Belgium is probably best known for its luxurious and delicious chocolate, renowned the world over as some of the best in the world, but it’s not just chocolate that the Belgians have mastered, it’s beer too. That’s right, look at any list of the top beers in the world that’s worth its salt and you’ll find several beverages from Flanders and beyond topping it. And they aren’t just any ordinary beers either, I’m talking about Trappist beers specifically. You may have heard of these beers that are still made in monasteries today but what is their story? Let’s take a look at the history of this incredible craft and find out just what makes these drinks so special.
Origins of the Order
You may be surprised to discover that the Trappist monks who are well known for making this beautiful beer don’t originally hail from Belgium but from France instead. The term “Trappist” was not always used for these monks and finds its origins in the name of a certain abbey names “La Trappe” which was located in Normandy. The official name for this order of monks is actually the Cistercians of the Strict Observance, their origin goes back even further than their nickname though, to the monastery of Citeaux which was first founded in the 12th century, this time in Burgundy.
These Monks follow what is known as the Trappist Order, a strict set of rules based on the teaching of Pope Benedict who ruled during the 6th century. The major points of the order emphasize personal and liturgical prayer, self-sufficiency and manual labour. It’s well known that the monks can only produce what they can consume and must produce it themselves, this is limited to producing and consuming regional produce only. In their earlier days before migrating to Belgium the order would produce their own wine instead.
Off to Belgium
At the end of the 18th century revolution turned life in France upside down, even religion was affected by the changes taking place as the classes went to war with each other. As a result, the Cistercian order faced hostilities, the French state confiscated the La Trappe monastery and send the monks packing, no longer were they welcome in France. With this they spread out, some heading to Russia, some to Switzerland and some of course to Belgium.
In Belgium the monks settled in Westmalle, Antwerp (Westmalle beer is still brewed today), here they found that the local drink wasn’t wine but instead beer, as many things changed for them so too did their diet and in what could arguably called a blessing in disguise, the first trappiest beer would be brewed. After this, another 5 Trappist abbeys popped up and also began brewing their own beer, you may have heard of them; Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westvleteren and Achel. Though more beer is now produced than the monks themselves can consume all profits they make go towards upkeep of the monasteries, charitable donations and funding of their local areas too, so you can be sure that each sip goes to a good cause.