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Trappist beers are liquid gems that combine centuries of monastic tradition with the art of brewing. Produced in Trappist abbeys and monasteries around the world, these beers have captivated the palates of beer lovers and earned a prominent place in the brewing world.

The history of Trappist beers dates back centuries, when Trappist monks, members of the Cistercian Order of Strict Observance, began brewing beer as part of their monastic life. These monks, committed to a life of prayer, work and simplicity, found in brewing beer a form of economic self-sufficiency and sustenance for their community.

The importance of Trappist beers lies in their unmatched authenticity and quality. The International Trappist Association establishes strict criteria for granting the “Authentic Trappist Beer” certification. These criteria include aspects such as production within the walls of a Trappist abbey under the supervision of monks, orientation towards the well-being of the monastic community and the use of income to support social works.

Trappist beers are known for their variety of styles, from the dark and robust Dubbel and Quadrupel to the refreshing Tripel and Blond. Each style offers a unique experience of flavors and aromas, ranging from notes of caramel and ripe fruits to distinctive spices and yeasts. These beers are prized for their complexity and balance, and are the result of carefully controlled fermentation processes and recipes passed down from generation to generation.

In this article, we will explore the fascinating history and tradition of Trappist beers, as well as the importance of Trappist certification. We will also discover Trappist destinations around the world, where beer lovers can enjoy unique experiences visiting brewing abbeys and monasteries. In addition, we will explore the different styles of Trappist beers and give you practical advice on how to buy and taste these delicacies.

Get ready to immerse yourself in the mystical and brewing world of Trappist beers!

History and monastic tradition

Origin and evolution of Trappist beers

Trappist beers have their roots in ancient times and have undergone a fascinating evolution over the centuries. Its origin dates back to the Trappist monasteries of Europe, where monks brewed beer as part of their monastic life and as a source of income to support their community.

The Trappist brewing tradition began in the 16th century, when Trappist abbeys and monasteries were looking for ways to be self-sufficient and generate resources for their activities. Brewing became an attractive option due to its ability to take advantage of the natural resources available in the monastic environment, such as water, malt, and herbs.

Initially, beer production focused on meeting the internal needs of the monastic community. The monks brewed beer for their own consumption and to offer hospitality to visitors. However, as the quality and taste of Trappist beers became known, external demand began to grow.

Over time, Trappist abbeys and monasteries expanded their beer production to supply local communities and generate additional income. This allowed them to finance their charitable works and maintain their monastic lifestyle. The popularity of Trappist beers increased, and they soon became true treasures of beer culture.

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Trappist beers gained renown and recognition for their exceptional quality. The Trappist monks dedicated themselves to perfecting their recipes and preparation techniques, transmitting their knowledge from generation to generation. Each abbey and monastery developed its own style, creating unique and distinctive beers.

The evolution of Trappist beers has also been influenced by technological advances in beer production. Over the centuries, improvements were made to fermentation equipment and processes, allowing the monks to achieve greater control over the quality and flavor of their beers. However, despite the changes, the essence and tradition of Trappist brewing have remained intact.

Today, Trappist beers continue to be appreciated for their authenticity, quality and exceptional taste. The demand for these beers has transcended the borders of Europe and has spread worldwide. Although the number of Trappist abbeys and monasteries producing beer today is limited, their brewing legacy endures and remains a symbol of craft excellence and monastic tradition.

Maison Leffe en Dinant
Maison Leffe in Dinant

The connection between monks and brewing

Brewing by Trappist monks is not simply a commercial activity, but an integral part of their monastic and spiritual life. There is a deep connection between monks and brewing, which is based on principles of dedication, discipline and the pursuit of perfection.

In Trappist monasteries, brewing beer is considered sacred work. The monks are committed to strictly following the traditions and production methods handed down over the centuries. Every step of the brewing process is carried out with care and precision, reflecting the monastic values of order, patience and excellence.

Brewing also plays an important role in the community life of the Trappist monks. It is an activity that encourages collaboration and teamwork, since it requires coordination and joint effort. The monks actively participate in all phases of the process, sharing responsibilities and knowledge.

Additionally, brewing beer offers the monks an opportunity to financially support their community. The income generated through the sale of beer is used to maintain the monastery, fund charities and support people in need. This connection between beer production and monastic life reinforces the purpose and mission of the Trappist monks.

Brewing in Trappist monasteries is also closely linked to spirituality. Monks consider their manual work to be a form of prayer in action. Through the dedication and mindfulness they put into brewing, they seek to reflect the divine presence in every bottle they produce. This transcendental perspective elevates the importance of Trappist beer beyond its simple commercial value.

The authenticity and quality of Trappist beers

To be considered an authentic Trappist beer, it must meet certain criteria established by the International Trappist Association. These criteria include:

  1. Preparation in a monastery: The beer must be brewed within the facilities of the Trappist monastery or nearby, under the direct supervision and responsibility of the monks. This ensures that beer production is closely linked to monastic life.
  2. Monastic control: Monks must take an active role in the brewing process and in making decisions related to production. This ensures that traditional recipes are followed and the required quality standards are maintained.
  3. Charity orientation: The income generated from the sale of beer must be used for the sustenance of the monastic community, as well as for charitable works and support of charitable causes. This reinforces the monks' commitment to helping others and the well-being of society.

Strict application of these criteria ensures that Trappist beers maintain their authenticity and are distinguished from other commercial beers. Each bottle of Trappist beer is the result of a careful brewing process, using high-quality ingredients and following traditional techniques.

Additionally, Trappist beers are often fermented with special yeasts, many of which are unique to each monastery. These yeasts add complexity and unique characteristics to beers, making them even more special and appreciated by beer lovers.

So, Leffe beers are not trapist beers?

Leffe beers are considered Belgian style beers. Although they do not meet the criteria to be classified as trapist beers, they are still high quality beers and fit within the Belgian brewing tradition.

Although Leffe is a widely known and appreciated beer brand, it is important to clarify that Leffe beers are not considered trapist beers. Unlike Trappist beers, which are brewed within Trappist abbeys or monasteries under the supervision of monks, Leffe is produced in a commercial brewery.

The Leffe brand has its origins in the Abbaye de Leffe abbey in Dinant, Belgium, which was founded in the 12th century. However, in the early 19th century, the abbey stopped producing beer and the recipes and rights to the brand were acquired by a commercial brewery.

Although Leffe beers are brewed following some of the Belgian brewing traditions and styles, they do not meet the requirements to be considered trapist beers. This means that they are not made within a Trappist abbey or monastery and are not supervised by monks.

Despite this, Leffe beers are highly regarded for their distinctive flavor and have gained popularity around the world. Likewise, there are other Belgian-style beers that remind us of abbey beers but do not meet the requirements to be considered trapist beers, such as Maredsous, Gulden Draak or La Chouffe.

Colección de posavasos de Leffe
Leffe Coaster Collection

The International Trappist Association

The International Trappist Association plays a key role in the protection and promotion of Trappist beers. This organization was founded in 1997 with the aim of safeguarding the authenticity and tradition of Trappist beers, and ensuring that consumers can identify and enjoy these genuine beers.

The International Trappist Association establishes the criteria and standards that breweries must meet in order to use the “Authentic Trappist Product” label on their beers. These standards are based on the fundamental principles of monastic production and seek to preserve the integrity of Trappist beers around the world.

To obtain recognition from the International Trappist Association, breweries must meet the above requirements.

The International Trappist Association makes regular visits to Trappist breweries to ensure that these requirements are met. Additionally, it provides advice and support to breweries to help them maintain standards of quality and authenticity.

The “Authentic Trappist Product” label is a badge of quality and guarantee for consumers. By purchasing a beer with this label, consumers can be sure that they are buying a beer brewed by Trappist monks, with a long tradition and a careful production process.

The International Trappist Association is also responsible for promoting Trappist beers worldwide. Organize events, festivals and tastings to publicize these unique beers and allow beer lovers to appreciate their flavor and quality.

Furthermore, the association works closely with other brewing organizations and regulatory authorities to protect the name “Trappist” and prevent misuse of this term. This ensures that Trappist beers retain their prestige and exclusivity.

Trappist destinations around the world

Famous Trappist Abbeys and Monasteries and Their Locations

In this section, we will explore some of the most notable Trappist destinations around the world, home to famous abbeys and monasteries. These places are not only home to Trappist breweries, but also to rich history and spirituality. Below I present some of the best-known Trappist abbeys and monasteries and their locations:

  • Westvleteren Abbey (Belgium): Located in the Flanders region of Belgium, Westvleteren Abbey is renowned for producing the famous Westvleteren Trappist beer. The monks of the abbey make these beers in an artisanal way, following traditional methods passed down through generations. The abbey is located in a quiet and picturesque setting, and although its beer is known for being difficult to obtain, visiting the abbey and its surroundings is a unique experience.
  • Chimay Abbey (Belgium): Located in the Wallonia region of Belgium, Chimay Abbey is famous for producing Chimay Trappist beers. These beers are loved around the world for their distinctive flavor and centuries-old history. The abbey has a visitor center where tourists can explore the history of the abbey, learn about beer brewing and taste the different varieties of Chimay.
  • Orval Abbey (Belgium): In the Wallonia region, also in Belgium, is Orval Abbey, known for its Trappist beer of the same name. The abbey has a history dating back to the 11th century and is a place of great spiritual and architectural importance. In addition to enjoying Orval beer, visitors can explore the abbey's gardens and ruins, as well as visit the monastic goods shop.
  • La Trappe Monastery (Netherlands): In the Netherlands, La Trappe Monastery is one of the most notable Trappist destinations. It is the birthplace of the Trappist beer La Trappe, which has gained international recognition. The monastery offers guided tours where visitors can learn about monastic life and brewing. It also has a shop where you can buy monastic products and, of course, La Trappe beer.
Cervezas trapistas Chimay con degustación de quesos
Chimay trapist beers with cheese tasting

For more information we recommend visiting the article of the International Trappist Association on Wikipedia

The experience of visiting a Trappist abbey or monastery: tours, tastings and special events

Visiting a Trappist abbey or monastery is a fascinating experience that goes beyond tasting a good beer. These places offer the opportunity to immerse yourself in the history, spirituality and tradition of the Trappist monks. In addition to tasting Trappist beers, visitors can participate in tours, tastings, and special events that further enrich the visit. Here are some highlights of the experience of visiting a Trappist abbey or monastery:

  • Guided tours: Many Trappist abbeys and monasteries offer guided tours that allow visitors to explore the grounds, historic buildings, and sacred sites. During these tours, you can learn about the history of the abbey, monastic life and the brewing of Trappist beer. Guides are often people with deep knowledge of Trappist tradition and culture, providing a unique perspective.
  • Beer tastings: An essential part of visiting a Trappist abbey or monastery is the opportunity to taste the authentic beers produced on site. Beer tastings are organized so that visitors can try different varieties of Trappist beers and appreciate their distinctive flavors and aromas. In addition to enjoying beer, beer experts can provide information about the ingredients used, brewing methods, and the unique characteristics of each beer.
  • Special Events: Many Trappist abbeys and monasteries host special events throughout the year, giving visitors the opportunity to further immerse themselves in Trappist culture and tradition. These events can include beer festivals, religious celebrations, concerts, craft markets, and more. Participating in these events allows for a more complete and enriching experience, where you can interact with the monks and the local community.
  • Purchasing monastic products: In addition to Trappist beers, abbeys and monasteries also often offer a variety of monastic products that can be purchased as souvenirs or gifts. These products may include foods, sweets, books, religious items, and other products made by the monks. Purchasing these products is a way to support the monastic community and bring a piece of their lifestyle and craftsmanship home.

Visiting a Trappist abbey or monastery is a unique experience that combines history, spirituality and beer. Whether through informative tours, beer tastings, special events, or the purchase of monastic products, visitors have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the rich Trappist culture and tradition while enjoying some of the best beers in the world.

Trappist beers and their variety of styles

Description of the different styles of Trappist beer and their characteristics

Within the wide world of Trappist beers, there are several styles that reflect the diversity and mastery of brewing monks. Each style has its own distinctive characteristics, ranging from light, refreshing beers to dark, robust beers. Below, I present a description of the different most notable Trappist beer styles and their characteristics:

  • Belgian Blonde Ale: Belgian Blonde Ale is a Trappist beer style with a light golden color and light body. It usually has a fruity and spicy aroma, with notes of citrus, banana and spices such as cloves. In the mouth, it is characterized by its smooth and balanced flavor, with a dry and slightly bitter finish. It is a refreshing and easy-drinking beer, perfect to enjoy in warm climates.
  • Dubbel: The Dubbel style is known for its dark amber to brown color and malty, fruity flavor. It has a complex aroma that combines notes of ripe fruits, caramel, spices and yeast. In the mouth, you can appreciate its medium body and sweet toasted malt flavor, with hints of raisins, plums and spices. It often has a slightly dry finish and a moderate alcohol level.
  • Tripel: Tripel is a style of Trappist beer with an intense golden color and medium body. It is characterized by its fruity and spicy aroma, with notes of banana, apple, cloves and yeast. As for the flavor, it is complex and balanced, with flavors of sweet malt, spices and a touch of bitterness on the finish. It has a higher alcohol level than other Trappist styles, but its refreshing character makes it very popular.
  • Quadrupel: Quadrupel is a strong and complex Trappist style of beer, with a color ranging from dark amber to deep brown. It is known for its rich, malty flavors, with notes of dark fruits, caramel, chocolate and spices. It has a full body and smooth texture, with a higher alcohol level than other Trappist styles. Its complex flavor profile and robust character make it a beer to sip slowly.
  • Belgian Strong Dark Ale: Belgian Strong Dark Ale is a dark brown to black style of Trappist beer. It has a complex and tempting aroma, with notes of dark fruits, caramel, chocolate, spices and yeast. In the mouth, sweet and malty flavors are appreciated, with nuances of dried fruits, cocoa and spices. Despite its intensity, it maintains a balance between sweetness and bitterness, making it a popular choice for lovers of powerful beers.

Each style of Trappist beer has its own distinctive charm and character.

Cata de cervezas Maredsous con maridaje de queso
Maredsous beer tasting with cheese pairing

Recommendations of featured Trappist beers in each style

Within the wide variety of Trappist beers, there are a few standouts in each style that are worth trying. Below, I present some recommendations of outstanding Trappist beers in each style:

  • Belgian Blonde Ale:
    • La Trappe Blond: This Dutch Trappist beer is a classic example of the Belgian Blonde Ale style. It is refreshing, with a light body and a balanced flavor of malt and hops. It has a fruity aroma with notes of citrus and spices, and a dry and slightly bitter finish.
    • Achel Blond: This Belgian beer offers a balanced combination of fruity and spicy notes. Aromas of tropical fruits such as banana and peach can be appreciated, accompanied by subtle citrus notes. There are also nuances of spices, such as cloves and pepper.
  • Dubbel:
    • Westmalle Dubbel: Originally from Belgium, this Trappist beer is a benchmark in the Dubbel style. It has a dark brown color and a rich flavor of roasted malt, caramel and dark fruits. Its aroma combines notes of ripe fruits, spices and yeast. It is a complex and slightly sweet beer.
    • St. Bernardus Pater 6: This beer is characterized by its rich and complex aroma, with notes of toasted malts, caramel, dark fruits and subtle spices. When savored, bittersweet and malty flavors are revealed, with nuances of plum, raisins, caramel and a light touch of spices such as cinnamon. Its medium body and smooth texture make it an easy-drinking beer, with a slightly sweet and dry finish.
  • Tripel:
    • Chimay Tripel: Produced by Chimay Abbey in Belgium, this Trappist beer is an excellent representative of the Tripel style. It has an intense golden color and a complex flavor with notes of tropical fruits, spices and yeast. It is refreshing, with a medium body and a dry finish.
    • Westmalle Tripel: Made by the Westmalle Abbey in Belgium. It comes with an intense golden color and a creamy white foam. This beer stands out for its complex and fruity aroma, with notes of banana, apple, citrus and spices such as cloves. Its medium body and refreshing effervescence make it an easy-drinking beer, with a dry and slightly bitter finish.
  • Quadrupel and Belgian Strong Dark Ale:
    • Rochefort 10: This Belgian Trappist beer is recognized worldwide as one of the best in the Quadrupel style. It has a dark brown color and a deep, complex flavor, with notes of dark fruits, caramel, chocolate and spices. It is an intense and robust beer, ideal for a tasting experience.
    • La Trappe Quadrupel: Made by Koningshoeven Abbey in the Netherlands. With a deep, dark color and a creamy beige head, this beer is known for its intense and complex character. Upon tasting it, rich and sweet malt flavors unfold, with notes of caramel, chocolate, ripe fruits and a subtle alcohol flavor.

These are just a few recommendations for notable Trappist beers in each style, but there are many more options to explore and enjoy. Each beer has its own unique characteristics and flavors, making them a fascinating sensory experience for beer lovers. We recommend you try and decide for yourself.

Pairing and Trappist gastronomy

Tips for pairing Trappist beers with different dishes and cheeses

Pairing Trappist beers with different dishes and cheeses can further enhance the dining experience. Below are some tips for pairing these beers with various foods:

  • Meat dishes: Trappist beers, with their body and complexity, are excellent companions for meat dishes. A Trappist Quadrupel, for example, can pair very well with roasted red meats, stews or gourmet burgers. Its richness of flavors and balanced sweetness complement the intensity of the meat.
  • Cheeses: Trappist beers also go well with a variety of cheeses. A classic option is to pair a Dubbel-style Trappist beer with semi-cured cheeses, such as Gouda or Edam. The combination of the beer's caramel and dark fruit flavors with the creaminess and mild tang of the cheese creates a delicious balance.
  • Poultry dishes: If you prefer poultry dishes, a lighter Trappist beer, such as a Blond or Tripel, can be an excellent choice. These beers enhance the flavors of roast chicken, turkey or duck, providing fruity and spicy notes that complement the meat without overwhelming it.
  • Fish and seafood dishes: Although Trappist beers are usually associated more with meat dishes, they can also be paired with fish and seafood dishes. A Blond-style Trappist beer can be a good choice for white fish or delicate shellfish, as its freshness and herbal notes enhance the subtle flavors of these foods.
  • Desserts: Trappist beers can even accompany some desserts. A Quadrupel, with its sweet profile and dark fruit notes, can pair well with chocolate-based desserts, such as brownies or chocolate cakes. You can also complement blue cheeses or desserts with caramelized fruits.

Remember that pairing is a personal matter and that experimentation is key. Try different combinations and discover your own preferences, always enjoying the rich Trappist gastronomic tradition.

The influence of monastic culture on local gastronomy

Camión de Maredsous con barril
Maredsous truck with barrel

The influence of monastic culture on local cuisine is a fascinating aspect of the regions where Trappist abbeys and monasteries are located. These places are not only known for their production of exceptional beers, but also for their culinary tradition rooted in monastic life.

Life in Trappist monasteries has historically been linked to self-sufficiency and the pursuit of simplicity. The monks grew their own food and followed traditional cooking practices passed down from generation to generation. This has resulted in a rich local gastronomic tradition, which features simple but tasty dishes.

In the regions near monasteries, it is common to find restaurants and inns that offer dishes inspired by monastic cuisine. These dishes are usually based on fresh, quality ingredients, with an emphasis on simplicity and balance of flavors. You can find everything from meat and fish dishes prepared with traditional techniques, to recipes for homemade bread and cakes, made with the methods and secrets transmitted by the monks.

In addition, many local products, such as cheeses, honey, fruits and herbs, are used in the area's cuisine, providing unique and authentic flavors. Some typical dishes may include lamb stews with aromatic herbs, seasonal vegetable soups, artisanal cheeses made in the monasteries themselves, and homemade desserts that reflect the monastic baking tradition.

The influence of monastic culture on local gastronomy goes beyond the dishes themselves. It can also be seen in the cozy and quiet atmosphere of the restaurants and inns near the monasteries, where coexistence and the enjoyment of good food in a serene environment are promoted.

If you have the opportunity to visit a region with Trappist abbeys and monasteries, I encourage you to explore its gastronomy and immerse yourself in this rich culinary tradition. In addition to delighting in Trappist beers, you can discover authentic flavors and live a unique gastronomic experience, infused with the influence of monastic culture.

Purchase and tasting of Trappist beers

Tips for purchasing authentic Trappist beers

If you are interested in purchasing authentic Trappist beers, here are some tips to help you make a successful purchase:

  1. Look for authorized distributors: Make sure you buy Trappist beers from recognized and trusted establishments or online stores. These places usually have direct agreements with Trappist abbeys and monasteries, guaranteeing the authenticity of the products.
  2. Verify authenticity: Authentic Trappist beers will carry the “Authentic Trappist Product” logo on their label. This logo is awarded by the International Trappist Association and certifies that the beer has been brewed within a Trappist abbey or monastery, under the supervision of monks.
  3. Get to know the styles: Get familiar with the different styles of Trappist beers and their characteristics. This will help you choose the ones that best suit your preferences. Remember that each style has its own flavor, aroma and body characteristics.
  4. Consider the expiration date: Trappist beers usually have a long shelf life, but it is advisable to check the expiration date to ensure you are purchasing a fresh product in its best condition.
  5. Read reviews and recommendations: Before making your purchase, look for online reviews and recommendations of Trappist beers that interest you. This will give you an idea of the quality and taste of each beer, helping you make an informed decision.

How to properly enjoy and appreciate a Trappist beer

Once you have acquired your authentic Trappist beers, it is time to enjoy the tasting. Here are some tips to make the most of this experience:

  1. Proper temperature: Serve Trappist beers at the recommended temperature for each style. In general, Trappist beers are best enjoyed at temperatures between 8°C and 12°C, but some styles may require slightly different temperatures. Consult the manufacturer's recommendations to obtain the ideal temperature. As a general rule, it is recommended to drink beer at the same temperature °C as the percentage of alcohol in the beer.
  2. Appropriate glass: Use appropriate glasses for beer tasting, preferably tulip glasses or Belgian style glasses. These glasses help release aromas and concentrate flavors, providing a more complete sensory experience.
  3. Appreciate the aromas: Before tasting the beer, take a moment to appreciate the aromas that emanate from it. Gently swirl the glass and bring your nose closer to capture the nuances of malt, hops, yeast and other ingredients.
  4. Savor slowly: Take your time to savor each sip of Trappist beer. Allow yourself to appreciate the different layers of flavor, from the initial flavors to the most complex nuances and the final aftertaste. Take small sips and pause to reflect on the flavors and aromas you perceive.
  5. Experiment with pairings: Take advantage of the versatility of Trappist beers to combine with all types of products.

We hope you liked this introductory article to trapist beers. It is not what we are used to but we carried out exhaustive research for our visit to the Trappist monasteries and we wanted to share it with you.

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