Belgian Trappist and Abbey Beer
These are not really Belgian beer styles as such, but more collective denominators for beers having a link to a religious order and complying with some defined conditions. The beers might be of every beer style you could imagine, however most of them decline in 3 versions, a blond, a dark (double) and a triple.
Trappist is the name of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, also known as the Trappist Order. The order takes its name from La Trappe Abbey, located in the French province of Normandy. It is a Roman Catholic religious order of cloistered contemplative monastics who strictly follow the Rule of St. Benedict. Many of the rules have been relaxed since they were written in the 6th century. However, a fundamental tenet, that monasteries should be self-supporting, is still maintained by these groups. Following this rule, most Trappist monasteries produce a wide range of goods that are sold to provide income for the monastery. They are probably most famous for their beers, which are unique within the beer world.
There are twelve Trappist breweries in the world from which six in Belgium: Westmalle, Westvleteren, Achel, Chimay, Orval and Rochefort. Their beers are easy to recognize thanks to the hexagonal logo of an Authentic Trappist Product (www.trappist.be), which means that the beer was brewed within or in the close vicinity of the walls of a Trappist monastery under supervision of the trappist monks.
The brewery must be of secondary importance within the monastery and there should be no intention to make profit. Margins are in this philosophy less important and the trappist monks have less pressure to reduce costs. They have no problem to use the best, more expensive ingredients, guarantee for a product of top quality. The main goal is to cover the expenses of the trappist monks, and what remains should be donated to charity. Drinking a Trappist beer is therefore always a bit charity (beside the pleasure it offers).
The Trappist association has a legal standing, and its logo gives the consumer some information and guarantees about the product. The name does not infer anything about the beer type.
The high concentration of Trappist beers in Belgium is an important part of the specificity of the Belgian beer culture.
Abbey beer is also a collective denominator (so not a specific beer type) for beers where the brand name refers to an existing or dissolved Norbertine or Benedictine abbey. The beer doesn’t have to be brewed in or in the neighborhood of the abbey but there has to be a demonstrable, historical connection with the abbey site the beer refers to. Further on the brewery has to pay royalties to the abbey and the abbey may also check the marketing strategy and publicity material.
In order to guarantee the name is not misused for marketing purposes, the breweries and religious orders have created an authenticity logo, which reads Erkend Belgisch Abdijbier (Recognised Belgian Abbey Beer, see www.belgianbrewers.be). In order to use the logo the beers have to comply with a minimum of conditions. It’s a Belgian label and only applies to Belgian beer.
Good to know is that every Trappist beer also is an Abbey beer as the conditions to wear the Authentic Trappist Product logo are stricter than the ones for an Abbey beer. The other way on isn’t through as Abbey beers do not have to be brewed close to an active monastery. Even though drinking an Abbey beer is also bit of a good action as the royalties paid by the brewery go to cultural and/or charitable activities.
Dubbel and Tripel beer
Those terms originate from a custom in the Middle Ages. The normal (ordinary) beer was named ‘single’ and was drunk by the ordinary laborers and monks. This beer was good enough for them, but people with more esteem and money wanted a better product. To fulfil the desire of those rich customers the brewers made heavier beer (using more malt).
Transporters and bar owners were often not able to read in that period. The brewer therefor marked his barrels with (chalk) crosses. One cross on ordinary barrels, two on barrels with heavier beer (dubbel beer) and three on the heaviest stuff (tripel beer).
The terms single, dubbel (double) and tripel (triple) have nothing to do with the yeasting or maturation process of the beer, as often is presumed. It refers to the amount of raw materials (malts and cereals) used. The more material, the heavier the beer. A double is heavier than a single but it hasn’t to be twice as heavy neither that twice the quantity of raw material is used.
Actually the term ‘single’ is in disuse but some breweries use the term ‘extra’ instead to denominate their light, thirst quenching beer. In addition a couple of brewers also launched some ‘quadruples’, with even more alcohol.
Nowadays we usually associate a dubbel with a dark beer and a tripel with a blonde beer, but this isn’t a must. Most brewers do follow this ‘color code’ but a few ones do not care. Similar a quadruple beer is usually a dark beer.