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An Homage to the Drunk Monks

beer101logoMy latest Beer 101 column (read here) offers a look at the monks who brew beer. The Trappists. I know I have written about them before and many, if not most, of you are well familiar with their history, approach and beer.

Still, I am well aware the broader beer world still struggles to understand what they are about. I get far too many questions from beer consumers about Trappist beer. Too often people equate Trappist with any Belgian Strong Ale. Or they incorrectly assume any Belgian brewery with a Catholic sounding name (hello St. Bernardus!) must be Trappist. Clearly there is still much education to be performed.

I won’t recount the whole column here – that is what hyperlinks are for (again, you can read it here if you are too lazy to scroll back up to the top). Instead, I will discuss a few associated thoughts leading to and arising from the article.

I was motivated to write the piece upon discovering the arrival into Alberta of one of the newest Trappist breweries – Spencer from St. Joseph’s monastery in Massachusetts (the beer is named after the town the monks reside near). I like that the brewing brothers of St. Joseph’s break a few stereotypes about Trappists. First they live the U.S. Whaa?!?!? Everyone assumes the whole Trappist thing is historical. Yes, it has important historical roots, but it is a designation whose criteria are grounded in the here and now.

Also, they have the nerve to produce a unexpected beer – a so-called Single, a regular strength blonde ale using Trappist yeast. Do these Americans have no respect for tradition? Well, actually, that style is the traditional table beer produced by Trappists for daily consumption by the monks. Tradition. (Look for a review of Spencer in this neighbourhood sometime soon).

trappist logoThird, they are not located in Europe. Most people don’t realize that the order of Trappists (Cistercians of the Strict Observance) is a global order, with monasteries around the world. They think it is a strictly European thing. Wrong.

More on that another day. Today I just want to offer a reminder of the uniqueness of Trappist beer. They are not unique for their flavour or their brewing techniques. They are unique because of who brews the beer (monks!) and their purpose for brewing beer (on a non-profit basis to sustain the monastery and their charitable activities). That is a rare thing in this world.

Regardless of what you think of Catholicism or religion in general, there is something attractive about drinking a beer that has been made not for profit, with an eye to tradition and quality and to which the proceeds will go to aiding those in need.

How often do you get that in this world? Read the column and then go buy some delicious Trappist ales. Just be sure to look for the mark on the right.



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