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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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Authentic Trappist ale to be brewed in U.S. for first time

authentic-trappist-logo_350 x 402Long-time readers of my blog know that I am a bit of a nut for Belgian beers. Top among the list of my favorite Belgian beers are those that come from Belgian monasteries like Chimay, Rochefort, and Westvleteren. These are known as Trappist ales, they are certified and approved by the Catholic Church and are the only beers allowed to carry the Authentic Trappist Product logo. This logo provides certain assurances to consumers that the brew is made to strict standards.

Up until recently, all Trappist beers were brewed in Europe, primarily Belgium where there are six breweries. But, The Netherlands and Austria also host a Trappist brewery each with a second brewery under development in The Netherlands as well. Never has certified Trappist ale been produced outside of Europe until now. But, on December 11, 2013, the International Trappist Association in Brussels, Belgium announced that Saint Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Mass. Will become the first American brewery to be designated Authentic Trappist.

“At a meeting yesterday of the International Trappist Association in Brussels, the Spencer Trappist Ale was awarded the ‘Authentic Trappist Product’ designation,” François de Harenne, Commercial Director of the Orval Trappist brewery, said, “The decision was made after several controls made on the premises during the last weeks. We also were lucky enough to taste the beer.”

According to the association’s official website (www.trappist.be);

A “Trappist” has to satisfy a number of strict criteria proper to this logo before it may bear this name:

  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.

While the brewery is still under construction, some information has made it out including the style of beer and its flavor profile. According to the label that will appear on the bottles, Spencer Trappist Ale has an alcohol content of 6.5 percent and is “inspired by traditional refectory ales brewed by monks for the monks’ table. Spencer is a full-bodied, golden-hued Trappist ale with fruity accents, a dry finish and light hop bitterness.”

Output for the brewery will be limited. According to zoning commission minutes from Spencer, the brewery intends to produce one batch of beer per day, four days per week. The eventual output is expected to reach 10,000 barrels per year.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in Beer News, Beer Styles

 

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Trappist ales spotlighted on ‘I Know Jax’

Not long ago the news that one of the world’s rarest beers, Westvleteren 12, will be released for sale next week. In the video below I talk about this extraordinary beer on “I Know Jax” with my cohort Joe Talentino.

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2012 in Beer, Belgian, Events

 

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Westvleteren 12 to be sold at Jacksonville Total Wine beginning Dec. 12

Français : Westvleteren Blonde (5,8 %)

Français : Westvleteren Blonde (5,8 %) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In January of this year I wrote an article with news that was huge for United States beer lovers. News that I compared to, “Elvis is still alive and munching peanut butter and ‘nana sandwiches. It’s as if you found a lotto ticket on the ground only to discover it is the jackpot winner. It’s like waking up between Olivia Wilde and Scarlett Johansson.” And I was not kidding, it was big news for the U.S. But, the beer that I have today is just as big for Jacksonville beer drinkers: fellow Belgian beer lovers rejoice! Westvleteren 12 will be available for purchase on Dec. 12 at Total Wine in St. John’s Town Center. Yes, you read that right, the Holy Grail of the beer world is coming to little ol’ Jacksonivlle. There will be no tickets to purchase, no reserving of the beer, and you cannot order it over the telephone. You have to go to the store on Dec. 12 to purchase the brew.

you may remember, while I was visiting the Belgium in 2010, I stopped into a quaint 400-year-old tavern called Au Bon Vieux Temps owned by a lovely – and lively – woman named Marie. As I perused the menu and ordered beers, I became friends with Marie and we began talking about my beer writing activities.

With a glimmer in her eye, Marie asked if I had ever tried a Westie. I replied that I had not. When she asked if I would like to, I wondered exactly who in the bar I would have to bump off before I got my hands on one of those extremely rare brews. I, of course, blurted that I would LOVE to try a Westie.

A moment later she disappeared into the cellar behind and beneath the bar. She returned with not one, but three of the plain bottles. She handed them to the bartender who opened it, presented me with the bottle cap (which I still have) and poured the brew into a chalice. When I origianlly wrote about the beer, this is what I said, “I sniffed the thick head that formed at the top of the glass and smelled dark fruits – figs, plums, spices, caramel, and alcohol. The first sip was an explosion of sweet maltiness, spices, and a hint of oak.”

Westvleteren is brewed at the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren in Belgium. But, that had not always been the case. Monks from the Catsberg monastery in France founded the St. Sixtus monastery in 1831 and began brewing beer in 1838. At that time beer was brewed for the consumption of the monks, guests, and visitors only. But in 1931, the abbey began selling beer to the general public. The beer is sold only to support the monastery and other charitable causes.

While there are currently several secular workers at the brewery, the beer is primarily brewed by the monks only, making it the only Trappist brewery where the monks do all of the brewing. Only enough beer is brewed to support the monastery and no more regardless of demand. If you are lucky enough to obtain permission to purchase the brew, you are allowed only one case of 24 bottles of Westvleteren 12. The receipt given to purchasers clearly states, “Not for Resale.” In the words of the Father Abbot, “We are no brewers. We are monks. We brew beer to be able to afford being monks.”

In October of 2011 it was announced that the beer would be more widely available for a very limited amount of time in order to temporarily increase funds for urgent and immediate renovations at the monastery. Only 93,000 cases of the beer would be available and those were to be packaged into a six-pack with two glasses. In November U.S. importers Shelton Bothers and Mannekin-Brusel announced that they would have limited quantities of the beer available in the gift packs beginning in April. That date stretched to June and, for Jacksonville, December.

Many consider the Westie 12 to be the best beer in the world. Indeed in June 2005 during a bi-annual competition, Westvleteren 12 was voted “The Best Beer in the World,” by the members of RateBeer.com. Critics and beer afficianados alike agree that this brew is sublime.

Of all the beers I tasted in Belgium and throughout my life, I would have to agree that it is my favorite beer in the world. But, as is the case in most things, opinions tend to be subjective. Some reviewers attribute the moniker to the rarity of the beer and certainly that is part of the allure. But, for taste, balance and character, I still stand by my assertion of it being my all-time favorite and worthy of being called the best beer in the world.

This is a beer you definitely want to get your hands on because you may never get an opportunity to obtain it again. Certainly you will not be able to get it in a gift pack here in the states and probably not unless you go to Belgium and stand outside the abbey in hopes of scoring a case.

Total Wine will offer the six-packs packaged with two logo chalices for $84.99.

If you are lucky enough to snag a six-pack, be sure to share it with good friends who will truly enjoy this exceedingly wonderful and rare brew.

Keep up to date on all the beer happenings and news going on in town at the ALL NEW www.JaxBeerGuy.com.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2012 in Beer, Belgian

 

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Westies to be Available in U.S. in September

Late last year it was announced that one of the most sought-after beers in the world would be legally available for the first time in the United States. The news was that the brew would be put into limited release in April. Well, April has come and gone, but the beer – Westvleteren 12 – did not materialize. To beer drinkers who were salivating at the opportunity to get a hold of this legendary brew, that was a big disappointment.

The good news – according to a news release from Shelton Brothers, the U.S. distributer of the beer, on Friday, June 16, eight cases of the brew will be available for tasting at their beer festival next week on June 23rd and 24th at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts. The icing on the cake is that attendees at the Festival will be given the opportunity to purchase a Westvleteren 12 gift pack.

The rest of the beer-loving population of the U.S. will have to wait until September when the distributers expect the rest of the Westvleteren release to be available for purchase.

Users of the website BeerAdvocate.com rate this brew at a perfect 100 out of 100. To many, it is the epitome of the beer experience, it is a rare beer, it is an exceedingly well-made beer, and its complexity satisfies in a way that other beers simply do not. One reviewer described the beer, “This was a fantastic beer that definitely lived up to its hype. Definitely by far the best Quad I’ve ever had. The beer was very complex, while everything balanced perfectly into a great beer.”

Westvleteren 12, as the reviewer above notes, is a Belgian Quad brewed at the Brouwerij Westvleteren (Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvleteren) by Trappist monks and is a certified Trappist brew by The Vatican. According to the Shelton Brothers press release, “The Abbey of St Sixtus, located in the far west of Belgium, is home to 24 monks, and the Trappist Westvleteren brewery that they have operated since 1838. The brewery is one of only six Trappist breweries in Belgium, and is the second-smallest of them. (Only the Achel Trappist brewery is a bit smaller.) It produces about 50,000 cases of beer per year, which is sold only at the gates of the Abbey, one case per customer only. It makes only three beers – Westvleteren Blonde, Westvleteren 8°, and Westvleteren 12°. About half of the brewery’s production is of Westvleteren 12°, the most popular of the beers and, as every beer aficionado knows, the highest-rated beer in the world.”

This brew is so rare because of how difficult it is to obtain. The Abby’s website states that in order to purchase Westvleteren brews you must first check when the reservation lines will be open, obtain a reservation to pick the beer up at the Abby, and then arrive to line up and wait. A place in line, however, does not assure that you will get 12, only that you have a place in line to get what is available that day. To make it even more difficult, purchasers are limited to only one reservation every six weeks. Further, purchasers are prohibited from reselling the brew to any third party – though it often is. Two bottles of the beer routinely sells on Ebay for $450 or more.

But, just because the brew will be available for purchase in the United States legally in September, do not expect to get your hands on it. The release will be extremely limited and a check with local Jacksonville distributers revealed that they do not expect to get any for the north Florida market. Some outlets on the Internet will let you pre-order the gift pack, which will include six bottles of the beer and two logo chalices. However, be wary of these sites and only do business with dealers you know and trust.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2012 in Beer, Beer News

 

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