by the monks for their dinner table and are typically only available at the monastery. Spencer is a full-bodied, golden-hued ale with fruity accents, a dry finish and light hop bitterness. The beer is unfiltered and unpasteurized, preserving live yeast that naturally carbonates the beer in the bottle and keg, and contributes to the beer flavor and aroma.” The beer will sit at 6.5% Alc.10
Abdij Maria Toevlucht
The Maria Toevlucht Trappist Abbey received permission in December 2013 to use the “Authentic Trappist Product” logo alongside the Trappist Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts.
The Trappist abbey in Westmalle was founded 6 June 1794, but the community was not elevated to the rank of Trappist abbey until 22 April 1836. Martinus Dom, the first abbot, decided the abbey would brew its own beer, and the first beer was brewed on 1 August 1836 and first imbibed on 10 December 1836. The pioneer brewers were Father Bonaventura Hermans and Albericus Kemps.
The first beer was described as light in alcohol and rather sweet. By 1856, the monks had added a second beer: the first strong brown beer. This brown beer is today considered the first double (dubbel, in Dutch). The current Dubbel is derived from a recipe first brewed in 1926. Local sales began in 1856 and the oldest registered sale was on 1 January 1861. The brewery was enlarged and rebuilt in 1865 based on the example set by the Trappists of Forges (nearby Chimay). Father Ignatius van Ham joined the brewer team. Further commercialisation and sales to traders commenced in 1921.
In 1933 a complete new brewery was built and in 1934, the brewery brewed a strong pale ale of 9.5% abv giving it the name Tripel – the first modern use of the name. The brewery was remodeled in 1991. It currently has a bottling capacity of 45,000 bottles per hour, and yearly output of 120,000 hL (in 2004). The majority of the workers in the brewery are no longer monks, but secular staff brought in from outside. There are 22 monks and 40 outside staff.
Trappist monks from the Catsberg monastery, located in France, founded the St Sixtus monastery in 1831. In 1838, the brewing at Westvleteren commenced. In 1850, some of the monks founded the Notre-Dame de Scourmont monastery, which also brews a Trappist beer. During World Wars I and II, the Westvleteren brewery continued to operate, albeit at a lower capacity. The brewery was the only Trappist one to retain the copper vessels throughout the wars—the other breweries had the copper salvaged by the Germans for their war efforts.
In WWI this was primarily due to the abbey not being occupied by the Germans, but instead was caring for wounded allied troops. In 1931, the abbey began selling beer to the general public, having only served beer to guests and visitors up until that time. In 1946, the St. Bernardus brewery in nearby Watou was granted a licence to brew beer under the St Sixtus name. This agreement ended in 1992; St. Bernardus still brews beers of similar styles, but under their own name. That same year, the abbey opened its new brewery to replace the older equipment.
The brewery currently employs three secular workers for various manual labour tasks, however the primary brewing is done by the monks only. It is the only Trappist brewery where the monks still do all of the brewing. Of the 26 Cistercians who reside at the abbey, five monks run the brewery, with an additional five who assist during bottling.
In June 2005, when Westvleteren 12 was again highlighted as “Best Beer in the World” in a bi-annual competition on RateBeer.com, news organizations followed this up and articles appeared in the international press, highlighting the beer ranking and the unusual business policies.