Trappist Newletter



Newsletter TRAPPIST

The meaning and proper use of the word “TRAPPIST” as it relates to beer and other products

In the last ten to fifteen years, the beers of the Belgian and Dutch Trappist Abbeys have become increasingly popular and highly regarded in the U.S.A. among beer lovers. 
Whenever an individual, product, or service becomes held in high esteem, it is common for it to be emulated. As the old saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Commercial breweries and homebrewers stateside have been emulating beers such as Chimay Blue, Orval, Rochefort 10, Westmalle Tripel and Westvleteren 12 for many years. Achel Extra and La Trappe Quadrupel enjoy a similar reputation for high quality nowadays. 
However, there are an increasing number of commercial breweries in the U.S. that use the word “Trappist,” or some variant thereof, to name or describe certain beers that they produce. This worries the Trappist monasteries that brew beer, as Trappist is not a style of beer. It is an appellation, and a guarantee of provenance!

The Trappists monks are more formerly known as The Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, which is abbreviated as O.S.C.O. The order was formed at the La Trappe Abbey in Normandy, France in 1664. The Abbey of Koningshoeven in Tilburg, Netherlands, is called La Trappe, in honor of that first abbey.
While I don’t have the space here to delve into the entire history of the Trappist Order, suffice it to say that they live a life balanced by work and prayer. Trappist monks and nuns live by the Rule of St. Benedict, which states, in part, that they must earn their subsistence by the work of their own hands.

Trappist monks and nuns, in fact, craft a wide range of products across Europe. While they are best known stateside for their delicious beers, the Trappists also produce wines, liquors, chocolates, cheeses, cookies, and many other products. 
Here in the U.S.A., The Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky produces several fine cheeses, a rich bourbon chocolate fudge, and fruitcake. The St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, crafts a whole range of delicious preserves, jams and jellies.

In order to be certified as a Trappist beer, there are a number of conditions that must be met. Most importantly, the beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist Abbey, under the control of the monks. 
“Trappist” is not a style of beer. Trappist monks brew pale ales, dark brown dubbels, blonde tripels, quadrupels, witbiers and strong, dark ales. Now, with the addition of a brewery at the Austrian Trappist monastery, there will soon be even more beers added to the list. With so much variety, one could hardly use the word Trappist to describe a style of beer.

The fact that a number of breweries in the USA are using the word Trappist to describe beers that are clearly not produced by Trappist monks has drawn the attention of the International Trappist Association, or I.T.A. The Association considers it a growing problem. For one thing, they don’t like the idea that a consumer might mistake a commercially brewed American beer for an Authentic Trappist brew. 
“The name ‘Trappist’ should only be used when referring to products made by, or under the control of, Trappist monasteries,” François de Harenne, Commercial Director of the Orval Trappist brewery, told me during my visit to Orval last September. He continued: “It is really our trademark, our guarantee of quality, and provenance of where the beer is brewed. The name ‘Trappist beer’ should only be used to describe the beers brewed at the eight existing Trappist Abbey breweries.”

I should note that the Trappist breweries and monks who live in these Abbeys are appreciative of the respect and admiration that their beers command stateside, and the rest of the world. They are rightly proud of crafting products that are considered to be consistently well made, and very flavorful. However, they feel they must deal with subject of this article at some point, and sooner rather than later.

Not only is beer an issue, but so is an important ingredient in producing beer: yeast. Some brewery and homebrew supply companies in the U.S. list certain yeasts as ‘Trappist” in their catalogs. “To call a yeast ‘Trappist’ has no meaning,” de Harenne commented. “Of course, many different varieties of yeasts are used at the Trappist breweries. But yeast is not a product that we produce. Yeast is really a sort of raw ingredient that anyone could use to make a beer. There is no such thing as a ‘Trappist’ yeast,” de Harenne said, emphatically.

The Trappist Abbey breweries-namely: Achel, Chimay, La Trappe/Koningshoeven, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, Westvleteren, and the new Engelszell Stift in Austria-are at the moment the only breweries that have the right to call their beers Trappist. Perhaps someday in the future an American Trappist brewery may open, but until when and if that day ever happens, no beers that are brewed stateside should carry the name Trappist.

The International Trappist Association and the Trappist Abbey breweries would like to respectfully request that breweries, brewpubs and yeast suppliers stateside respect the appellation and provenance of Trappist beers, and to refrain from using the name Trappist, or variations of that name, with products that are clearly not of Trappist origin.  -