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Food & Drink

What's Brewing? Fantastic Monastics: Your guide to Trappist and Abbey Ales

| Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, 9:39 a.m.
Chimay Grande Reserve (Blue), Brewed by Bieres de Chimay
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Chimay Grande Reserve (Blue), Brewed by Bieres de Chimay

"Abbey" is a term used to describe a beer crafted in any style made famous by the Cistercian Trappist monks in Belgium but without any actual ties to the monks or their monasteries. The beer may appear dark or light in color. Because these styles are brewed with yeast that is unique in smell and taste, Trappist and Abbey beers are easily distinguished from many others. Some are sweet due to Belgian candi syrup added during the brewing process while others rely solely on sweetness from malted grains.

As Belgian Trappist monks became known for making superior quality beer, brewers from all over started mimicking their style and using the word 'Trappist' on their labels.

In 1962, the Belgian Trade and Commerce court ruled that only Trappist monks brewing in monasteries could use the word "Trappist" on their labels. Everything else brewed in that style was to be referred to as an "Abbey Beer" or "Abbey Ale." Just as Champagne is only genuine if produced by the grapes from that region in France, Trappist beer is only genuine if produced by these specific monks in their monasteries. Everything else is an Abbey Ale.

In the following years after the court order, a logo with the words "Authentic Trappist Product" was issued specifically to the monasteries. You'll know who you're supporting while indulging in an authentic Trappist beer if you see this official seal on the label. If not, it's probably an equally delicious Abbey Ale.

Today, there are only 11 Trappist monasteries in the entire world producing beer. They include Achel, Chimay, Engelszell, La Trappe, Orval, Spencer, Rochefort, Tre Fontane, Westmalle, Westvleteren and Zundert. In 2013, Spencer Brewery from Spencer, Mass., in the United States was added to this prestigious list, followed by Italy's Tre Fontane in 2014.

Here are three official Trappist beers to consider sampling. In addition I've included three well-crafted Abbey Ales. One from St. Bernardus Abt 12, Monolith by Hitchhiker Brewing Co. located in Mt. Lebanon and Sharpsburg and Tripel by Four Seasons Brewing Co. located in Latrobe. Cheers!


Trappist Ale, Brewed by Brasserie d'Orval S.A.

Belgian Pale Ale (ABV 6.9%). Pours orange in color. Cloudy with frothy white head and lots of lacing down the glass. Smells bready, orange peel, and clove. Tastes citrusy with a slight bitterness from hops. Light body. Finishes with faint notes of citrus and sour with a noticeable effervescence.


La Trappe, Brewed by Bierbrouwerij De Koningshoeven B.V.

Quadrupel or Quad (ABV 10%). Pours hazy amber color with a cream color head. Great retention. Aromas of banana, flowers and alcohol. Tastes sweet and malty. Slightly bitter on the back end. Medium to full body and well carbonated.

Chimay Grande Reserve (Blue), Brewed by Bieres de Chimay

Belgian Strong Dark Ale (ABV 9%). Pours brown with a reddish tint and a modest head that lasts. Fragrances of caramel, banana and sweet malt. Flavors of ripe fruit, dates and caramel. Medium body with carbonation to match. Bready finish with a little warmth from alcohol on the end.

Abbey Ale, Brewed by Brouwerij St. Bernardus NV

Quadrupel or Quad (ABV 10%). Pours brown with a reddish hue. Head is tan color with great retention. Esters of Belgian yeast, malt and spices are present. Flavors are robust with notes of ripe fruit, bread, raisons and caramel. Heavy bodied beer with ample carbonation. Finishes faintly warm from alcohol.

Monolith, Brewed by Hitchhiker Brewing Co.

Abbey Ale (ABV 7.5%). Pours light brown with ruby red and garnet highlights. Tastes of dried fig, tart cherries, raisins and toasted walnut. Finishes with a slight tartness.

Tripel, Brewed by Four Season Brewing Co.

Belgian Style Ale aged in oak barrels (ABV 9.5%). Pours deep yellow with a creamy head. Aromas of malt, oak and dark fruit are present. Sweetness from Belgian candi sugar (beet sugar) with notes of oak barrel and ripe fruit. Lighter body. Finishes sweet with additional notes of oak.

Mark Brewer is the author and illustrator of" Brewology, An Illustrated Dictionary for Beer Lovers."

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