In case you were wodering, the Trappist order originated in the Cistercian monastery of La Trappe, France. Various Cistercian congregations existed for many years, and by 1664 the Abbot of La Trappe felt that the Cistercians were becoming too liberal. He introduced strict new rules in the abbey and the Strict Observance was born. Since this time, many of the rules have been relaxed. However, a fundamental tenet, that monasteries should be self-supporting, is still maintained by these groups.
Monastery brewhouses, from different religious orders, have existed across Europe since the Middle Ages. From the very beginning, beer was brewed in French Cistercian monasteries following the Strict Observance. The Trappists, like many other religious people, originally brewed beer to feed the community, in a perspective of self-sufficiency. Nowadays, Trappist breweries also brew beer to fund their works and for good causes. Many of the Trappist monasteries and breweries were destroyed during the French Revolution and the World Wars. Among the monastic breweries, the Trappists were certainly the most active brewers. In the last 300 years, there were at least nine Trappist breweries in France, six in Belgium, two in the Netherlands, one in Germany, one in Austria, one in Bosnia and possibly other countries. Today, eight Trappist breweries are active; six in Belgium, one in the Netherlands, and one in Austria.
Trappist beers must meet strict production criteria:
- The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery, either by the monks themselves or under their supervision;
- The brewery must be of secondary importance within the monastery and it should witness to the business practices proper to a monastic way of life;
- The brewery is not intended to be a profit-making venture. The income covers the living expenses of the monks and the maintenance of the buildings and grounds. Whatever remains is donated to charity for social work and to help persons in need;
- Trappist breweries are constantly monitored to assure the irreproachable quality of their beers.
Westvleteren is brewed by the monks at Sint Sixtus Abbey. For awhile, the monks outsourced their recipe to Saint Bernardus and some people say that the Saint Bernardus 12 and the Westvleteren 12 are pretty much the same beer. I'm going to reserve judgement until I can do a side by side comparison.
Our trip first took us to a lovely grotto adjacent to the abbey. It seemed appropriate to visit a holy place before enjoying a holy beer.
In de Vrede, a cafe and visitor centre, the only place to purchase Westvleteren beer other than the abbey. The gift shop is not guaranteed to have anything from the abbey for sale, but the day we visit we hit the jackpot. They were selling six packs of Westvleteren 12 that came with two tasting glasses. I am very happy to report that all six bottles and both glasses made it home safely. No small feat considering that they were tucked in our bikes' saddlebags for the next several days and had to survive being checked in our luggage!
Once our group raided the gift shop, we sat down to a well-earned lunch and shared quite a few bottles of the blond, 8 and 12.
|If you're wondering, from left to right: 8, blond and 12.|
Previously reviewed from Sint Sixtus Abbey
First out the limo!