The Trappist Brewing Heritage
The Trappist order (Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance) originated in the Cistercian monastery of Soligny-la-Trappe in northern France in 1664 when the Abbot of La Trappe, who felt that the Cistercians were becoming too liberal, 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.
In 1997, eight Trappist abbeys - Orval, Chimay, Westvleteren, Rochefort, Westmalle, Achel, Koningshoeven and Mariawald - founded the International Trappist Association (ITA) to prevent non-Trappist commercial companies from abusing the name. A brand identity was created to distinguish the Trappist products (beer, cheese and wine etc) that respect precise production criteria. For the beers, the criteria is:
- The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery, either by the monks themselves or under their supervision.
- The brewery must be of secondary importance within the monastery and it should witness to the business practices proper to a monastic way of life.
- The brewery is not intended to be a profit-making venture. The income covers the living expenses of the monks and the maintenance of the buildings and grounds. Whatever remains is donated to charity for social work and to help persons in need.
- Trappist breweries are constantly monitored to assure the irreproachable quality of their beers.
- This association has a legal standing with its logo giving consumers guarantees about the product.
In 2012, the trappist brewery of the abbey of Engelszell, Austria, started brewing beer at the monastery for the first time since production ceased in 1929 and became the ninth ITA accredited Trappist brewery.
Founded in 1794, the Abdij Trappisten van Westmalle (also officially named 'Our Lady of the Sacred Heart’) is considered to be one of the most influential of the Trappist breweries and first began brewing around 1836, although their beer wasn't to be tasted by the outside world for another forty years or so.
The Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Scourmont is the home of Chimay - possibly the best known of all Trappist beers and one which enjoys notoriety around the world. The Abbaye was founded in 1850 by a small group of monks from Westvleteren, with the brewery founded twelve years later.
Four beers are produced by Chimay, three known simply and affectionatley by the colour of the bottle caps (Red, White and Blue) with the fourth, Chimay Dorée, intended only to be drunk in the abbey itself.
La Trappe beers are produced by the Brouwerij de Koningshoeven, a Dutch Trappist brewery founded in 1884 within the walls of the abbey Onze Lieve Vrouw van Koningshoeven in Berkel-Enschot. The abbey opened the brewery to finance the monastery and contribute to charitable causes. In 1969, the abbey licensed the brewing operations to the Artois Brewery (now InBev) but 1980 the deal ended and the monks went back to brewing themselves.
The 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. They produce just two beers, Orval and Petite Orval (the latter only available from the the monastery itself). Distinctive in it's skittle-shaped bottle, Orval was first created in 1931 and has grown to iconic status - beer critic Michael Jackson even considered Orval to be "a world classic".
Near the Wallonian town of Rochefort, the monks of the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy have been brewing beer since 1595 and using water drawn from a well located inside the monastery walls. Rochefort can be cellared for a number of years and develop lovely characteristics during the ageing process. Named simply, the beers refer their gravity in the traditional Belgian system degrees - 6 being 1060°, 8 is 1080° and 10 at 1100°.
The history of Achel brewery dates back to 1648 when Dutch monks built a chapel in Achel in the Belgian province of Limburg. Destroyed during the French Revolution, in 1844 the ruins were rebuilt by monks from Westmalle with brewing of the first beer in 1852 with brewing becoming a regular activity around twenty years later. During World War I, the monks left the abbey due to occupation and the Germans dismantled the brewery to salvage the copper. Brewing started again in 1998 with monks from Westmalle and Rochefort assisting in the building of the new brewery.
The Brouwerij Westvleteren was founded in 1838 inside the Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren, not far from the hops-producing town of Poperinge and the medieval city of Ypres. Westvleteren's three beers have acquired an international reputation and are considered by a percentage of beer aficionados and judges to be "the best beer in the world". The beers are avilable in very small quantities and sold weekly from the doors of the monastery itself, on a first-come, first-served basis.
A common attribute of all Trappist beers is that they are best enjoyed when served in their appropriate and beautiful 'chalice' glasses, both to accentuate the flavour and deliver a real drinking experience.