I sometimes flinch when people say they do or do not like Belgian beer. A year ago, I might have said something similar, but I’ve since learned that Belgium is country and not representative of a beer style. In fact, Belgian beer comprises a vast and diverse collection of very delicious beer styles. The most interesting moniker attached to a category of Belgian beer, to me at least, is Trappist. Trappist is also not the name of a beer style, but signifies that a beer has been brewed under the control of Trappist monks. Trappist beer is available for sale, but the monks use any proceeds to carry out their monastic lives, not for profit. I find this pretty freaking cool, that I can drink beer made by monks in the same way they’ve been making it for hundreds of years. Check out the Wikipedia page for more info on Trappist history.
There are currently only seven Trappist breweries remaining in the world, six in Belgium and one in the Netherlands, and all are currently attached to active monasteries. They are Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, Westvleteren, Achelse Kluis, and Koningshoeven (the Dutch one). Trappist beers were traditionally brewed with greater strength to help sustain the monks during their fasts (which may or may not explain some saintly visions). Today, Trappist ales can generally be categorized among the dubbel, tripel, Belgian pale ale, or Belgian strong ale styles. Many confuse Belgian beers sporting the abbey label with trappist beers. The abbey label arose around the same time that Trappist beer became popular, but abbey is only a competitive marketing term. Abbey and Trappist beers are generally brewed in the same styles, but the abbey label does not necessarily signify that a beer was actually made by an abbey, not that it really matters. There are many fine examples of excellent abbey beer (Unibroue in Quebec brews some of the finest belgian trappist/abbey style beer in the world), but you can be sure that authentic trappist beers are of the finest quality.
I for one am excited to get into the stockpile of Westmalle, Rochefort, and Chimay authentic Trappist beers I have recently amassed. A Belgian tasting night might be in order, complete with sasions, browns, wits, lambics and more. If you haven’t tried any Belgian beer styles, I highly recommend you do so. There will definitely be at least one that strikes you as lovely, and you don’t want to be missing out.