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Trappist ales may be slipping into history

Trappist_Beer_2013-08-31Speak to any knowledgeable beer lover and you are likely to find out that they hold Trappist Ales in high regard. Most would agree that beer brewed within the confines of a monastery, under the watchful eyes of monks is some of the best in the world. Indeed, at least one of the beers designated as Trappist is widely considered the best beer in the world by rating sites like RateBeer.com and BeerAdvocate.com.

But, in order to be considered a Trappist beer, there are strict rules that must be followed.

  1. The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery, either by the monks themselves or under their supervision.
  2. The brewery must be of secondary importance within the monastery and it should witness to the business practices proper to a monastic way of life
  3. The brewery is not intended to be a profit-making venture. The income covers the living expenses of the monks and the maintenance of the buildings and grounds. Whatever remains is donated to charity for social work and to help persons in need.

It is because of these stringent rules that Trappist beer may disappear in the near future.

In an article published by the French newspaper L’Union L’Ardennais, Brother Bernard at the Orval monastery in Belgium explains, ““Anyone who is interested can always come along and stay in the monastery for a couple of days. If that is a success, the candidate can come and live for a month in the monastery. If the candidate fits into life in a monastic community, he can then start a trial period of five years.”

Becoming a monk, and thereby a brewer in a Trappist monastery, is a long term proposition.

Even with the new addition of the first Trappist brewery in the United States last week, the pool of monk brewers is still far too small. At the Orval monastery, there are only 12 monks brewing a number that is down from 35 several decades ago. And at the Achel monestary there are only six, five of them over the age of 70.

“We are looking for more recruits, but unfortunately we cannot hire a headhunter,” said Brother Bernard.

Because of the declining numbers, it is likely that Trappist Ales will become even more scarce than they already are. Westvleteren XII, produced by the St. Sixtus monestary is already one of the most sought-after beers in the world because of its scarcity. American beer lovers did get an opportunity in December of 2012 to purchase the rare beer when the monastery released a very small amount to the U.S. But, since then anyone who wants to taste this beer considered by many to be the best in the world had to obtain it from the monastery or a collector willing to part with it.

But, the Dutch newspaper Trouw reports that the Trappist brewery in The Netherlands is not reporting any loss of brothers. And, the newly designated Spencer Trappist Ale from St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Mass. seems to indicate that there is no shortage of brewers at the American Trappist monestary.

For now, all beer lovers can do is wait and hope. Beer of the caliber made by the Trappist monks may be slowly slipping into history. But, for those who see the writing on the wall that is more an indication that the beer should be celebrated and perhaps cellared, than mourned.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2013 in Beer News

 

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Merchant du Vin Brings Old World Brews to the New World

A bottle of Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout.

Image via Wikipedia

Some of the best beers in the world are brewed by small breweries in Europe. These brews are world-renowned and, upon seeing the size of their breweries, one might wonder how such a small place could produce a beer so beloved around the globe. But, some of these breweries have done just that and have been around a very long time.

On Thursday, November 17, I had the opportunity to taste an extraordinary collection of fine brews presented at Total Wine in the St. John’s Town Center by Merchant du Vin beer importer. Merchant du Vin has been in the business of importing beer for nearly 35 years and has collected an impressive portfolio including beers from Samuel Smith, Traquair, Ayinger, Zatec, Pinkus, Lindemans, Orval, Westmalle, Rochefort, and Green’s.

On hand to guide us on our beer tasting was Rob Nelson, Southeast Regional Manager for Merchant du Vin. His presentation took us on a journey around Europe and into some of the oldest brewing facilities in the world. His stories and photos enchanted the audience and truly brought to life the history of the beers we tasted.

The first brewery we tasted from was Samuel Smith’s. The Old Brewery in Tadcaster was established in 1758 and is Yorkshire’s oldest brewery. It adheres to the old ways of brewing and maintains it’s own copper kettle and cooper for making and repairing barrels.

Beers we tasted from Samuel Smith’s included:

Organic Cider – Bright in color, light in body, and clean in flavor are the descriptors on the marketing materials and they are absolutely correct. The apple flavor is sweet without being cloying.

Organic Strawberry Ale – Sweet and refreshing with just the right amount of strawberry flavor in a medium-bodied brew. This is a beer for a lazy afternoon in a hammock somewhere.

Oatmeal Stout – This stout is possibly the standard on which all other oatmeal stouts should be judged. Indeed, it was the very first commercially produced ale that combined oatmeal and malted barley. This brew is rich and thick with sweet and bitter notes.

In a recent column I discussed Ayinger as one of my favorite Oktoberfest beers, but Ayinger also produces several other very tasty and satisfying brews. The brewery was founded in 1878 in the small Bavarian village of Aying. Today the brewery is an automated testament to German engineering that does not sacrifice authentic and traditional flavors for mass-production.

We tasted several from Ayinger including:

Hefe-Weizen – This unfiltered brew is a refreshing example of the German wheat beer. It displays the appropriate clove and spice profiles of the style and is wonderfully drinkable.

Ur-Weisse – An interesting treat, this dark brew is very malty in character, yet maintains the clove and spice profile of a wheat beer brewed in the German style.

Orval is another of the evenings offerings that, though I had had it before, I was truly looking forward to. As a brew with a Trappist designation, Orval is still brewed within the walls of the Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval in Belgium. Monks still work to produce it, but with some help from lay people. The brewery is still owned and operated by the Catholic Church for the express benefit of Catholic charities. There is evidence of brewing and beer consumption on the grounds of the Abbaye as far back as 1628.

The word orval means “golden valley” and is an appropriate moniker for this outstanding brew. When poured into a glass the brew is hazy and golden. It reveals fruity, hoppy aromas that are a result of the dry-hopping process used. The taste is complex, fruity with a fair amount of hop kick.

The final Trappist brew we tasted that evening was Westmalle, another complex and wonderful Belgian beer that truly makes me long to head back over to that country.

With enlightening stories and wonderful slides, Rob from Merchant du Vin truly made the evening an experience to remember. Given the opportunity to attend one of his presentations you should run, not walk. This is a man who loves his beer and has a true appreciation of the art, love, and talent that goes into making it.

Until next time,

Long Live the Brewers!

Cheers!

Marc Wisdom

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2011 in Beer, Beer Education, Beer Tasting, Belgian, Imports

 

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