All Trappist beers are abbey beers, but not all abbey beers are Trappists. Globally, there are eleven Trappist breweries. A Trappist beer is recognisable by the ‘Authentic Trappist Product’ label and can only use the name Trappist if the beer is brewed in a Trappist monastery under the supervision of monks of the Cistercian order. All proceeds go to the living costs of the monks and upkeep of the monastery as well as good causes.
In contrast to trappist beer, abbey beers are not brewed within the walls of the abbey. Abbey beers also have a hallmark: “Recognised Belgian Abbey Beer”. This hallmark has several criteria. The brewery must be a member of the Union of Belgian Brewers and pay royalties to the abbey with which they are affiliated. Unlike with trappist beers, the brewery of a Recognised Belgian Abbey Beer control the rights to advertising and commerce. There are 24 recognised abbey beers in total, including Affligem, Grimbergen and Leffe.
If a beer isn’t recognised as a Trappist or abbey beer, it’s known as an unofficial abbey beer. In this case, the beer carries the name of an abbey but has no official connection to the abbey itself. These beers can include those that don’t carry the name of a specific abbey but are brewed according to their recipe. One example is St. Bernardus. Originally, Saint Bernardus brewed for the abbey of Westvleteren. The beer was known as Sixtus then and was brewed with the original St. Sixtus yeast. In 1992 the licence expired and the beer was renamed Sint Bernardus. The brewery still brews the same beer using the same recipe but under a different name.
There are eleven Trappist breweries worldwide. Our Belgian neighbours have at least six of these. In the Belgian Ardennes you’ll find Trappist monasteries and the breweries of Rochefort and Chimay. In the province of Luxembourg there’s the Notre-Dame d’Orval abbey, where Orval is brewed. The home of Westmalle is located around 20 kilometres from Antwerp and for a Westvleteren Trappist you can visit a village of the same name in West Flanders. Just over the Dutch border with Belgium you can enjoy an Achel Blonde or Brown at Achelse Kluis.
La Trappe was the first Dutch Trappist beer. The Trappists who came to Berkel-Enschot in 1881 began brewing Trappist beer in 1884. The second Dutch Trappist brewery is Zundert, based in the village of the same name. The monks brew just one kind of beer under the name Zundert.
Beyond the low countries, there are another three Trappist breweries. In Engelhartszell an der Donau in Austria, the Stift Engelszell brewery has been brewing Trappist beer since 2012.
The only Trappist outside Europe is that of Spencer (Massachusetts, America), where the monks of Saint Joseph’s Abbey have been brewing since 2013.
The newest member of the ‘International Trappist Association’ comes from Rome. It was officially recognised in 2015.
Perhaps the best known of all Trappist beers is the Westvleteren. The monks can’t always satisfy demand as they’ve chosen to keep the brewery small-scale. This beer isn’t sold in shops or to catering establishments and is only officially available at the abbey itself or in the café across the road. Beer must be reserved by telephone and the number of crates per car is restricted to one or two. Despite this, these beers are slowly finding their way into small beer shops and bars.
Westvleteren has four Trappist beers, one of which (Westvleteren 12) has been awarded the best beer in the world several times by Ratebeer.
The most common abbey and Trappist beers are blonde and dark beers with a sweet start. These robust beers are best enjoyed from a goblet at a temperature of 8-10 degrees Celsius. A quadruple is best served a little warmer, from 12-14 degrees Celsius.