Best Belgian Trappist Beers
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Why is Belgium so famous worldwide and so well known for its beers? This is probably coming from its long history and culture dating back to the catholic expansion as the Roman Empire collapsed. Belgium has since then refined and commercialised the Best Belgian Trappist Beers. In this article we uncap its great history till modern day time.
Here is our ranking of the best Trappist beers :
We have tasted all Trappist beers and we have ranked the 10 best beers according to our standards:
1. Westvleteren 12. Elected several times best beer in the world!
2. Orval. The strong amber that is becoming increasingly hard to find.
3. Chimay Bleu. The super star available everywhere and that connects you to God.
4. Westvleteren 10. The sweeter version of the 12, hard to find!
5. Rochefort 10. The bitter, sweet symphony from the south.
6. Westmall Tripel. First Trappist brewery!
7. Westmalle Dubbel. Less strong than the Tripel.
8. Rochefort 8. Nice and intense remarkable just as the 10.
9. Rochefort 6. Sweet and easy drink sister. For everybody.
10. Westvleteren Blond. The unusual blond for the Trappist range.
Let us know if you agree with our rank. If not try them all by purchasing one of our Trappist beer boxes here:
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The history of the "Trappist" terminology
The term “Trappist” is derived from “La Trappe”, a French Abbey located in Normandy. Trappist monks have their origins in France and not in Belgium as many wrongly assume. It refers to the order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance, shortly known as the “Trappist Order”. Although its origin goes back to the monastery of Cîteaux founded in the XII century in Burgundy, it was not officially finalized until 1892.
The Trappist monks follow the Trappist order, which is based on the Rule of St. Benedict (6th century). The order, emphasizes liturgical and personal prayer, manual labor (ORA ET LABORA), and self-sufficiency. For instance, the monks must only produce what they consume. Until 1836, the order even obligated its followers to drink only water, but a reform introduced later allowed them to begin consuming the regional drink of local people. It was also around this time that French monks began to produce and consume wine.
As time passed, the French state became hostile towards the Cistercian order and interrupted the development of the “order” during the French Revolution (1789 - 1799). They confiscated the La Trappe monastery and closed the religious houses. The Trappist monks were forced to flee France and took refuge in Switzerland, Russia, and Belgium.
On their arrival to Belgium, the French “Trappist” monks settled in Westmalle, Antwerp (Flanders). As previously discussed, during a reform in the Trappist Order, the monks could drink water as well as the regional drink of the people. The local Belgian drink was not wine but beer. For this reason, and because “Trappist” monks must produce what they consume, the monks began to brew. The first Trappist beers were born at this time.
Since then another 5 Trappist abbeys developed in Belgium all producing beers and still existing to this day. These are Chimay, Rochefort, Orval, Westvleteren and Achel. In addition, there are 6 others in the world: the Dutch beers La Trappe and Zundert, the Austrian-brewed Gregorius and Benno, as well as the American-made Spencer. Italy just recently started producing its first Trappist beers from the abbey of Tre Fontane.
Given the high success of Trappist beers in Belgium and abroad in 1997 an International Trappist Association was created to prevent commercial companies from abusing the name. This private association created a logo that is also assigned to goods such as cheese and wine.
To receive the “Authentic Trappist product” logo, the beer must be brewed inside the walls of a Cistercian-Trappist abbey. In addition, the corporate culture must respond to the project of monastic life. The profits derived from the sale of the beers must be used for the subsistence of the monastery or for charitable purposes. The brewing activity is not intended to be a profit-making venture. The income should cover the living expenses of the monks and the maintenance of buildings and grounds.
It is probably worth mentioning at this stage that there is a huge difference between “Trappist beers” as discussed above and beer companies brewing under the denomination “Abbey beers”. Trappist monks are carrying some if not all of the brewing process within the walls of their monastery. “Abbey beers” are commercial brands used as a powerful marketing tool to trick consumer into believing the beers are actually made in a real abbey by monks. None of this can be further from the truth: Only Trappist beers are brewed by monks within the walls of their monastery.
Chimay, The trappist multinational.
Some may claim that Chimay may not be considered as Trappist Beers since its production way exceeds what is normally necessary for “living and maintenance expenses” and some of the process is carried out of the monastery walls such as bottling. This Trappist order located in the Abbey of Scourmont, Belgium claims that despite sales figures exceed €40 million per year, the profits are strictly used for the support of the monastic community. The rest is distributed to charities and to encourage the development of the region. The brewing process there started in 1862 when some monks departed from Westvleteren abbey to create a new venture. The beers currently produced there are the classical and best known Chimay Bleue (9% ABV) first brewed for Christmas in 1948. It is a dark beer with hints of coffee, cacao and dried dark fruits. Other less known brands include:
- Chimay Red, 7% ABV also known in French as Premiere it is a dark brown colour double with sweet, fruity aroma.
- Chimay Triple, 8% ABV, also known in French as Cinq Cents, orange colour, hoppy and dry.
- Chimay Dorée, 4,8% ABV, also known as Golden, similar to the Red but spicier.
The superstar Westvleteren
Alternatively, a very famous Belgian Trappist brewery is that of Westvleteren founded in 1831 at the abbey of Saint Sixtus in Vleteren (West Flanders, Belgium). The brewery is small and production limited even for normal commercial demands. Sales happen mostly at monastery’s doorstep or in the pub located right in front of the abbey. The remarkable aspect from this Trappist brewery is its infamous quadruple Westvleteren 12 nominated multiple times as the world’s best beer. The monks at the abbey even recommend drinking a full pint and head straight to the shrine located on the opposite side of the abbey for prayers. They claim that connection with God happens almost instantly. The other beers produced there are:
- Westvleteren Blond at 5.8% ABV introduced on the 10th of June 1999.
- Westvleteren 8, a brown beer formerly called Extra. Very similar to the Westvleteren 12 but lighter in alcohol content and in our view more drinkable.
The Solitary Orval
Another interesting brewery is Orval, the youngest of all Belgian Trappist breweries; It was founded only in 1931. According to legend, the monastery was born from a gesture of gratitude from the Countess Mathilde of Tuscany. After dropping her wedding ring in the fountain of this valley, she begged and cried out to God. Very soon after, a trout appeared on the surface of the water with her precious jewel. Mathilde exclaimed, “Really, this is a Val d’Or! (One says “an Orval” in reference to this legendary phrase) and had a monastery built in the same place believing it to be blessed. Finally, the Orval is a high fermentation beer produced according to the English method of “raw hopping”. This process gives the beer a unique taste; essentially providing a diversity of aromas while maintaining its level of bitterness. Only one beer is produced there with alcohol content of 6.2% ABV, it has a complex and unusual flavour due to the use of a unique strain of yeast called Brettanomyces lambicus. This very famous strain is also used by other less known local brewers for the production of their beers (La Rulles, Sainte-Helene, Millevertus, Trois Flourquets…).
The discreet Achel
Achel is the smallest in terms of beer production from all the Trappist range. The abbey’s full denomination is “Brouwerij der Sint-Benedictusabdij de Achelse Kluis” and its history goes back to 1648 when Dutch monks built a chapel in the Flemish town of Achel. About 40 years later the chapel became a proper abbey but it was destroyed by the French during the revolution in 1844. The abbey was eventually rebuilt by Westmalle monks. The first beer to be built there was in 1852. The abbey suffered the German occupation during both wars in which the brewery was dismantled in order to gain its copper to create weapons. Since then the beers created were:
- Achel Blond, 5, 5% ABV available on tap at the abbey only.
- Achel Bruin, 5, 5% ABV available on tap at the abbey only.
- Achel Blond, 8, 8% ABV first launched in 2001 it has a sweet malty aroma with touches of pear and banana.
- Achel Bruin, 8, 8% ABV fruity aromas of pear, banana and plum. On the palate it is more caramel and cakes taste.
- Achel Extra Bruin, 9,5% ABV this beer is only available in larger formats such as the 75CL bottles. It is similar to the Bruin beer.
- Achel Extra Blond, 9,5% ABV also available in larger formats very similar to the brewery’s blond beer.
Rochefort, beers and beyond.
“La Brasserie de Rochefort” is located in the French speaking part of Belgium. It’s an ideal location (just like Orval) for hikers who enjoy nature and wildlife and like to end their venture at the abbey for a drink. The abbey was founded in 1595 (although it is reported that catholic presence there was known since 1230) and beer making according to local archives begun in 1595. Similarly, to Achel, brewing was interrupted due to both world war wars and today the abbey (and its brewing activity) is managed by 15 monks. The abbey produces 3 beers:
- Rochefort 6, 7.5% ABV brewed with water from the local well, it’s aroma is a mixture of caramel and herbs. At the palate the aromas are confirmed with a fruity aftertaste.
- Rochefort 8, 9,2% ABV also dark and similar in taste to the 6 but with a higher alcohol content.
- Rochefort 10, 11,3% ABV brown beer with a predominant taste of coffee very similar to a classical stout.