No.1 travel guide for Belgium; dedicated to Belgian beer and food culture.

Trappist beer, a trademark to be reckoned with...

Email  •  Print

Author: Erik Verdonck / Published: 2015-10-01 11:47:33 +0200 / Last Updated: over 2 years ago

Westmalle Tripel Trappist beer Westmalle "half-om-half", 50% Tripel, 50% Dubbel

The name ‘Trappist’ refers both to a religious order and to the world famous abbey beers that they produce. In Belgium there are six abbeys that belong to the order of the Trappists, otherwise Trappist Monks and beer, a long history
known as the Cistercians of Strict Observance.

They are: Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle and Westvleteren, and they all brew beer.

The name Trappist comes from the French abbey of Notre Dame de la Grande Trappe where the order was born. Trappist monks live a simple life following the rules laid down by St. Benedict in the 6th century CE.

Their lives are filled with prayer and work, ora et labora in Latin. Their needs and those of their abbeys are funded by what the monks themselves produce, including most famously brewing beer and making cheese.

St Bernard believed monks should ‘live by the work of their hands’, and Trappist monasteries have always strived to be self-supporting. The abbeys also donate a large proportion of their income to charity.

Secular brewers were quick to realize the commercial potential of the abbeys, with their mystical atmosphere and superb high-quality beers. The Trappist name started to jump up here, there and everywhere, usually attached to heavy and dark beers that were not always worthy of the Trappist name.

Orval The Orval monastery

Appeal & Protection

The appeal of Trappist beers has now spread far beyond Belgium’s borders, and so-called Trappist beers can be found in the most surprising places. Some beers are not what the label would like you to believe they are. Chimay Chimay bleue

It’s good news for beer lovers that in recent times moves have been made to protect the Trappist name.

There are now authentic Trappist beers being produced in the Netherlands, France, Austria and the USA as well as Belgium.

In the early 1990s the International Trappist Association introduced the Authentic Trappist Product trademark. Beers bearing this label have been brewed within the walls of a Trappist abbey and according to Trappist rules.

The production of Trappist beers is never outsourced to any other brewery. Historically, the monks wielded the brewing stick themselves.

These days this is only the case at the Westvleteren brewery in the Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren.

However, the monks are still closely involved with the marketing side of the business. Anything that does not comply with the Trappist spirit gets the thumbs down. For example, a marketing executive once came up with the idea to launch a Westmalle tripel ‘grande réserve’.

He proudly presented his project to Father Abbot, who asked him straight away what was inside this snazzy bottle. ‘Is that our ordinary tripel?’ The marketing chap could only say that yes, it was. ‘So why don’t you just put ‘tripel’ on the label?’ Back to basics.

Sint-Sixtus, Westvleteren Hop picking at Sint-Sixtus


The rules followed by the Trappists fly completely against the principles of commercial brewery management. If the Trappists behaved like a conventional business they would be able to sell Sint-Sixtus, Westvleteren 12 trappist beer Sint Sixtus Abbey beer
their entire output umpteen times over.

Demand far exceeds supply, especially now that customers abroad have also fallen for abbey beers. But the laws of supply and demand are not part of the Rule of St Benedict.

As an example, in 2005, awarded Westvleteren Abt (now called Westvleteren 12) the ‘best beer in the world’ crown. What happened?

The abbey was inundated with enquiries. People were queueing for hours just to get a crate of this wonderful beer. However, the monks did not give in to this explosive demand.

Today, as they have done for so long, they continue to produce around 400,000 liters each year.

This happens to be the volume what is needed to fund the requirements of the abbey and to support its charitable works. After all, the monks do not live to brew, they brew to live. You can only purchase Westvleteren beer from the abbey itself. You call a special beer telephone line to reserve Westmalle brewery The Westmalle brewing hall
a time when you can collect your maximum of two crates.

In the meantime, you can buy Westvleteren on the grey market at prices that will make you hallucinate.

In contrast, you can buy Trappist Orval beer in beer shops and it’s also served in cafés. Around 7 million liters of Orval are produced each year.

The abbeys have invested in their infrastructure in recent years, but increasing demand from abroad means that Trappist beers are still often out of stock. This success hasn’t come out of nowhere. Just as the Trappist monks are wary of commercial compromises, they will not compromise or adulterate their products in any way. If the beer does not meet their strict criteria it won’t be marketed.

Achel trappist brewery Statue of St. Benedict at the Achelse Kluis

Beer & Ethics

Many Trappist beers are so full of character that they are considered reference beers in their category. For example, Westmalle Tripel, launched in the 1930s to help fund a new brewing hall is called the ‘mother of all tripels’. Orval brewmaster Anne-Françoise Pypaert Orval brewmaster Anne-Françoise Pypaert

The ‘Trappist beer’ name covers a wide range beers - medium to strong, blonde, copper-colored and dark - offering a great variety of aromas and tastes. Like the ‘abbey beers’,

Trappist is not a protected beer style. The name merely refers to the origin – the Trappist abbey – and to the rules under which the beer is produced.

The annual production volume and the marketing of a brewery such as Chimay can give rise to questions about the Trappist principles.

Chimay produces around 17 million liters per-year and is the main exporter amongst the Trappists. In addition to the beer they produce their own cheese.

Why do they want to continue growing their business, albeit gradually?

The answer is that they provide valuable jobs in a region characterized by high unemployment. Westmalle sticks to a production of 12 million liters, most of which is destined for the local market.

Rochefort limits the production of its well-known dark beers to 4 million liters. Achel dangles right at the bottom of the ladder with a production of around 300,000 liters.

Westmalle tripel Westmalle tripel, the mother of all tripels

No Competition

At first sight, it would appear that all these Trappists are competing against each other in a single marketplace (though a beer such as Orval is so unique that it attracts its own public). Rochefort 10 Rochefort 10

And it would not be good for one abbey’s success to come at the expense of production that helps keep another alive.

However, the Trappists inspire strong local allegiances.

For example, Westmalle is drunk in and around Antwerp. Rochefort is the Trappist of choice in part of the Ardennes; Orval has a strong presence in other parts of the region.

Trappist traditions tend to filter through into local brewing cultures.

Ask a brewer from the Orval area where he procures his yeast and you can bet your bottom dollar that it will come from Orval Abbey. Many brewers seek help from their local abbey brewery for analysis of their beers.

The Trappist breweries also co-operate closely with each other behind the scenes.

If you delve into a brewery archive you will find that some monk-brewers have done the rounds of all the Trappist abbeys. Once a Trappist, always a Trappist.

Recent Blog Posts

Zythos 2018. Watch out… there’s some heritage about!
LEUVEN - 12,500 fans made their way to Leuven for what was already the 15th edition of the Zythos beer festival. Many fans travelled a long way to get to Belgium. They flocked here from many European ... [ read more ]
Showcasing the Belgian art of living, Horecatel 2018
MARCHE-EN-FAMENNE - “Their cuisine is on a par with that of the French and the portions are generous...” When people discuss the Belgian art of living, it won’t be long before the term ‘Burgundian’ ... [ read more ]
Bruges Beer Festival 2018: your window on the Belgian beer world
BRUGES - Eleven years ago it all started off on quite a modest scale in the medieval town hall of Bruges, under the imposing gaze of the Belfry. Now, in 2018, the Bruges Beer Festival has spread its w ... [ read more ]
Anthony Martin, a Belgian brewer with British roots
GENVAL - It’s 1909 when John Martin, a Brit, makes his home in Antwerp, earning his living by provisioning sailing vessels. Before long John’s deliveries are heading onto the ships of the Red Star Lin ... [ read more ]
Brussels Beer Challenge 2017, the results are in!
NAMUR - At the 6th edition of the Brussels Beer Challenge, hosted this year by the city of Namur, Belgium once again lived up to its cast-iron reputation as one of the most important beer countries in ... [ read more ]


You must be logged in to leave a comment



Chimay Grande Réserve Vieillie en Barriques 2016, a touch of wood

CHIMAY/COGNAC - Chimay Bleue stands out as a classic amongst Trappist beers. Nevertheless, its brewer continues to break new ground. The first ‘limited edition’ Chimay Grande Réserve Vieillie en Barriques saw the light <... [ more ]

Westmalle… where Trappists say “Cheese”

WESTMALLE - Westmalle Dubbel and Tripel are iconic Trappist beers. The popularity of the beers makes people almost forget that these monks also produce a tasty cheese. http://belgium.... [ more ]

Chimay Bleue (Blue Cap) in the oak age

BOURLES/CHIMAY - A visit to the Chimay Abbey and its brewery is a unique experience. I step into a world that appears to be untouched by time. Standing below a tall sequoia tree in the enclosed ... [ more ]

Westmalle Dubbel or Westmalle Tripel?

WESTMALLE - If you order a Westmalle you’re likely to be served with a Tripel. This is no coincidence as this strong blonde Trappist beer now accounts for 75% of the beer output of this http://belgium.beertouris... [ more ]

Westmalle, a shining beacon of Trappist beer...

WESTMALLE - Time appears to stand still in a Trappist abbey like Westmalle. However, appearances can be deceptive - even here the latest technologies are quietly creeping in. The abbey has an up-to-date ... [ more ]


More Beer

In 1934, the successful opening of the new Westmalle brewery was celebrated with a ground-breaking new ‘super beer’, brewed on the very same premises. Widely acknowledged as the f... [ more ]

Beer Tourism Newsletter Signup

Enter your name and email address on the right and click "SignUp" to join.