Trappist Ale

According to EC law, Trappist ale may only come from seven abbeys of the Trappist order, six in Belgium and one in Holland, that still brew beer on their premises. Although the styles may differ widely among them, they share a common trait of being top-fermented, strong, bottle-conditioned, complex, and fully-flavored brews. These can often improve with some years of cellaring. In all, there are about 20 different Trappist beers from the seven monasteries: Achel, Chimay, Koningshoeven, Rochefort, Orval, Westmalle, and Westvleteren. Chimay and Orval are currently well distributed in the major U.S. markets, but the others might prove hard to find on a consistent basis. Trappist ales are among the most complex and old-fashioned of beers that one can find — little wonder that many connoisseurs treat them as the holy grail of beer drinking.

Abbey Ales (Singel, Dubbel, Trippel)

Monastic, or abbey, ales are an ancient tradition in Belgium, in much the same manner as wine production was once closely associated with monastic life in ancient France. Currently, very few working monasteries brew beer within the order, but many have licensed the production of beers bearing their abbey name to large commercial brewers. These “abbey ales” can vary enormously in specific character, but most are quite strong in alcohol content, ranging from 6 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) to as high as 10 percent. Generally, abbey ales are labeled as either “dubbel” or “trippel,” though this is not a convention that is slavishly adhered to. The former conventionally denotes a relatively less alcoholic and often darker beer, while the latter can often be lighter or blond in color and have a syrupy, alcoholic mouthfeel that invites sipping, not rapid drinking. The lowest gravity abbey ale in a Belgian brewer’s range will conventionally be referred to as a “singel,” though it is rarely labeled as such.

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