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Today I’m starting a series on Belgian beers. There are so many Belgian beer styles and designations that it can be a lot to wrap your head around. Today we will take a look at Trapplist beers. We’ll get these over-reaching designations nailed down, then we can tackle what the specific styles of Belgian beer are.
What is a Trappist?
One of the designations Belgian beers can receive is that of Trappist. Basically,this means the beer and brewery must meet a few key requirements. They include:
- The brewery must be in a Trappist monastery.
- The monks must play a key role in the production of the beer and the policies set forth.
- The profits of the sale of the beer must be used to support the monastery or be used for social programs.
- Since there aren’t a lot of Trappist breweries in the world, only seven monasteries currently meet these requirements and brew beer for sale. Six of these are in Belgium with the last being in the Netherlands.
The current Trappist breweries are:
A Location, Not A Style
One important thing to remember when talking about Trappist beers is that the term “Trappist” is not a style of beer. This is a common misconception. The term “Trappist” is a controlled term of origin. This means it speaks to where the beer came from, not what style it is.
Belgian beer has been around long before Trappist monasteries. This unique type of beer dates back to the first crusades, before Belgium was even a country. Beer in these times was drank primarily as a replacement for water, since water could easily be contaminated, and nothing harmful to people can live inside beer. Trappist breweries started in the 18th century with monks fleeing the French revolution.
The first brewery to earn the designation of Trappist in Belgium was Westmalle. They started production in 1836, and still produce beers today. They currently brew a Dubbel and a Tripel at 7% ABV and 9% ABV, respectively. They also brew a lower alcohol beer for the monk’s consumption from time to time, but this is not available for sale.
The term Trappist comes from the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O.). This is a Roman Catholic religious order of monastics who follow the Rule of St. Benedict. Basically they are monks and nuns that follow a specific set of rules about how to live in an abbey.
The term Trappist takes it’s name from the La Trappe Abbey located in Normandy, France. The Trappist movement started here and came from a reaction to the relaxation in religious practices in Cistercian monasteries, leading a group of “Trappists” to break away and start a new following.
The 48th Chapter
One key rule the Trappists follow states “for then are they monks in truth, if they live by the work of their hands.“ This means the monks are expected to not only be devout followers, but are to produce goods that are sold to support the monastery. This, paired with no rules forcing the monks to abstain from alcohol, leads these Trappist breweries to produce beer that is made with extreme care and love.
It is this 48th chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict that allows these amazing beers to be produced, and what helped to foster what we know today as Belgian beer.
The Best Beer In The World?
A very special beer from Westvleteren Abbey in Belgium is touted as “the best beer in the world.” Westvleteren 12, which was only sold at the monastery until 2012, is a 10.2% ABV is regarded by most to be the best beer in the world. IT is also known as “yellow cap,” which is a designation meant to separate it from the other beers Westvleteren produces.
In December of 2012, Westvleteren finally made this beer available outside of the monastery. Gift packs of 6 bottles and 2 glasses were shipped to the United States for sale and were snatched up quickly.
Wrapping It Up
Belgian beers have a very interesting history than spans centuries. With a history that comes from wine making and open fermentation, Trappist ales run the gamut of Belgian styles and include many different types of beer. Remember, Trappist is a location designation, not a style.
Until next time, cheers!