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The Trappist beer

Along with German branch, in the XVII century the Benedictines initiated the foundation of the Trappists, another well known tradition of the monkhood, and, accordingly, brewing. Despite the small output, the Trappist beer occupies a notable position among creative Belgian brands and attracts proper attention of millions of people, mostly wealthy beer lovers and tourists.
14The Trappists emergence was preceded by authority fall of the monasteries, that violated the monastic rules of St. Benedict. At the end of the XI century, a group of monks from a monastery in France left their cloister and went to town Cito, Latine name Cisterium (Burgundy). There the first order of the Cistercians, who based the monastic service on physical labour, was founded. The Cistercian monasteries started appearing in other places and gained a great power in Europe.

However, the Cistercian Order also gradually deviated from the rules of St Benedict, according to the view of many brothers. As a result, one group of monks organized reformed “The Cistercian Order of strict observance” in 1666. Valley La Trappe, where the monastery was located, gave the order its unofficial short name which is today used by everyone.

The reforms reaffirmed the strict observance of the rules set by St. Benedict, obligatory physical labor for the monks, sever silence rules and other ascetic practices including sharp reduction of abundance and variety of monastery meals. Beer remained among allowed drinks in monks’ ration. Quite rapidly the Trappist monasteries spread all over Europe and exceeded the non-reformed order of the Cistercians.

The present day, the Trappist beer is not associated with France as the Trappists were exiled for 20 years, during the Great French Revolution, and on returning they lost brewing as an income source. But the Trappist positions remained strong in Belgium, which being under Spanish protectorate, even before getting independence from France and the Netherlands, strived for severalty, and to the best of its ability served as a stronghold for Catholicism and opposed Protestant expansion.
16Thanks to beer lovers, there is a lot of information on Trappist beer and monasteries, we just have to look in Wikipedia, which describes Trappist breweries, so, there is no point in repeating it here. What we want to attract your attention to is the trend for the geographical expansion of Trappist brewery outside Belgium, which has emerged recently.

Thus, after the second world war, only one Belgian brewery at a monastery in town Ashel on the north of the country resumed operation. But in 2012, a brewery at Stift Engelszell in Austria was opened, in 2013 there appeared a brewery at St. Joseph’s abbey in the USA (same as brewery Spenser or Abbey Beverage Company), and in 2014 Brouwerij Abdij Maria Toevlucht (same as Zundert) in the Netherlands appeared.

In general there are 170 Trappist monasteries in the world, but only 12 are situated in Belgium, half of which are brewing beer already. Nearly 25 cloisters are situated in Northern America and more than 90 are in Western Europe. We can presume that every year there will be more breweries launched in these and other regions.

Obviously, we should keep in mind, that the decision to start a new brewery is not easy. The process of teaching brothers and the technology transfer for such a complex beer as Trappist is rather time consuming. Besides, monks are not entrepreneurs and they master brewing only when it is about the community independence or about its survival, and not only about the commercial effectiveness.

For example, the decision on launching brewery Zundert (“Lapwing”) was taken because their farm was not profitable enough any more. The monks hope that the new enterprise will stabilize their abbey position.
17Besides, the Trappists intentionally refused from possible expansion and gaining fast revenues from contract production. This is connected to the strict rules which are set by International Trappists Organization (further ITA). Thus, beer can be considered Trappists if 1) it is brewed in a monastery, 2) under the monks’ control, 3) most of income from its sales is spend on charity. These rules reinforce the reputation of the Trappist beer and its lovers can be sure in its quality.

Preconditions for the defence of name “the Trappist beer” appeared first in 1985, when the economic court in Brussels gave ITA the right to determine the authenticity of the production. But strict rules were set after the 50-year contract between Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren monastery and one of the breweries in Western Flanders was completed in 1992. This brewery continues outputting the same beer, but it has changed both the name of the enterprise and the production for St. Bernardus.

By the way, in Belgium in contrast to Germany, the range beer brands that can have attribute “Abbey beer” is determined by the Union of Belgian Brewers.

Next: Benedictine Brewers in Europe and the USA ->

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