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Chimay is one of Belgium's famous Trappist beers

A Trappist beer is a beer brewed by or under control of Trappist monks. Of the world's 171 Trappist monasteries (as of April 2005), seven produce beer (six in Belgiummarker and one in the Netherlandsmarker). Only these seven breweries are authorized to label their beers with the Authentic Trappist Product logo that indicates a compliance to various rules edicted by the International Trappist Association (see details below).


The Trappist order originated in the Cistercian monastery of La Trappemarker, Francemarker. Various Cistercian congregations existed for many years, and by 1664 the Abbot of La Trappe felt that the Cistercians were becoming too liberal. He introduced strict new rules in the abbey and the Strict Observance was born. Since this time, many of the rules have been relaxed. However, a fundamental tenet, that monasteries should be self-supporting, is still maintained by these groups.

Monastery brewhouses, from different religious orders, existed all over Europe, since the middle-ages. From the very beginning, beer was brewed in French cistercian monasteries following the Strict Observance. For example, the monastery of La Trappe in Soligny, already had its own brewery in 1685. Breweries were only later introduced in monasteries of other countries, following the extension of the trappist order from France to the rest of Europe. The Trappists, like many other religious people, originally brewed beer as to feed the community, in a perspective of self-sufficiency. Nowadays, trappist breweries also brew beer to fund their works, and for good causes. Many of the trappist monasteries and breweries were destroyed during the French Revolution and the World Wars. Among the monastic breweries, the Trappists were certainly the most active brewers: in the last 300 years, there were at least nine Trappist breweries in France, six in Belgium, two in the Netherlands, one in Germany, one in Austria, one in Bosnia and possibly other countries.

Today, seven trappist breweries remain active, in Belgium and the Netherlands.

In the twentieth century, the growing popularity of Trappist beers drew some unscrupulous brewers with no connection to the order to label their beers as "Trappist". After unsuccessful trials, monks finally sued one such brewer in 1962 in Ghentmarker, Belgium.

International Trappist Association

In 1997, eight Trappist abbeys - six from Belgium (Orvalmarker, Chimaymarker, Westvleterenmarker, Rochefortmarker, Westmallemarker and Achelmarker), one from The Netherlands (Koningshoeven) and one from Germany (Mariawaldmarker) - founded the International Trappist Association (ITA) to prevent non-Trappist commercial companies from abusing the Trappist name. This private association created a logo that is assigned to goods (cheese, beer, wine, etc.) that respect precise production criteria. For the beers, these criteria are the following:
  • The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist abbey, by or under control of Trappist monks.
  • The brewery, the choices of brewing, and the commercial orientations must obviously depend on the monastic community.
  • The economic purpose of the brewery must be directed toward assistance and not toward financial profit.

This association has a legal standing, and its logo gives to the consumer some information and guarantees about the produce.

There are currently seven breweries that are allowed to have their products display the Authentic Trappist Product logo:
Brewery Location Year Opened Annual Production (2004)
Bières de Chimaymarker 1863 123,000 hL
Brasserie d'Orvalmarker 1931 45,000 hL
Brasserie de Rochefortmarker 1899 18,000 hL
Brouwerij Westmallemarker 1836 120,000 hL
Brouwerij Westvleterenmarker 1838 4,750 hL
Brouwerij De Achelse Kluismarker 1998 4,500 hL
Brouwerij De Koningshoeven 1884 145,000 hL

The Dutch brewery De Koningshoeven produces the only Dutch Trappist beers — branded La Trappe — that are able to carry the "Authentic Trappist Product" logo. Their use of the logo was withdrawn in 1999, but was restored in October 2005 (see Brouwerij de Koningshoeven for details).

Types of beer

With the recent exception of Koningshoeven's Bockbier, Trappist beers are all ales, that is, top fermented, distributed in bottles, and mainly bottle conditioned. Trappist breweries use various systems of nomenclature of the different beers produced, which relate mainly to the relative strength of the beer in the range (e.g., "single", "double", "triple". (Enkel, Dubbel, Tripel in Dutch). Considering the importance of the Holy Trinity in the church, it is unlikely that the choice of three types of beers was accidental. Colours or numbers can be used to indicate the different types, dating back to the days when bottles were unlabelled and had to be identified by the capsule or bottle-top alone. The number system gives an indication of strength, but is not an exact alcohol by volume.


Most Trappist breweries also feature a lower-alcohol "patersbier" or "fathers' beer" that is only available locally. This variety is designed to be consumed by the monks themselves, although it is sometimes offered at the monastery's on-site café. Examples include Chimaymarker Dorée and Petite Orvalmarker.


Enkel, meaning "single", is a term formerly used by the Trappist breweries to describe the basic recipe of their beers. There are now no Trappist (or secular) breweries using the term.Instead, "Blond(e)" or the number "6" is used by La Trappe, Achel, Rochefort and Westvleteren to describe their lightest beer.


The dubbel (also double) is a Trappist breweries naming convention. The origin of the dubbel was a beer brewed in the Trappist Abbey of Westmallemarker in 1856. The abbey had, since 10 December 1836, brewed a witbier that was quite sweet and light in alcohol for consumption by the paters. The new beer, however, was a strong version of a brown beer. In 1926, the formulation was changed and it became even stronger. The first written record of its sale by the abbey was on 1 June 1861. Following World War Two, abbey beers became popular in Belgium and the name "dubbel" was used by several breweries for commercial purposes. Westmalle Dubbel, Chimay Premiere,Koningshoeven/La Trappe Dubbel and Achel 8 degree Bruin are examples.


Tripel (also trippel or triple ale), is a naming convention used by Belgian Trappist breweries to describe the strongest blonde beer in their range. Westmalle Tripel is considered to be the foundation of this beer style, and was developed in the 1930s. Westmalle Tripel, Koningshoeven/La Trappe Tripel, and Chimay Cinq Cents are all examples of Trappist tripels, but this style has proven even more popular among secular breweries like Bosteels and St. Bernardus.Tripels as a style are generally pale colored beers with an alcohol content ranging from 8-10% ABV. A spicy phenolic flavor accentuated by earthy and spicy Belgian hop flavor is typical. Fruity-tasting esters are moderate to moderately high.

Dark Strong Ale or Quadrupel

Most of the Trappist breweries produce at least one beer categorized as a "Belgian Dark Strong Ale" or Quadrupel . These are rich, dark (but never roasty) ales with a high percentage of alcohol, usually 8-12% ABV. Chimay Grand Reserve, Rochefort 8 and 10, Westvleteren 12, Achel Extra, and Koningshoeven/La Trappe Quadrupel are examples. These beers range greatly in profile, but often feature rich dried fruit-like malt and yeast flavors, cocoa-like malt character, yeast spiciness and fruitiness, and little hop flavor. Rather than bitterness, alcohol flavor and warmth balance the sweet flavors in these beers.

Other Beer Styles

The beers made at Trappist breweries often do not fit any particular style. For example, Koningshoeven/La Trappe's Tripel has a toastiness that is not present in any other example of the style . Orval produces a unique beer that is refermented with a house strain of Brettanomyces, a tenacious yeast that is considered a wild yeast by winemakers and many brewers.


  2. Geert van Lierde et al., In het Spoor van de Trappisten ISBN 90-261-0704-8
  3. Geert van Lierde et al., In het Spoor van de Trappisten ISBN 90-261-0704-8 pp 25-26
  4. Geert van Lierde et al., In het Spoor van de Trappisten ISBN 90-261-0704-8, page 25
  5. Jef van den Steen, Trappist - Het Bier en de Monniken ISBN 90-5826-214-6, pages 33 & 41

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