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Volume I, Issue 28 - December 6, 2012

Monks Brewing Beers


Have you ever had communion or seen communion in a Catholic or Protestant church?

If so, you are well aware that wine is used. But what if instead it was beer in church? Would that seem odd? Yes... to me it would, too.

However, there is plenty of beer in some churches, or shall we more specifically say - Abbeys or Monasteries.

Let's take a relaxing and contemplative sojourn to the heart of church beer production. We'll tour several well known beer-producing Abbeys and a not so well known beer-producing Abbey, and virtually taste their ale.

Be sure to look at the beautiful and asthetically pleasing interiors and grounds and enjoy the patient, relaxed, and prayerful lifestyle of Monks who brew beers.




David Ivey

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Patient Monks and Their Beers

Sssh, quiet in here... You do know that quiet contemplation and prayerful meditation are required for this venue?

“Where are we?”

Patience. Just a moment and we’ll be there. You can open your eyes then. Patience. You know - that hard to get and elusive virtue - it’ll soon be yours. It comes in a bottle, you know. Actually, it comes in many bottles and from different countries.

OK - Now open your eyes - and pick one.

Belgian Trappist Abbey Beers
Belgian Trappist Abbey Beers

“Beers!” “Wait! Are we in a monastery?”

Yes - good perception - that’s another mark of a devoted follower.

Come on in farther. Let’s find out where and how the beers and their spiritually tuned brewers bind the craft of beer making with patience, seeking to glorify and know God better.

Patersbier or Fathers’ Beer = Monks’ Beer

Back in the days of the Middle Ages in Europe there was no central processing water treatment plant and sanitation was virtually unheard of. So, water was often infected and unfit or unsafe to drink. Yeast, grain, and hops came to the rescue by birthing the protective qualities of alcohol in “water.”

Say “cheers”, “salud”, “slainte”, “prost”, or “Op uw gezondheid” now.


These common expressions that are often used in toasting mean “to your health”. Do you see the significance of the expressions?

So European monks were in need of an alcoholic beverage to keep safe drinking water available, and they had the choice of wine, mead, or beer.

Beer was able to be consumed in large quantities, because of its lower alcohol content. And, in addition to being a preservative of water, it provided nutrients that made long fasting possible. These qualities gave beer, sometimes called "liquid bread," the edge, and beer was used by many monasteries for their drink. Monks are said to have consumed up to four liters a day!

"Is that why they were able to get so many monks to join the monasteries?”

Well - that probably made it easier. :)

Achel Trappist Monastery, Belgium
Achel Trappist Monastery, Belgium

They created a fairly low alcohol beer - about 3.5 to 5 % abv (alcohol by volume) - as their daily drink. Low enough in alcohol to allow for safe praying and working, but high enough in alcohol to keep the microbes out of the drinking water. It was called Patersbier.
Let’s choose one of the most well know orders of monks - the Trappists - for our first monks' beer taste stop.

Orval Trappist Monastery
Orval Trappist Monastery, Belgium

Enkel, Dubbel, Tripel, or Quad?

Trappist Monk

Authentic Monks’ Beer Only, Please

Trappist Monk Brewing Beer in Rochefort, Belgium
Trappist Monk Brewing Beer in Rochefort, Belgium

The name “Trappist beer” is protected by law and can only be applied to beer brewed by Trappist monks in their monastery. Among all Belgian beers, only six are allowed to use the name of Trappist Beer: Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren. Only these six beers are brewed in a Trappist Abbey. They can be recognized by this logo.

Trappist monks currently have eight abbeys worldwide that produce beer. The six in Belgium, plus one in Austria, and one in the Netherlands. It’s produced for the monks’ use, and also to sell. The production is either done by the monks or under their supervision. All profit beyond the monastery’s need is given to charities.

Plus, in keeping with the mission statement of monks, the price is kept very reasonable.

Plan ahead if you’re going to pick up some in Belgium! You may need to go to their abbey to get their ales. And a lot of the ales are only available at the abbey or in their country of origin.

For Example:

The Westvleteren "Trappist" is sold exclusively at the abbey store, and only after having made a reservation by telephone (+32 (0)70/21.00.45).

Prices for Trappist Westvleteren Ale in Westvleteren, Flanders, Belgium.

Our beer is sold by the crate, with 24 bottles per crate. From the 1st of July 2011 on, the beer prices (excluding the deposit for the crate and the bottles) are:

Trappist Westvleteren Blond

(5,8 vol.% ABV)

30,00 euros

Trappist Westvleteren 8 (dark)

(8 vol.% ABV)

34,00 euros

Trappist Westvleteren 12 (dark)

(10,2 vol.% ABV)

39,00 euros

That is about $2.00 to $2.50 US per 333 ml (11.26 ounce) bottle. Wow! Now - That is a real deal!

The Catch - you must go pick it up in Belgium. :)

Westvleteren 12
Westvleteren 12

BTW, Trappist Westvleteren 12 is considered by many to be the ONE BEST BEER in the world. BBB is looking to find or create a recipe that mimics that brew! Hehehe.

So, if you have a Westvleteren 12 recipe that you know to be a great clone - send it in please!

Honor Your Beer Maker’s Request:

Westvleteren Trappist is sold only to individual customers. Every customer agrees not to re-sell the beer to any third party.”

Far from seeking quantity, the company makes it a point of honour to brew a quality product. From the beginning, its growth has been connected with fundamental values, based on respect and appreciation for people, as well as a great precision in the management of the quality of its beers.

“Why are they called double and triples? Is this a baseball beer?”

OK, Mr. / Ms. Smarty...

Trappist Monk in Chimay Beer Storage Area Belgium Trappist ales are called dubbel and tripel because many years ago brewers doubled and tripled the ingredients - to create higher alcohol beers.

There is even a quad style as well. The enkel, or single, is generally like the Patersbier.

Westvleteren Trappist Ale

Quads? Hmm, tell me more.”
Each of the eight abbeys has its own beer selection. They are all ales, and except for the Monks’ Beer, which is generally not available for the public, they are generally high in alcohol content and keep or condition well for a long time.

To keep this beer a long time requires - patience...

Do you have a Monks’ patience? Didn’t think so - me either. :)

Belgium Monk Beer - a Big Hit

Chimay, Belgium, is home of the famous Chimay Blue, or Chimay Grand Reserve.

Chimay Beers

Chimay Trappist Abbey Cheese

Chimay Trappist Monk Conducting Brewery Tour
Chimay, Belgium: Chimay Grand Reserve, Chimay Trappist Abbey Cheese, and Chimay Trappist Monk Conducting Brewery Tour

A Bit of History of the Trappist Origin and Lifestyle

Chimay Trappist Monastery, Belgium
Chimay Trappist Monastery, Belgium

The monks of Scourmont Abbey in Chimay belong to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, usually called Trappists. These monks follow the Rule of St. Benedict (dating back to the 6th century), taking their name, "Cistercians", from the monastery of Cîteaux, founded in Burgundy in the 12th century.

The Cistercian monasteries are divided into two great Orders, of which one is historically connected to La Grande Trappe Abbey in Normandy, which gives them the common name of "Trappists."

The monks consecrate their lives to the praise of God through prayer and meditation. Taking a vow of celibacy, they live as a community under the direction of an Abbot and renounce all private possessions. At the heart of their lives they have their own work, and also endeavour by this work to procure help for the poorest.

Chimay Blue or Chimay Grand Reserve

Chimay Blue, known also as Chimay Grand Reserve, was first brewed as a Christmas beer in the Trappist abbey in Chimay. Blue is perhaps the most popular of Chimay’s Trappist style ales. They also have a blonde (White) and Red. Production is never compromised for quality and there is always more demand than available beer.

To make the beer more evenly available, the Trappist monasteries limit any one person’s purchase to once every 60 days.

  • Red (ABV 7%) has an aroma of fruit and caramel, and tastes nutty, peppery and slightly bitter, with a silky mouthfeel.

  • White (ABV 8%) is hoppy, dry and spicy, with notes of clove and raisin.

  • Blue (ABV 9%) is deeply fruity and peppery, slightly bitter, with hints of plum, raisin and nutmeg.

BBB is crafting and brewing our own version that mimics closely Chimay Blue - at 9% abv - it’s a tripel. After cellaring them for about 6 to 9 months, we’ll taste and bring the news to you. If it goes as well as expected, we’ll share the recipe. If not - I’ll try again with a revised recipe and again taste after 6 more months. LOL. We will not give up for lack of ... patience. ;)

Monk Beers Come to America

Abiquiu, N.M. USA

Standing in a field a few steps from the banks of the Rio Chama, Berkeley Merchant of Abbey Beverage Co. pulls apart a withered hop cone to reveal a tiny fleck of bright-yellow powder. He puts it up to his nose and inhales deeply.

"Lupulin," he announces. "That's what it's all about."

Hopyard at Christ in the Desert Abbey, New Mexico
Hopyard at Christ in the Desert Abbey, New Mexico

Lupulin, from Humulus Lupulus, is a species of Humulus in the Cannabaceae family.

Yes, for those of you who know your “Latin”, that is “Cannabis” for short. Not pot - but its close relative hops.

Pot vs. Hops

That’s where the comparison ends. For now, hops in beer are legal, and pot in anything in most states is not.

But if you want to enjoy a relaxed state of mind, this new monastery brewery in New Mexico may help make it a reality.

At the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, black-robed Benedictine monks have planted an assortment of bitter aromatic hops to be used in formulating new additions to their line of trademark ales.

Christ in the Desert Monastery
Christ in the Desert Monastery, Abiquiu, New Mexico, US

“But what about the beer!”

Patience, Please... ;)

Oh, sorry! Monks' Ale, a tasty Belgian-style brew known as an enkel, (single) is sold throughout New Mexico, and will soon be shipped to surrounding states.

Abbey Beverage Co. notes, "Our yeast was originally from the brewery of the Belgian Trappist Abbaye de Notre-Dame d'Orval."

The monks recently introduced a second style called Monks' Wit, a wheat beer similar to a German Hefeweizen, seasoned with coriander and orange peel.

A third, Monks' Tripel, is on the way too.

”Helping to Make and Market Beer.”

Abbey Brewing Co., owned mostly by the monastery, says:

"As one of the patrons of beer, Saint Arnold (580-640AD) expressed it:
'From man's work and God's goodness, beer came into the world.' "

Monk’s Ale

  • ABV: 5.2%

  • Style: Belgian Abbey Single (Enkel) Ale

  • Flavor: Monks’ Ale is an excellent session ale that is distinctively spicy with moderate fruity esters (particularly stone fruits). The yeast lends a note of clove and in combination with the malts, hints of plum and apricot.

  • Ingredients: Monks’ Ale is made with the finest of imported ingredients including three varieties of European hops (including German Hallertau and Czech Saaz.

History: Following the ages old tradition of monastic brewers in Europe, this style is a light variation on a Belgian pale ale because it is made with pilsner hops. In the Medieval Ages, it was made from the third draw of the wort form the mash tun.

Pairing: Monks’ Ale makes an excellent aperitif or first course accompaniment. It pairs well with lamb, pork, poultry, and seafood. It is a refreshing companion to any cheese or fruit.

Monks' Ale from Christ in the Desert Abbey, New Mexico, US

Monks’ Ale Business Philosophy

"Roman Catholic monks selling beer and ale might strike some as unusual, but the business is a direct outgrowth of the Benedictine motto "ora et labora," a Latin phrase meaning "prayer and work."

Ora et Labora

St. Benedict

"St. Benedict decreed that each monastery be self-sufficient in a list of rules he set down in the 6th century that became the standard model for Western monasticism."

"While the Abbey Beverage Co. is believed to be the only monastic brewery in the U.S., monks in European monasteries have been crafting beers and ales since the Middle Ages, for sale and for their own consumption."

Monk Brewing Beer

The monastery is a popular tourist destination. Artist Georgia O'Keeffe, who lived nearby, loved and painted the remote Rio Chama canyon, with its tawny sandstone cliffs, and occasionally visited the monastery.

Georgia O'Keefe Painting at Abiquiu, New Mexico
Georgia O'Keefe Painting at Abiquiu, New Mexico

So, patiently look for this new Monk’s beer near you soon, and be aware that other monasteries in other countries are ramping up to produce great beers for Monks and the public as well.

Enjoy it all - Monk style!

"Op Uw Gezondheid" & Gloria Deus,

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Whassup Ahead?


A broad flavor palate of interesting, craft beer related topics is coming in future issues. Every article - even if it's not your fave - will have lots of interesting and informative info about what makes delicious craft beer or home brew such a great beverage!

Topics will broadly include:

  • Craft Beer and Food: Beer & food pairings, original healthy recipes using craft beer, entertaining with craft beer.

  • Home Brewing: Extract with steeping grains, to all-grain techniques, equipment, tested and approved original recipes, recipe development.

  • Breweries: Tours, Brewery owners, brewmeisters & their unique stories, business beginnings.

  • Lifestyle: Beer & fitness.

Cheers, David

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