Monks have contributed largely to finding and establishing vineyards that yielded and still do, vineyards (single vineyards) in the Middle Ages and also brewed flavourful beers for their enjoyment and sustenance.
Monks had the knowledge and resources to research and determine through trial and error, the best techniques to brew excellent beers, and grow the most suitable grapes for winemaking.
They were literate, had the time to experiment, and were interested enough to pursue matters that made their lives enjoyable and productive.
To this day may European abbeys in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and France brew fine beers, and a few still own vineyards maintained by civilians. Some abbeys produce liqueurs, e.g Benedictine and Chartreuse.
Of all European countries, Belgium has the most abbey breweries. All told, Belgium has 178 breweries producing 1100 brands in a number of categories (ales, lagers, geuze lambic, and other specialty beers) and Belgians like to enjoy a lot of what their breweries offer.
The largest brewery organization in the world, Anheuser-Busch and InBev, has its office in Leuven, Belgium.
Trappist monks have been brewing fro centuries have developed distinct styles.
Vowing to devote their existence solely to finding God, the Trappists spend their days in prayer and manual labour. In early times, they even forbade purely intellectual pursuits. So rigorous were their reforms that these brothers were called Cistercians of the Most Strict Observance. In popular terms, they are known as Trappists, so named for the monastery in which their order was created.
While the God-fearing Medieval era produced many extreme religious groups, few including Trappists have survived in a world of sex, drugs, and all kinds of wayward lifestyles. To outsiders, these holy men, sequestered behind walls, celibate, ascetic, and silent shun modern society. In one way, however, they are same as we are. They must earn a livelihood.
Trappists belong to the strictest, most secluded sects.
Their movement began at the Abbey of Notre Dame de la Trappe (Normandy) in the 17th century France as a reaction to what some monks perceived as rather lax and permissive. Other Catholic orders are Cistercians, Benedictine, Carthusian just to name a few.
Trappist monks speak only when necessary and sometimes use sign language.
Some brew, others make cheese, and yet others both.
In 1997 Trappist Association of Breweries decreed that all profits from beer sales must be used to improve their monasteries, or help improve communities in which they are located.
Shortly after Benedictine monasteries allowed commercial breweries to use their recipes, with the condition that their brethren browed or supervise the process.
Heineken, of one Netherlands’s largest brewery organizations, if not the largest, owns abbey-operated Affligem brewery.
These came about because abbeys experiences severe financial difficulties and needed extra funds for survival.
Only seven Trappist abbeys meet the requirements of the Trappist Association of breweries. Achel, Chimay, La Trappe, Orval, Rochefort, Westmale and Wesdtvleteren do.
Chimay exports appreciable quantities to several countries, including Canada and the USA.
Westvleteren now sells, in quantity, its beers by appointment to individuals if each “swears” that he/she will not sell Westvletern beers to others. According to reports, a 12 pack costs $ 40.00 at the abbey but on the “black market” goes for $ 800.00.
Most of the Belgian abbey beers are ales – brown ales are called dubbel, strong pale ales triple, and blond ales blonde.
Abbey beers generally are more flavourful, and hopped stronger than average beers.
Some abbey beers undergo their second fermentation in teh bottle and are not filtered. They are called the “champagnes” of the beer world.
There are now 18 certified Abbey beers, but Maredesous, Tangelo, Floreffe, Abbaye de Chambron, Bornem, Affligem are the more famous and widely distributed brands.
Germany has several abbey breweries in Bavaria the most famous of which is Weihenstephan.
Italy and France also have several in the north of their respective countries.
Some monasteries now accept “guests” to enjoy contemplation, quiet, simplicity, and profundity of monastic life.
Westvleteren Fax 057/40 1420 (Operates a café and a retreat. Accepts reservations only after a short interview.
Chimay www.chimay.be (Operates a small inn and restaurant)