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An Introduction to Trappist Beer (Part 1)


By Alexis

Trappist ales are to beer what champagne is to wine. They are very finely crafted products and they get their name by adhering to a certain number of criteria. In this article, I will explain what those criteria are while trying to clarify many myths surrounding these special beers.

Abbey vs Trappist
The first confusion surrounding Trappist beers is that they are often mistaken with Abbey-style beers, or should I say, Abbey-style beers are often mistakenly called trappist beers. While Trappist beers are indeed Abbey beers, the opposite might not be true. To fully understand this would include about history and religion lesson, but this would exceed the scope of this article. So to keep it simple, you simply need to understand that Trappist beers are made by Trappist monks while Abbey-style beers are made by anybody else. So a Trappist beer is indeed brewed in an abbey while Abbey-style beers are not necessarily brewed by Trappist monks.

Rare is good
A very good trick to find out if a beer is a true Trappist is to memorize the trappist breweries. Since there are only 7 left, it really isn't that hard to keep in mind. So here they are:
  • La Trappe (Konigshoeven)
  • Orval
  • Rochefort
  • Chimay
  • Achel
  • Westmalle
  • Westvleteren
Only these breweries are still considered to be true Trappists and even then, some of them are on the edge of being excluded (more on this in an upcoming article).

Being so rare makes these beers very special. A lot of other beers used to be made by monks. However, these monks might not be Trappist monks and/or their production might not be done by the monks, but rather by a partner.

These are considered abbey-style beers: Maredsous, Leffe, Affligem, Corsendonk, Grimbergen, etc. are all beers that originate from an abbey but are not necessarily still being produced there. Therefore some of those beers are being mass produced now and with this high volume production, quality tends to fall. The Trappist beers that are still being finely crafted in limited quantities are synonymous with quality.

The Trappist logo
trappist logo Most Trappist beers have the Trappist logo on their label. I say most because some of them don't have labels at all. This Trappist logo is a sign of quality and proves that the beer is a true Trappist. The Trappist logo is being maintained by the Trappist order and it prevents false Trappists from circulating on the market. Be very aware of this as there have been a number of reports on false Trappists circulating in North America.

In the next article I will be talking more in depth about Orval.

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