Beer is big business. Americans spent a whopping $37 billion on beer in the last year! If you’re a beer drinker, you’ve likely tasted, or at least heard of, Trappist beer. But did you know that it’s made by monks? And that it has a fascinating history?
Read on to learn more about why the monk-made tipple is the world’s favorite beer!
About the Trappists
There are approximately 170 Trappist monasteries and convents in the world, which are home to 2,100 Trappist monks and 1,800 Trappestine nuns.
Trappists are a Catholic religious order of cloistered, contemplative monks. Contrary to popular belief, they do not take a vow of silence, but the order does discourage “idle talk.” Consequently, they only speak when necessary, and have developed a system of communication that involves sign language.
To provide income for their monasteries, Trappists produce a number of goods, including bread, candy, cookies, cheese, and even coffins. They are perhaps best known for their beer, however.
Trappist Beer Basics
Most Trappist beer is made in Belgium or the Netherlands, although Austria, Italy, and the United States each boast one Trappist monastery that brews the famous ale.
Like champagne, parmigiano-reggiano cheese, and Parma ham, Trappist beer is produced under strict regulations and must conform to certain criteria. There are only 11 breweries that are allowed to display the Authentic Trappist Product logo, which is conferred by the International Trappist Association.
To be rightfully labeled as Trappist, beer must be made within the walls of the monastery, its brewing should not take precedence over spiritual pursuits, and it must not be made for profit.
Beyond what’s necessary to keep the monastery up and running, any profits from the beer sales are donated to charity. In other words, drinking Trappist brews is practically a philanthropic act!
Styles of Trappist Ales and Beers
Trappists tend to brew beer that is top-fermented and bottle-conditioned. They’re among the only beers that actually age well, developing more robust character after being bottled and stored properly. You probably can’t say that about the IPA you have left over from last Friday’s poker game!
The two most well-known styles brewed by Trappists are dubbels and tripels.
- Dubbels tend to be strong brown ales, with 6%-8% ABV. They are full-bodied, subtly bitter, and have a pronounced fruity character.
- Tripels are usually the strongest ales brewed by monks, with an alcohol content of 8.5-10% ABV. Their taste is complex, yeasty, sometimes mildly spicy, and has a malty sweetness that makes them approachable even for non-beer aficionados.
Tasting These Singular Beers
If you’re just beginning to explore the world of Trappist beers, it’s a good idea to find a bar that offers a variety of different brews and talk to the bartender. They can point you in the right direction, or even recommend a flight of Trappist brews to give you an introduction.
A well-stocked beer store, particularly one that lets you make your own six-pack, is also a good resource. Of course, reading blogs like this one will also help expand your knowledge.
Have You Tried a Trappist?
What are your thoughts on these types of beer? Are you a dubbel fan or do you prefer tripels? What are some of your favorites?
Let us know in the comments!