Loss of Trappist: Is there a future for Belgian Trappist breweries?

The Monks of Westmalle have sold St Benedict’s Abbey in Achel (Limburg) that loses the right to call beers brewed at the abbey brewery Trappist beers. The news means that only five Belgian Trappist breweries remain: Westvleteren and Westmalle in Flanders, Orval, Chimay and Rochefort in Wallonia.  Do the Trappist beers have a future given the fact the number of new vocations is in free fall?

Flemish expert of Belgian beers Sofie Vanrafelghem confirms that few young men are receiving the call to a monastic life and that the number of monks living in such communities is falling.  “Becoming a monk isn’t so easy.  You need to complete a nine-year probation period as a novice before you can take your vows”.

“Everybody is welcome at the abbey, and this means you will encounter many nationalities.  Belgian religious communities enjoy great respect abroad.  There are guys who head for Belgium with the sole intention of becoming a Belgian monk”.

People often think it’s the beer that attracts people.  A couple of years ago Sofie went behind the scenes at Westvleteren Abbey and discovered the dedication there and the enormous difference between how the monks actually live and how we think they live.  She discovered a life of sobriety, of silence and of great connection with the Lord.

Sofie can’t predict whether it will be up to foreigners to ensure the survival of our Trappist brews, but she’s convinced Trappist breweries will survive.  Enough men will receive the call here in Belgium or elsewhere in the world.

The beer expert doesn’t believe relaxing the rules and loosening the ties between the monks and the brewing process is a good idea.  “Trappist beers must remain authentic and the fact that profit is not the engine of the operation is part of the core DNA. Changing the rules, making the monks no longer directly responsible from the brewing will only bring calamity”.

Even if all Trappist breweries were to disappear in Belgium, still this wouldn’t be a disaster, says Sofie.  “Trappist beers are magical and for some form the Holy Grail, but don’t forget in Belgium there are some 420 different breweries. We can still quench our thirst with many fine beers” concludes Sofie. 

“Even without Achel Trappist Belgium still boasts a magnificent beer landscape”.

Joxean/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

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