Could Drinkers Benefit From a Refresher Course in Trappist Beer?

A little information goes a long way

Trappist Westvleteren
Bottles of Trappist Westvleteren beer, all ready to drink.
Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If your booze of choice happens to be made by monks, you might be experiencing a crisis of faith right about now. A lot has been written about chartreuse, a beloved liquor that’s been experiencing shortages as the monks who make it opted to reject commercialization and keep their production capacity steady. It’s not that strange of a decision — this is, after all, a beer made by monks, not people who are chasing record profits year over year.

It’s also enough to make you wonder how things are faring on the beer side of the divide — specifically, with Trappist ales. A recent Food & Wine article by Beth Demmon explores the challenges facing both Trappist brewers and Trappist beer drinkers, but argues convincingly that their troubles are less existential.

That isn’t to say that Trappist orders aren’t facing some issues, with a few monasteries exiting the world of brewing altogether — including Spencer Brewery last year. Demmon points to a decline in the number of people seeking a monastic life as one factor here.

Perhaps the most intriguing comment came from John Staunton of the beer distributor Merchant du Vin. Staunton argued that, especially with modern trends in beer favoring freshness, more needs to be done in order to educate drinkers about the appeal of Trappist beers.

“The whole industry has to do a better job of education and bringing this to the new drinker,” he told Food & Wine. “If you’re 21 years old and somebody throws an Orval at you, you’re not going to know what to do with it!”

Here’s What’s Going on With the Chartreuse Shortage – and What Pros Suggest You Use Instead
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I can say from experience that a little education can go a long way. A few years ago, at the Brooklyn bookstore Archestratus, I attended an event hosted by the authors of the book Trappist Beer Travels: Inside the Breweries of the Monasteries — which featured a few examples of the beers discussed in the book. Hearing someone with plenty of knowledge of the Trappist beer landscape demystified that style considerably — and left me with a sense of what my next Trappist beer might be.


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