Trappist Beer: A Brief History and How to Brew It

Monk drinking trappist beer

Trappist Beer: A Brief History

Trappist Beer originated in breweries run by monks involved in the O.C.S.O. (The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance), or otherwise known as “Trappists”.

This order began in the monastery of La Trappe in France during the Middle Ages where Cistercian monks and congregations were were deemed “too relaxed” by their abbot and, as a result, placed under stricter orders.

Most monasteries in that era would brew their own beer to provide for their community. Today, beer is brewed and sold internationally to fund charitable causes in which the monasteries are in partnership.

Modern Day Trappist Breweries

Trappist Beer today is produced from eight monasteries across Europe with six based in Belgium, one in Austria, and the last in Germany. Because of the growing popularity of the beers on an international level, certain breweries have attempted to label their brews as “Trappist” only to be sued by the monks themselves. Today, the Trappist monasteries still actively brewing beer have formed the International Trappist Association and developed the following criteria to determine genuine Trappist beer and other products.

The criteria includes the following:

  • The beer must be brewed within the monastery by Trappist monks or under their supervision
  • The brewery must be conducted in such a way that it remains in line with the monastic lifestyle
  • The income made from selling beer must be used solely for covering the living costs of the monks rather than a business venture to increase profit.

While the International Trappist Association has made it impossible to brew beer and sell it with the label of “Trappist”, beer fanatics have the option of brewing beer on their own in the style of Trappist breweries. With a variety of Trappist-style beer recipes available, the right ingredients allow you to make your very own “Trappist” beer.

Ingredients that Distinguish Trappist Beer

Most commonly, Trappist Beer uses Styrian Goldings hops and noble hop varieties. Low alpha English hops are sometimes added as well. Water used during brewing is usually without a great deal of hard minerals. Trappist beers often are done with a medium to full bodied mash profile.

For the most part, Trappist beers can be categorised into four styles which were designed for specific occasions in and out of the monastery:

Peterabier – This beer’s name is literally translated to “Father’s beer”, and is brewed specifically for monk consumption within the abbey. It is commonly offered to guests of the monastery and traditionally is made not very strong.

Enkel – Translated to “single”, meaning the lightest beer from that brewery. This beer is not commonly found for commercial sale most likely because it is so closely related to the Peterabier.

Dubbel – The “double” beer which exists as a stronger brown ale which ranges from dark amber to lighter copper colours. It produces a low, bitter taste with a heavy body and nutty and malty notes.

Tripel – The strongest beer available of Trappist ales. Its alcohol content by volume exists between 7.5-9% and is usually brewed with high carbonation. The colour is usually lighter than a Dubbel and boasts of a moderate bitterness level.

The main ingredient that sets apart Trappist ales from others is the special Belgian yeast used during brewing. This type of yeast produces mild fruity notes, spiciness, and results in higher alcohol content. Furthermore, Trappist ales are normally fermented at higher temperatures compared to your normal heat.

For the two widely distributed Trappist Beers, the Dubbel and the Trippel, here is a basic breakdown of the ingredients in each beer.

Dubbels usually start with a Belgian pilsner malt as the base, although there are times when Belgian pale malt may be used as well. The whisky is made complex with Munich malts and Special B malts to produce a malty and raisin like flavour. CaraMunich is added to give the flavour of dried fruits. Dark candy sugar is added as well to balance against the strong taste of alcohol. No spices are used even though Dubbels are usually known to have a spicy undertone.

Trippels begin as a less complex grain bill, but starts with a pilsner malt base as well like Dubbels. In addition to the base, white sugar is added in up to 20 percent.