Time for another beer post from David!:
Trappist beer – brewed by Trappist monks, those of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, formerly the Order of Reformed Cistercians of Our Lady of La Trappe – is widely recognized and revered (certainly by us) as some of the world’s best. The name “Trappist” originates from the La Trappe abbey located close to Soligny in Normandy, France, where this order of reformist (i.e., more restrictive) monks was founded in 1664.
Currently, fourteen monasteries produce Trappist beers under the official recognition of the International Trappist Association. Six are in Belgium, two in the Netherlands, and one each in Austria, Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Spain and the U.S.A. Twelve of the fourteen (excluding those in France and Spain) also qualify for the Authentic Trappist Product label, which certifies that the beer is made within the abbey, by (or under the direction of) Trappist monks, and that profits are solely for the needs of the monastery and its community or for charity and social projects.
Annual production among the 14 monasteries varies widely, from 1,700 US barrels (31 gallons per barrel) at the breweries in Italy, Austria and the UK, up to 124,000 US barrels at De Koningshoeven Brewery (Brouwerij de Koningshoeven) in the Netherlands, popularly known as La Trappe.
In early October, we drove a couple of hours from Antwerp to tour the Koningshoeven Brewery and the monastery grounds, commonly referred to just as La Trappe. We booked our English-language tour online the night before. Our group had about 15 people, from Germany, Korea, Brazil, and the US.
The tour begins delightfully the way most other brewery tours end … with a beer! You can choose from eight beers, more than any other Trappist brewery. The beers include a light blonde called PUUR (4.7% ABV), a bockbier (7%), a dubbel (7%), a tripel (8%), a quadrupel (10%), and a unique La Trappe beer called Isid’or (7.5%), named after Brother Isidorus Laaber, their first brewmaster who started brewing in 1884. It’s quite nice, amber-colored with an herbal, fruity and slightly floral aroma/taste combo. (La Trappe also makes an oak-aged quadrupel (11%). It’s available only in 37.5ml bottles and sold only in the gift shop.) While sipping our selections – an Isid’or and a quadrupel – we watched a short film about the abbey and brewery. It’s a great start to the tour.
Our burly tour guide Tony was knowledgeable, humorous and very enthusiastic, and he clearly enjoys beer. We started in the brewhuis amid the giant lauter tun and brewing and wort kettles. Tony gave us an animated, informative presentation on the brewing process. Given La Trappe’s high output and the decline in the monk population (average age, about 40), their labor force draws largely on local residents and their managing director and distribution agents are not a monks although they work under the direction of monks. In their fields and gardens, the monastery and brewery employ persons with learning difficulties and mental disabilities.
La Trappe also makes cheese (with beer, of course) and they use the spent grain from brewing to make bread. Both products are available in the tasting room. We didn’t get to see the cheese-making or bakery operations, but we stopped in a building that housed an antique oven and an assortment of old baking equipment. The tour with Tony ended with a visit to the large automated bottling area.
We then stopped by the tasting room for lunch and a flight of five beers (not full-size, mind you). The space is pleasant with high, beamed ceilings and a soaring wall of windows overlooking a wooded area. There are outside tables available in good weather. I had a spicy chicken sandwich, served on a large Trappist bun, and some frites. Tamara had an excellent frittata with bacon, onions, tomato, basil, and spinach, served with a small salad and Trappist bread. My selection was good, but Tamara’s was much better and I was jealous.
All in all, we had a great time and would recommend a visit.
Brewery tours should be booked in advance online on the brewery website. The cost is €12 pp for a tour through the brewery, a movie about life in the monastery and the brewery, and one full-sized beer of your choice. Note: visitors are requested to arrive 15 minutes early for tours. Also, entry is not through the monastery entrance shown in the top photo, but down a path from the parking lot.
Food was reasonably priced in the tasting room at €9.50 each for the frittata and sandwich. There’s also a large gift shop on site offering beer, cheese, sausages, soaps, beer signs, clothes, crafts, etc.