I’m counting down to the upcoming beer class at The Fearrington Granary on February 8th. Not only am I a big fan of these beers, but I find it interesting how their history relates to the history of wine. What brings them together? Monks. In particular, the quality minded medieval Cistercian monks who were the geniuses of quality alcoholic beverages in Europe. In 1098 their reform movement started at the Abbey of Citeaux, southeast of Dijon, where they went on to carve out and map out the best soils of Burgundy, starting some of the most famous vineyards in the world. They traveled and started houses all over Europe, planting such famous vineyards as the Kloster Eberbach in the Rheingau in Germany and Clos de Vougeot in Burgundy. The quality minded monks were not just focused on wine — beer was an important aspect in their houses that were located beyond the reach of viticulture. For this reason we can thank the Cistercian monks for the creation of the Trappist tradition. Today there are eight Trappist Breweries, six in Belgium: Orval, Westmalle, Westvleteren, Achel, Chimay and Rochefort; one in Holland: La Trappe (formerly Konigshoeven); and the newest Stift Engelszell in Austria.
The name “Trappist” originates from the La Trappe abbey in Normandy that was created in 1664. The beers that we know as Trappist now have only existed since the 1930s when the Westmalle and Orval houses first developed commercial beers. Out of these two the most common flavor profile throughout the majority of the Trappist beers are influenced by those of the Westmalle brewery. Orval is unique in that it is the only one of the eight Trappist breweries that uses Brettanomyces in their refermentation, giving it a unique earthy and spicy character. Orval is my favorite out of them all, and one of my favorite beers period, so yes I am a bit biased. However, I must say that I have yet to try the Stift Engelszell, and from my research I see that they produce two very unique beers that I am excited to try — and I hope to offer them to all of you here in Fearrington Village soon!
All of the Trappist beers use the top fermenting yeast Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, which in turn classifies them as ales. The most common styles that you see, which have become very popular in the craft beer world, are the Dubel and Tripel. One a strong brown ale and the other a strong golden ale. The Tripel tends to be higher in alcohol, but there are many styles of Trappist brown ales that surpass the Tripel, like the Westvleteren 12, the Rochefort 10, and the La Trappe (formerly Koningshoeven) Isidor, that are referred to as quadruple ales due to their high alcohol, well over 10% ABV. Then, of course, there is Orval which stands on its own at 6.5% and golden in color. We will try almost all of these beers at our tasting on February 8th, we will delve more into the history of the breweries and how they have influence the rest of the world of beer. I look forward to seeing you there!
- Max Kast, Wine Director
The Oxford Companion for beer was utilized for some information on this piece.