If you’re planning a trip to Belgium, you won’t want to miss out on a chance to visit a Trappist Monastery to grab a beer. That’s right: A monastery might be one of the best places to visit in Belgium if you love beer. Many Belgian Trappist monasteries are a short drive from other countries such as France, Germany, or Luxembourg, making them a great addition to a trip to those countries, too.
All Trappist monasteries produce a limited amount of commercial products to help sustain their operations. While most locations produce preserves, cheese, or bread, some monasteries produce beer. In total, there are 14 registered Trappist monasteries that produce beer commercially. Twelve of those breweries are certified to use the "Authentic Trappist Product" symbol, and half of those breweries are in Belgium, making it an excellent destination for beer enthusiasts. This is, of course, in addition to the other fabulous breweries in the country.
Beer enthusiasts can’t get enough Trappist beer. Several things make Trappist beers so special. If you like trying new beers, but are on the fence about adding a monastery trip to your travel itinerary, here are a few things to consider.
Trappist Beers Are Rare
Since Trappist monasteries don’t create products on a for-profit basis, their overall production runs are low and will stay low. Despite this, you can still find some Trappist beers in craft beer shops around the United States. However, there are some monasteries that don’t distribute to the U.S. at all.
To put things in perspective, 10,000 barrels of the highly elusive double IPA Heady Topper are brewed annually. Look at one of the most highly regarded Trappist breweries, Westvleteren, for comparison; they only brew 4,750 barrels. Unlike standard commercial breweries, which will increase production to meet higher demand and increase profits, Trappist breweries won’t because they only brew to support the monastery.
Trappist Beer Has A Rich History
Europe has a rich history in brewing and is home to the oldest operating breweries in the world. Four of the Trappist monasteries in Belgium were founded before 1900, and some predate 1850. Experiencing the history behind the beer is as exciting as getting your hands on a rare bottle.
Trappist Beer Comes In 4 Distinct Styles
Experiencing what 150 years of brewing mastery tastes like can be a palate-opening experience. Trappist style ales are unlike any other beverage on the planet. Trappist monasteries don’t produce seasonal beers or release new recipes every few years. Instead, they’ve honed just a few recipes to absolute perfection. This dedication, coupled with private yeast strains, makes Trappist beers completely unique. If you’re looking to broaden your understanding of beer and brewing while on your trip to Belgium, work a Trappist monastery visit into your itinerary and get to know the four distinct styles of beer they brew.
The names may sound complicated, but their translations are simple, and each has a unique flavor that is not to be missed.
Also called table beer or patersbier, the Enkel is most frequently consumed by the monks taking up residence at the monastery. These are the lightest and most straightforward of the beers produced at Trappist monasteries. Expect a wonderful balance of light, fruity flavors, bright yeast notes, and a crisp malt note.
These medium-strength ales are not too strong, not too weak, and jam-packed with a rich malty flavor. This style and those following it on this list are more readily available than the Enkel. Dubbels will have more body and darker color than their lower strength counterpart. Standard strength Dubbels fall between 6 and 8% ABV.
As you can imagine, Tripel is stronger than Dubbel. However, instead of following suit and being darker than the previous style, Tripels tend to be lighter in color and body than Dubbels. They’re dryer and have a stronger ABV, between 8 and 10%.
Quadrupel Or Quad
This style is both stronger and darker than the Tripel. It’s more like a Dubbel that’s been cranked up to 11. In terms of strength, Quadrupel will fall somewhere between 9 and 14% ABV. Quads have a heavy body with bold, ripe stonefruit flavors and pronounced bready malt notes.
Abbey Style Beer Isn’t Necessarily True Trappist Beer
Thanks to crafty marketing moves within the beer industry, finding Trappist beer isn’t as easy as buying beer inspired by these age-old styles. There are countless breweries that produce Belgian-style ales called Enkels, Dubbels, Tripels, and Quads. Others go a step further and throw the term Abbey Style on their labels. To ensure you’re getting the true Trappist product, look for the “Authentic Trappist Product” insignia on the bottle. Alternatively, you can pay attention to the brewery itself and cross-reference it against a list of registered Trappist breweries.
Schedule a trip to a Trappist monastery on your next European adventure to have access to the freshest, most authentic Trappist ales in the world. Visiting one usually gets you access to their beers with limited to no distribution.
There Are 6 Trappist Monasteries In Belgium Where You Can Try Trappist Beer
Like any long-distance trip, careful planning will be needed to visit a Trappist monastery. With the growing popularity of Trappist ales, the monasteries have grown accustomed to frequent visits. Here is a quick overview of the six Belgian Trappist monasteries, the beers they offer, and information you should know as you plan your visit.
Westmalle produces a Dubbel and a Tripel. With careful hunting, you’ll be able to find a bottle of these in craft beer bottle shops in the U.S. However, the monastery also produces a single, which is very limited and may or may not be available when you visit. Brewery tours aren’t provided, however, you can reserve a time to watch a special video about the brewery and walk some of its grounds. Complete your visit with a trip to Cafe Trappisten, which is half a mile down the road from the abbey. The cafe was originally placed on the abbey grounds across from the grocer, but eventually needed to relocate. There, you can enjoy fresh Westmalle beers right from Westmalle Abbey itself.
Westmalle is a 40-minute drive East of Antwerp.
This Monastery is the producer of one of the world’s highest-rated beers, Westvleteren 12 (or Westy 12). Their beers come in unassuming bottles with no labels. The caps are the only way to distinguish the styles. Before you hop in the car and drive an hour southwest of Bruges, though, know that the buying process for Westvletern beers is very restrictive. The first thing you’ll need to do is register for their online sales platform. Once beer is available for purchase, you can buy your allowance online and pick it up at the abbey visitor center. Planning is key as the process usually takes at least three months.
This monastery produces a staggering 105,000 barrels of beer annually. Their bottles are available fairly readily throughout the U.S., so if you’re on the hunt for rarer Trappist ales, you may want to visit other monasteries instead. However, if you’re already a big fan of Chimay, contact the monastery to discuss visits or hostel stays. Chimay is located a little over two hours south of Brussels or two hours northwest of Luxembourg City, Luxembourg.
You may have seen some Rochefort bottles at your local bottle shop. They have a brown label with large lettering. Their styles are indicated by a number in a small colored circle. Rochefort Monastery is not open to the public, however, it’s conveniently located in the town of Rochefort, which has terrific dining, sightseeing, and shopping opportunities. Many of the bars in town serve Rochefort’s coveted ales.
This is another Trappist beer with healthy distribution in the U.S. However, if you’re a fan of the beer or want to take in some incredible architectural history, this is the place to go. They are much more welcoming to the public than some of the other monasteries. Orval Abbey offers self-guided and guided tours. These last between 20 minutes and two hours respectively. The gift shop offers plenty of souvenir-buying options as well as an opportunity to get your hands on their world-class ale. It’s located at the southern tip of Belgium and is closer to Luxembourg and Reims, France, than it is to other major Belgian cities.
The sixth of six Belgian Trappist breweries is Sint-Benedictus Abbey, or Achelse Kluis for short. There are no brewery tours, but the tavern at the abbey is open to the public. It has a large viewing area where you can watch the brewers at work, and they offer limited release beers only available at the tavern, making it an attractive option for those looking for new beer experiences. The monastery is located in Achel, which is roughly equidistant from Antwerp, Belgium, and Dusseldorf, Germany.
Working in a stop at a Trappist brewery is easy thanks to the fact that they’re scattered throughout the country. If you’re staying in one of Belgium’s major cities, or planning a trip to France, Luxembourg, or Germany, a Trappist brewery is not too far away. Be sure to take advantage of your opportunity to visit these incredible locations.