Saturday, October 25, 2008

A look at Belgium's Trappist breweries.

From The Australian, a look at the unique commercial niche that Belgium's six Trappist monasteries have carved out for themselves:
Ieper (Ypres in French) is a small Flemish city that features the imposing Cloth Hall in the main square. The city was almost destroyed by shelling in World War I; it has since been rebuilt in its original medieval style. In comparison, the monastery of St Sixtus of Westvleteren, a little less than 20km away, is modest in appearance. Next to the village school, and surrounded by endless flat fields, the brick perimeter buildings offer no clue to the monastery's association with world-class beer.

To those unfamiliar with the reputation of these Trappist monks, it may surprise that all Belgian monasteries of this strict Cistercian order house respected breweries.

. . .

The brewery, which is closed to most visitors, and the newly built Cafe In De Vrede across the road from it, are the only places where the beer can be bought. The monks brew only enough to keep the monastery running and their beer reservation phone line is open for only a few irregular hours throughout the year. Good luck getting through; you'll also need to understand French or Flemish.

. . .

A Belgian brewery crawl can take in five other Trappist operations dotted across the country: Westmalle, Orval, Rochefort, Chimay and Achel. At Westmalle, the Cafe Trappisten sells the monastery's two beer varieties (a dubbel and a tripel), which are widely available. With a superbly creamy head, the Westmalle beer goes well with a local cheese that is made from the milk of cows fed on spent brewing grains, accompanied by a bitey mustard.

Achel is housed in the Achelse Kluis monastery, on the Dutch border. Significantly, it offers a rare opportunity to view a Trappist brewery, as Achel is separated from its cafe by glass walls. We don't spot any monks at work, but do admire the brewery workings, including the stainless-steel mash tun and boiler vessel, overlooked by the crucifix found at all Trappist breweries. Let's hope their blessings ensure my posted ale arrives home safely.
I had my first encounter with Trappist beer during a visit to the Netherlands this past June, when I enjoyed a bottle of La Trappe, which is produced under the auspices of the Dutch Abbey of Koningshoeven. Though getting my hands on a bottle of Westvleteren may be a tall order, I'm going to have to see whether any of the other varieties of beer produced by Belgian Trappists are available in New York. If you'd like to help preserve a great monastic tradition, I urge you to seek them out as well. AMDG.


At 10/26/2008 5:09 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

Given that the monks themselves probably eat very little meat, it wouldn't surprise me that they would brew vegetarian-friendly beer.


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