Do Monks Brew the Best Beer?

It is a puzzling conundrum but why do monks make such great produce? Some of the best cheeses, wines, liqueurs, chocolates, fudges and beers are made in monasteries all over the world. Perhaps it is their life of devotion that they lead to them paying intense attention to whatever they turn their hands at making.

There are many theories how monks started brewing, one being that they made liquid bread when they had to abstain from eating bread during lent. But to be honest certain religious orders had long traditions of brewing well before this. Cistercian monks in particular have a long tradition of making beer, and in their heyday this order of monks had three hundred monasteries all producing beer and wine. During the time of Napoleon many of these monasteries were closed down and many of the monks fled to Belgium and the New World.

The Trappists

The monks that fled to Belgium found it difficult to grow grapes in the Low Countries, so they turned their attention to beer. The small town of La Trappe in France was the home of the Trappist monks who joined the exodus out of the country.

The Trappists came up with the idea to support their monasteries and abbeys to sell the beer they made, rather than just drink it themselves. And today the brand of beer known as Trappist is highly sought after due to its fine quality and great taste. For a beer to be called a Trappist Beer it must be made under the supervision of monks or produced in a monastery. Any profit made must be purely for the upkeep of the monastery or for its charitable institutions. Today, there are only eleven true Trappist breweries around the world including, Chimay, Westvleteren, Orval, Zundert, Spencer, Tre Fontane, La Trappe, and Achel.

Style and Taste

  • Orval – this is a pale ale made in Belgium, it has a fruity but bitter taste due to the dry hops used. The wild yeast used in production gives the beer acidity and a firm body.
  • Chimay – one of the most popular Trappist beers around the world is Chimay, and in 1960 the monastery decided to augment their dark beer offering by making Cinq Cents which is a much lighter beer with hints of malt, and a dry finish.
  • Westmalle – this monastery produces the famous Dubbel type beer, which is a stronger version of the beer that they brewed for themselves. It has the luxurious flavors of chocolate, passion fruit, and a hint of banana. You could easily drink this beer with a dessert.
  • Westvleteren – this beer was actually voted The Best Beer in the World in 2014, by RateBeer.com. And although at 8% it does pack a punch, compared to other Trappist beers it is quite acceptable. The beer is very robust with hints of brandy or even plum wine. There is almost a nutty almond finish to the taste which is terrific with good soft cheeses.

These beers are some of the best Trappist beers that are produced today, the complexity and attention to detail of all these beers make them stand apart both in quality and taste from the rest of the beers around the world.

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