Nothing screams “monk-tastic” like a nice, rich Belgian Ale. When you’re in your local distributor or bottle shop, you may notice that a few bottles say Trappist while others say Abbey. There is a distinction and history surrounding it, and I plan on attempting to break down the difference which may help you impress fellow beer geeks.
The Trappist beers, perhaps commonly associated with The Chimay Brewery (Bières de Chimay) or Rochefort Brewery (Brasserie de Rochefort), refer to the actual monks that create the beer. The Trappist monks follow Roman Catholicism that follow the Rule of St. Benedict. Under the Rule, they are able to sell goods to provide income to the monastery. Among the 171 orders of Trappist monks, only seven currently produce beer.
Abbey breweries (Leffe, a famous example) used to be brewed in Abbeys. However, that started to shift due to the French Revolution. These Abbeys have since stopped producing beer as in the past and have moved over to commercial breweries. Don’t let that be an immediate deterrent, as the monks still have strict control over the brewing process. With that said, many of the larger macrobreweries (InBev) have leveraged the monasteries. Leffe as many know is owned by InBev, the parent company of Annheuser-Busch.
The Trappists were concerned that many of the commercialized breweries would take advantage of their reputation, so they created the International Trappists Association. Again, it consists of the only seven monasteries that still brew. While not everyone may care about the history or origin of the beer they drink, it’s an aspect of the beer culture that should be explored.
What are your thoughts — do you drink Abbey beers, despite being owned by a commerical brewery?