Trappist Beers: An Introduction to the Elusive 7
The title "Trappist" does not describe the beer style but rather the origin. These highly praised brews are produced under the supervision of Trappist monks from within the monastery. In the case of Achel and Westvleteren, the monks still actively participate in the brewing process. Remarkably, almost all of the revenue acquired goes to support charitable causes, social programs, and those in need. There are only seven Trappist breweries in the world, six in Belgium and one in the Netherlands. They are Chimay, Orval, Achel, Rochefort, Westmalle, Westvleteren and Koningshoeven. Although many imitators have tried, no other breweries are entitled by law to apply the "Trappist" name to their product. You can identify an authentic Trappist by the hexagonal seal that appears on the label. Between the seven abbeys, 27 beers are regularly brewed, but only two-thirds of those are available for commercial distribution in the United States. The others have a much lower alcohol content and are reserved for the monk's own consumption. The Westvleteren beers are available only by reservation at the monastery or they are available to be consumed at the monastery's nearby cafe. These restrictions make Westvleteren beers some of the most sought-after in the world. With the exception of one recent lager, all Trappist beers are top-fermenting, relatively strong to very strong, bottle conditioned ales.
The rich history of Trappist brewing begins with Orval, the oldest of the brewing monasteries, founded in the 11th century by Cistercian monks. After many peaceful years, interruptions to the monastic way of life such as the French Revolution and the Napoleonic period caused a religious exodus from France. Several Trappist monasteries permanently settled in Belgium as a result. Due to the poor quality of water, many of the abbeys began producing beer as the monks' main beverage. News spread quickly of these high quality beers and production expanded to meet increasing consumer demand; first locally and then on an international scale. The term "Trappist" fell into use in the years between WWI and WWII, popularized by Chimay. Today, Trappist beers are considered some of the finest in the world. Familiarize yourself with this category of incredible beers.