ALE Spring 2001 No. 301

Continental Beer Styles: Trappist

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Many people will be familiar with the name `Trappist', and may even have a notion that Trappist beers are made by monks, but few probably have a clear idea of what exactly a Trappist beer is. In order to be called `Trappist' the beers must be made in a brewery controlled and occupied by monks of the strictest Benedictine order - the Trappists. These days, however, the monks themselves tend not to have much to do with the actual brewing, and even less to do with the business side!

So `trappist' is not so much a style as an appellation of origin. There are many good `Abbey' beers which, although brewed like Trappist beers, cannot be called `Trappist' as they are not made under monasic supervision. This appelation is vigorously defended by the only six `Trappist' abbeys (or breweries) and is in fact now law in Belgium.

Abbeys have always brewed beer, both for the residents and for travellers staying. Before the Reformation, abbeys were also centres of learning, especially brewing! Unfortunately, in France during the Revolution, the abbeys were stripped of their wealth, and brewing ceased almost entirely. Westmalle restarted properly in 1836, but it was not until after the First World War that any of the abbeys started producing on a commercial scale. But even now there are only five Trappist abbeys which produce beer in Belgium, and one in the Netherlands.

The breweries and their products are as follows:

La Trappe Konigshoeven, the Netherlands Enkel (5.5%), Dubbel (6.5%), Triple (8%) and Quadrupel (10%)(seasonal).
Westmalle Abdij der Trappisten van Westmalle, near Antwerp, Belgium Extra (4%), Dubbel (7%) and Tripel (9%)
Westvleteren Abdij Sint Sixtus, Westvleteren, West Flanders 6 (6.2%), 8 (8%) and 12 (10%)
Chimay Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Scourmont, near Vhimay, Belgium Red (7%), White (8%) and Blue (9%)
Orval Abbaye de Notre-Dame d'Orval, Belgium Orval (6.2%)
Rochefort Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Saint-Remy, Rochefort, Belgium 6 (7.5%), 8 (9.2%) and 10 (11.3%)

Be sure to check the names carefully, as there is also an abbaye range of beers called St Sixtus, which do not come from Westvleteren: the Westvleteren beers don't usually have a label.

Westvlteren 6, Rochefort 6 and Westmalle Extra are not usually seen out of Abbaye because they are generally brewed only for the monks. In fact, rumour has it that this is where the terms single, dubbel and tripel came from: single for the normal monks, double for the senior monks and triple for the abbot! Trappist breweries also occasionally brew specials. These are rather rare, but worth looking out for. All the Trappist beers are good, but some are better than others. Just to give you an idea and tantalise your tastebuds, I will describe two of my favourites.

Orval: This beer is a lovely golden amber orange colour, with a creamy head when poured. Initially, there is a hoppy nose with a touch of orange peel spice which comes through in the taste. Initial taste is bitter and smooth, the complex overtones coming in just after the first taste, including the unmistakable back taste of orange.

Rochefort 10: This beer is deep and dark, it looks warming, inviting and dangerous all at the same time. It has a beautiful creamy head, and the taste is just so complex: you get malt, fruit, chocolate, liquorice, pepper ... then it hits your stomach! Do not gulp, savour this beer, it is a work of art!

One final feature of Trappist beers is that most of them have a note on the side of the bottle to say how they should be poured, and at what temperature they should be served. Please use this as a very good guideline. Also, remember that these beers, being bottle-conditioned, are sedimented - quite heavily in the case of the stronger ones. So be careful when pouring.

Most of all, enjoy. Cheers!

Ron Buchet (The Lambic Monster).

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