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  • Writer's pictureThe Belgian

What is a Trappist Ale anyway?

Trappist ale is a revered category of beer that originates from the centuries-old brewing traditions of Trappist monasteries. These monasteries, primarily located in Belgium, but also found in the Netherlands, Austria, Italy, the United States, and beyond, have been brewing beer since the Middle Ages. The history of Trappist ale is deeply intertwined with the Cistercian monks who follow the Rule of Saint Benedict, which includes principles of self-sufficiency and hospitality. Brewing beer not only provided a sanitary drinking option for the monks and their guests but also served as a source of income to support the monastery's operations and charitable endeavours. The first Trappist brewery to start selling beer to the public was La Trappe Abbey in France during the 17th century, but it was the Belgian monasteries in the 19th and 20th centuries that really established the high reputation of Trappist beers on the global stage.

The designation "Trappist" has been protected since the 20th century to ensure that the beers bearing this label meet strict criteria related to production and quality. A brewery must be located within the walls of a Trappist monastery, and monks must play a role in its management and operations. Furthermore, the brewery must prioritize the monastic community, contributing to its self-sufficiency while providing for the needs of the monastic community, social works, and charity. The emphasis is on brewing as a way of life rather than a commercial enterprise, distinguishing Trappist products from other beers.

Trappist ales are renowned for their quality and complexity, often characterised by rich, deep flavours and a high alcohol content. These ales are typically top-fermented, a process that contributes to their distinctive taste profiles. There are several types of Trappist ales, including Dubbel, Tripel, and Quadrupel, each denoting different strengths and flavor characteristics. Dubbels are dark, malty, and fruity; Tripels are strong, pale, and spicy; while Quadrupels are the strongest and richest, often aged for extended periods to enhance their complexity.

To be classified as a Trappist brewery, adherence to the International Trappist Association (ITA) standards is essential. The ITA was established to protect the authenticity and integrity of Trappist products, including beer, cheese, and other monastic goods. Breweries seeking the Trappist designation must undergo a rigorous accreditation process to ensure they meet the ITA's strict criteria regarding production, quality, and the monastic way of life. This includes ensuring that the brewing process is conducted under the supervision of the monks or their appointees and that the majority of the brewery's revenue is dedicated to the monastery's charitable activities.

The allure of Trappist ale lies not only in its rich history and distinctive flavors but also in the monastic values of community, hospitality, and charity that it represents. Beer enthusiasts and connoisseurs around the world seek out Trappist ales for their unique qualities, knowing that each purchase supports the monastic way of life and the good works of the Trappist communities. As such, Trappist breweries continue to stand as a testament to the enduring relationship between monastic tradition and the art of brewing, offering a product that transcends mere consumption to embody a deeper spiritual and cultural significance.

At the Belgian Beer Cafe Melbourne, we feature a number of Trappist ales. La Trappe Dubbel and Blond are permanent fixtures on tap and Chimay Gold is currently on special all summer.

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