Saint Benedict’s Brews, Part 1: Prayer, Work, and Protection

A Taste and History of Trappist Beer in Four Parts

Belgium produces a seemingly endless number of beers given its small geographic size and understated history within greater Europe.  Britain, France, and Germany – Europe’s traditional Big Three – do produce more beer per capita, but many consider tiny Belgium the true home of European ale.

Situated in a quiet northwest corner of the continent, Belgians – like their German neighbors to the east – have also maintained breweries during the past millennium.  Breweries that continued to produce throughout times of war, pestilence, and upheaval were located in monasteries and abbeys, thereby protected by their self-selected removal from secular society.

Year after year, the monks and nuns of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance – more popularly known as Trappists (and Trappistines) – focused on two priorities: ora et labora – prayer and work.  Work consisted of manual labor as well as economic activities meant to sustain the abbey and provide community service.  Members of the Order produced numerous varieties of products: foods such as breads, chocolate, cheese, and honey; beer and a few liquors; and cosmetic salves and oils, religious candles, Eucharistic breads, and liturgical vestments.

As centuries passed, the Trappist monasteries and abbeys became known for their long-standing brewing expertise.  Early in the 20th Century, commercial brewers quickly realized they could exploit this reputation by labeling their product as an abbey-ale when it was in fact, not.  Pictures of drinking monks soon began appearing on bottle labels, which stood in marked contrast to their cloistered and pious lifestyles.

Individual monasteries decided it was time to protect their religious order’s name and reputation.

Published in: on December 3, 2010 at 11:43 pm  Comments Off on Saint Benedict’s Brews, Part 1: Prayer, Work, and Protection  
Tags: , ,
%d bloggers like this: