What are Trappist Beers?

by Kevin on May 20, 2011

With the growing popularity of the craft beer market in the United States, I would like to continue our educational series by talking about what it takes to be considered a Trappist beer.

There are currently only seven Trappist Monasteries in the world that produce beer that are eligible to be labeled as an official Trappist product. Trappist is not a style of beer; it is more of a certification that tells the consumer this product was brewed and sold under the guidelines of The International Trappist Association (ITA). These seven Trappist Monasteries founded the ITA in 1997 to prevent other commercial breweries from using the Trappist on their products.

 In order to be classified as a Trappist beer and to use the official “Authentic Trappist Product” label, The ITA requires the monastery to follow the requirements below:

  •  Products which carry this label are produced within the walls of the monastery or in the vicinity of the monastery.
  • The monastic community determines the policies and provides the means of production. The whole process of production must clearly evidence the indisputable bond of subsidiarity, with the monastery benefiting from the production, and must be in accordance with the business practices proper to a monastic way of life.
  • The profits are primarily intended to provide for the needs of the community or for social services.

The Seven Trappist Monasteries are:

Bières de Chimay / Chimay – Belgium 1863
Brasserie d’Orval S.A. / Orval – Belgium 1931
Brasserie de Rochefort / Rochefort – Belgium1899
Bierbrouwerij De Koningshoeven / La Trappe – Netherlands 1884
Brouwerij der St. Benedictusabdij de Achelse / Achel – Belgium 1998
Brouwerij Westmalle / Westmalle – Belgium 1836
Brouwerij Westvleteren / Westvleteren – Belgium 1836

Most Trappist beers are bottled condition Belgian style ales that follow the beer style guidelines of Enkel, Dubbel, and Tripel or also known as Single, Double, and Triple. In order to distinguish the different styles, the Trappist breweries used different packaging methods such as Chimay’s label coloring system, Rochefort’s numbers printed on the label, and Westvletteren’s colored bottle caps.

Chimay -
One of the most well known Trappist Brewery and was the first to use the words Trappist Ales on their color coded labels. They are very successful with over 50 million dollars a year in sales for their product lineup. These beers age well and they are a great stating point if you want to start drinking official Trappist beers.

They brew four different beers:
Chimay Dorée – Enkel 4.80%
Chimay Première / Chimay Red – Dubbel 7.00%ABV
Chimay Tripel / Chimay White – Tripel 7.00%ABV
Chimay Grande Réserve /Chimay Blue – Belgian Strong Dark Ale 9.00% ABV

Orval -
For a brewery that only sells one beer, they sure do know what they are doing. Orval has a great spicy aroma and you can really taste a lot of the flavors of the beer with the added Brettanomyces yeast. Their production facility at the monastery was built in 1931 and currently has the capacity of turning out over 24,000 bottles an hour. Orval is dry hopped and bottled conditioned.

They brew two different beers:
Orval Trappist Ale – Belgian Pale Ale 6.90% ABV
Petite Orval (not available for sale) – Enkel / Single 3.5% ABV

Westmalle -
Belgium This Trappist brewery is considered to be the first brewery to coin the phrase Tripel for their stronger Belgian Pale Ale style. Since they created the first dark brown ale known as a Dubbel, it made sense to call their stronger pale ale a Tripel. Their remodeled brewery in 1991 allowed them to reach capacity of over 45,000 bottles an hour. The majority of their help our outside staff compared to monk only operated Trappist breweries.

They brew three different beers:
Westmalle Trappist Extra – Belgian Pale Ale 4.80% ABV
Westmalle Trappist Dubbel – Dubbel 7.00% ABV
Westmalle Trappist Tripel – Tripel 9.50 % ABV

Rochefort -
Belgium 1899 Not much is known about this monastery since the facility is only opened to a select few who have been allowed to visit. Only 15 monks live and operate this Trappist Brewhouse. It is said all three of the beers use the same recipe, but are conditioned different to increase the alcohol percentage which gives them unique characteristics.

They brew three different beers:
Rochefort 6 – Belgian Strong Dark Ale 7.50%ABV
Rochefort 8 – Belgian Strong Dark Ale 9.20% ABV
Rochefort 10 – Quadrupel 11.30% ABV

La Trappe
In 1999, Koningshoeven Abbey had their rights to the “Authentic Trappist Product” logo revoked on all of its La Trappe beers after a cooperation agreement to have the Dutch Brewery, Bavaria which became involved with the Koningshoeven Monastery. The association needed to guarantee that the Koningshoeven Abbey will still produce their beer under the ITA’s guidelines. After six years of debate, research, and agreement changes, the ITA granted their rights back.

They brew several different beers:
La Trappe Puur – Belgian Pale Ale 4.70% ABV
La Trappe Blonde – Belgian Pale Ale 6.50% ABV
La Trappe Bockbier – Bock 7.00% ABV
La Trappe Dubbel – Dubbel 7.00% ABV
La Trappe Isid’or – Belgian Pale Ale 7.50% ABV
La Trappe Tripel – Tripel 8.00% ABV
La Trappe Quadrupel – Quadrupel 10.00% ABV

Westvleteren -
One of the smallest of the bunch, but the most sought out beers come from this Trappist Monastery. The Westvleteren Monastery has around 30 monks working several hours a day brewing beer in order to continue their life’s work for God, not to be overall successful. In order to get their beers you have to pick them up at the monastery of St-Sixtus, they do not have their own brew pub or restaurant on site. You have to call and make a reservation before you can pick up your beer. You are only allowed to call them once a month for an order and must provide the license plate number of the vehicle you will be arriving in to guarantee you are the person who placed the order. They require you not to resell the beer to a 3rd party, but you can find several bottles on eBay.

They brew three different beers:
Trappist Westvleteren Blond (green cap)
Trappist Westvleteren 8 (blue cap)
Trappist Westvleteren 12 (yellow cap)

Achel -
The newest member of the  offical Trappist breweries list is located in the Abbey of Saint Benedict. The brewery has a longer history, but was destroy during the French Revolution and then again during World War 1. The monks of Westmalle and Rochefort helped rebuilt this Trappist Brewery in 1998 and released their Bruin series in 2001.

They brew several types of beer: .
Trappist Achel 5° Blonde – Belgian Pale Ale 5.00% ABV
Trappist Achel 5° Bruin – Belgian Dark Ale 5.00% ABV
Trappist Achel 8° Blonde – Tripel 8.00% ABV
Trappist Achel 8° Bruin – Dubbel 8.00% ABV
Trappist Achel 8° Bruin – Dubbel 8.00% ABV
Trappist Achel Extra – Belgian Strong Dark Ale 9.5.00% ABV

If you hear the term Abbey Style, that means the beer is brewed under the same style guidelines as Trappist beers, but they do not follow the ITA’s requirements 100%.

 Sierra Nevada released a new series of beers called Ovila in which they are brewed with Trappist monks, but they are brewed at their pilot brewery in California, not a monastery.  This beer is an Abbey Ale, not an official Trappist Ale

If you want to learn more about other beer terms please check out some of our other educational series below:

What is Cask Beer?
What is Craft Beer?

I am no expert when it comes to Trappist Beers, incase I wrote something incorrect, just let me know and I will edit this post. 


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