Trappist Beers

There are to this day six monasteries in Belgium and a seventh one in the Netherlands that brew beer in the Trappist tradition begun in 1664 at the abbey of La Trappe in northern France. The Trappist order, also known as The Strict Observance of Cistercian Rule was originally Benedictine monks.

These seven bastions of a centuries old brewing tradition all were established in their present for by the Trappists who left France after the Napoleonic period are the only ones that can be called Trappist and carry a seal of authenticity, which states this as fact.

The largest and best known is Notre Dame de Scour Mont (Chimay) near the small town of Chimay, which was also the first to brew commercially. The monastery was built in 1850 and the monks began brewing beer in 1861-62. Chimay makes three different styles named for the color of their caps. The Red, which is seven percent abv (Alcohol by volume) is a light copper color and very smooth. The White comes in at eight percent abv is a balanced golden ale in the triple style. The Blue is a strong sweet dark ale with port like characteristics and nine percent abv.

Chimay has recently begun a draft program in conjunction with Manneken Brussel Imports. The brewery reconfigured the recipe for the White specially for kegs and so far it has been a big hit in the Bay Area.

In April of next year I will be hosting the CAPC monthly dinner meeting at The Cathedral Hill Hotel and will feature a menu paired with the beers of Chimay along with an educational presentation. Isn’t education grand?

The next monastery, the Abbey of Orval, which means “Valley of Gold” was founded in 1070 and rebuilt in the 12th Century. The current brewery was completed in 1929. The monks at Orval make cheese as well as a number of other products besides beer. They make only one kind of beer fermented three times with three different malts and two kinds of hops. This “chardonnay” of the beer world is fruity and slightly acidic with a nice hop bitterness and long dry finish.
The Abby of St. Remy dates from the 1600s and was restored in 1887. This monastery produces Rochefort in 3 varieties denoted by 6.0,8.0 and 10.0(according to an old Belgian measure of density). The only one I have tried is the 10, which was heavenly, dark and strong (over eleven percent abv). Chocolate and port flavors are present and I would highly recommend it.

The smallest of the Trappist breweries is Westvleteren, the abbey of St. Sixtus which dates back to about 1830 also uses the Belgian degree system to identify it’s beers. These are 4.0, 6.0, 8.0 and12.0 being the strongest and alleged to be the strongest beer in Belgium. A recorded phone message lets callers know which beer will be available and each car is rationed to ten cases. ”We make as much beer as we need to support the abbey and no more,” say the monks.
The abbey of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart at West Malle was established in 1794 and has brewed since 1836. Westmalle is famous for one beer although it makes three, a Single brewed for the monks own consumption, a Double and it’s most famous beer Tripel. Brewing has just recently been revived at Achel in fact a small pub was opened there in 1998.

A good number of these beers are readily available in the San Francisco Bay Area at finer liquor stores and beer establishments. I have noticed an “opening of the borders” in the last five years or so as far as beer from Europe making it’s way here in bottle and draft formats. Hopefully this trend will continue


Chef Bruce