May 2015, the International Trappist Association (ITA) approved the eleventh Trappist monastery brewery, Tre Fontane in Rome, Italy. There are now six Trappist breweries in Belgium (Rochefort, Westmalle, Westvleteren, Chimay, Orval, and Achel), two in the Netherlands, aka Holland (La Trappe/Koningshoeven and De Kievit/Maria Toevlucht of Zundert), one in Austria (Gregorius by Stift Engelszell), one in the United States (St. Joseph’s of Spencer), and now one in Italy (Tre Fontane).
(Name confusion can arise, as references to Trappist breweries can be the abbey name, the city name, the brewery name, the beer brand name, or a combination of those names.)
The ITA’s description of Tre Fontane’s Tripel:
“The high carbonation gives the mouthfeel a pleasant dry finish. The mildly sweet aftertaste comes from the soothing flavor of eucalyptus herb, which cleanses and refreshes the palate. While the beer gives the impression of being light, it has abundant body. The high alcohol content adds a warm, refined feeling to the soothing highlights of the eucalyptus.”
“Three Fountains” (not to be confused with Drie Fonteinen in Belgium) is an 8.5-percent tripel brewed with eucalyptus. Eucalyptus trees were planted at the abbey in the late 19th century to combat malaria (fast-growing eucalyptus trees dry out marshy areas and prevent breeding by mosquitos).
What does Trappist mean?
Trappist is not a beer style. It’s a legally protected certification of a product under the guidelines of the ITA.
Trappists are monks and nuns in the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (OCSO), a Roman Catholic contemplative religious order consisting of monasteries of monks or nuns that traces its origin to 1098. Their monasteries are found all over the world.
Among the many requirements set by the ITA, Trappist breweries must adhere to the following:
- The beer must be brewed within the walls of the monastery, or in the vicinity of the monastery.
- The beer must be brewed by the monks themselves or under their supervision.
- The monastic community should run the brewery, set its policies, control production and marketing, etc.
- Profits are primarily intended to provide for the needs of the monastery (i.e., living expenses of the monks and the maintenance of the buildings and grounds). Any extra profits should go to charities or other social services.
- The brewery must be of secondary importance within the monastery.
The beer styles brewed by Trappists are often associated with Belgian styles, and it’s true that many Trappist beers happen to be Belgian (in Belgium) or Belgian-style (outside of Belgium) blonds, dubbels, tripels, quadrupels and dark strong ales, etc., although they can brew other styles. La Trappe (Koningshoeven), for example, makes a bockbier and a witbier.
To many, the word Trappist conjures up images of old, traditional brewing practices performed inside secretive, cobweb-filled monasteries. Some of that is true. But Trappist breweries are more modern than you might think. Not to be confused with Lambic breweries, Trappist breweries are kept immaculately clean and they use state-of-the-art equipment.
Abbey versus Trappist
Both “Abbey” and “Trappist” are legally protected terms. Trappist beer is brewed within a monastery by monks. Abbey beer was once brewed in a monastery (usually pre world wars), but is now brewed off-site and under license by non-monks (or sometimes monks).
Technically, any beer brewed by an Abbey could be considered an Abbey beer (aka, Abbey ale, as they are top-fermented ales). All Trappist beers could be considered Abbey beers, but not all Abbey beers are Trappist beers.
In America, you often see the term, “Abbey-style,” but it is a vague descriptor. “Abbey” isn’t a beer style, but for some reason, it is often associated with the dubbel style.
Keep in mind, neither term is necessarily proof of quality. They are just appellations. Not all Trappist beers and Abbey ales are great, in my opinion, just as there are many world-class non-Abbey and non-Trappist beers.