Religion isn’t really the first thing to pop in most people’s heads when they think of beer. However, after learning about Trappist monks and their affinity for a good brew, we’ve begun looking at things a little differently.
Never heard of Trappist monks before? Good, we hadn’t either. Trappists are part of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance, a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church. Most people think of them as taking a vow of silence, but that isn’t true. Yes, monasteries are very quiet places, but the monks will talk generally to get a particular work project carried out, to engage in community discussion, or to discuss one’s spiritual progress with a director or confessor. One of those work projects is something outsiders would never think about: brewing beer.
Trappist monks have been brewing beer since the Middle Ages, mainly because the Cistercian Order requires monasteries to be self sufficient. They sell the beer and the money goes back into the monastery to pay for living expenses and to maintain the building. If there’s any money left over, it has to go to charity – making Trappist beers a completely nonprofit venture.
We’ve found varying numbers, but there are anywhere from 6-8 monasteries in the world that brew beer that is able to bear the official “Authentic Trappist Product” logo. You will find other “abbey” beers out there that may try to make themselves look like a Trappist product, so be sure to look for the official logo. Why do they try to do that? Because Trappist beers are pretty rare and highly sought after by beer aficionados.
Belgium is the most popular country for Trappist beers, so if you want to get really authentic, plan a little trip and try to get your hands on one of these great brews:
Westvleteren XII from St. Sixtus Abbey in Vleteren, Belgium – This is widely considered to be the hardest beer to get, which obviously sparks a little competition for intense beer lovers. It’s only available at St. Sixtus Abbey and you have to make a reservation by phone to go pick a pack up. Unfortunately, easier said than done: the phone line is usually busy and it could take you months to get through.
Orval from Orval Abbey in Villers-devant-Orval, Belgium – Don’t have the time or money to take a trip to Belgium? Orval is in stores across the U.S., so you have a much better chance at getting your hands on it.
Chimay Blue from Notre-Dame de Scourmont Abbey in Chimay, Belgium – Chimay is the largest Trappist brewer, which means you are also able to find it in U.S. liquor stores. Chimay comes in three different varieties, but Chimay Blue is the most popular all around.
Have you ever sipped on a Trappist brew? Let us know how they match up to your favorite craft brews.