Saint Benedict’s Brews, Part 2: The ITA and Trappist Beers

A Taste and History of Trappist Beer in Four Parts

The 20th Century brought Belgium’s localized brewing industry into the modern era.  Two world wars exposed European and North American soldiers to unheard of beers.  Monastic and abbey names, like the Trappist name, were casually and liberally applied to Belgian beers to increase sales.

Although efforts to protect the Trappist name and reputation began prior to the 1940s, it was only after World War II that Trappists decided their namesake and related products required protection from corporate attempts at duplication.  It was the Orval monks, understanding the economic value their name conveyed to the beer, cheese, and other items their monasteries produced, who initiated creating the International Trappist Association (ITA).

In late 1985 the association received Belgian commercial court backing, which agreed that “customers attribute special standards of quality to products made by monastic communities, and this is especially true of Trappist monasteries.”  The ITA then in turn created a distinctive product label “to ensure the consumer of the origin and authenticity of these products, especially in the beer market.”

Of most importance are the three criteria necessary to receive an “authentic Trappist product” label: first, “products which carry this label are produced within the walls of the monastery or in the vicinity of the monastery”; second, “the monastic community determines the policies and provides the means of production.  The whole process of production must clearly evidence the indisputable bond of subsidiary, with the monastery benefiting from the production, and must be in accordance with the business practices proper to a monastic way of life”; and third, “the profits are primarily intended to provide for the needs of the community or for social services.”

The ITA’s legal protection distinguishes Trappist from abbey or abbey-style beer.  Some abbeys brew beer and others do not; abbeys that don’t often sell licenses to use their name.  Thus, an abbey beer can be connected to a religious order in name only while Trappist beer is directly produced by one.

Would the ITA’s strict production requirements make it difficult to find Trappist beer?  I was determined to find out.

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Published in: on December 5, 2010 at 11:52 pm  Comments Off on Saint Benedict’s Brews, Part 2: The ITA and Trappist Beers  
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