The only Trappist Abbey brewery located outside Belgium is called Koningshoeven, located near Tilburg in the Netherlands. It is often referred to as La Trappe, and the beers are labeled under that name in Europe. In the U.S., the beers are labeled as Koningshoeven.
The Abbey received some very good news in September, when the International Trappist Association returned the right to use the "Authentic Trappist Logo" with the La Trappe beers. There are six brews in the La Trappe lineup at present: a Witbier, Bockbier, Blond, Dubbel, Tripel and Quadrupel. The first two are not sent to the U.S.
The production of the Koningshoeven Brewery is about 33,000 hl per year, with about one-third of that being the Dubbel, a brew of 7%. The Tripel and Quadrupel account for about 5,000 to 6,000 hl per, and the Blond, about 3,000 hl. The Witte Trappist was recreated in 2003 from an earlier recipe, and the Bockbier was created in 2004. During my tour, Prior Bernardus, the monk in charge of the brewery, told me "These new beers have been very successful for us. Also, the Quadrupel is growing the fastest in terms of demand and production."
There have been many improvements to the Koningshoeven Brewery in the last few years. In 2006, the brewkettle will be refurbished to make it more efficient, and so that new computer software can be used. There is a tasting cafe on site here, as well as a shop selling many
La Trappe products, such as beer, bread, beer schnapps, cheese and other items.
Heading into Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium, there are three more Trappist Abbey breweries. The beers of Chimay, officially known as l’ Abbaye Notre Dame de Scourmont, are likely the most widely known of all the Trappist brews. Chimay exports about 50 percent of its yearly production of 130,000 hl to over 50 different countries, the most of any of the Trappists.
Chimay White, an 8% tripel-style brew created in 1966, continues to grow in popularity here in the U.S., especially on draft. It is the only draft Trappist beer available in this country, and represents about 15 percent of Chimay’s production (bottles and draft). Chimay Blue, also called Grand Reserve in 75 cl bottles, is a dark 9% brown ale which has a great reputation for its aging qualities. On a recent visit to Belgium, I tasted the 1974 vintage of this brew, right from the cellar of the Bodega beer cafe in Antwerp, forerunner of the famous Kulminator. The beer was very rich and port-like, and had aged very well.
Four excellent cheeses are also produced at Chimay, and three of them are imported to the U.S. These include Aged, Grand Cru, Chimay a la Biere (flavored with Chimay beer), and Unpasteurized, which is not imported. These cheeses make excellent accompaniments to the beers of the same name.
Chimay has about 75 workers in the brewery, bottling line and brewery offices, and is an important employer in an otherwise economically depressed region of Belgium. As at all the other Trappist breweries, all its profits go to charitable works.
At l’Abbaye Notre Dame d’ Orval, Brasserie Orval is distinctive from the other Trappist breweries in that it produces only one beer for regular sale, called simply Orval. This brew is unique in the Trappist pantheon of beers in that it is dry-hopped, with brettanomyces yeast strains added, giving it a hoppy, horseblanket character not unlike that found in some authentic lambic brews. It is really more akin to some English session beers, except for its 6.9%. Production is almost 50,000 hl per year.
The brewery has been experimenting with a draft version of Orval for several years. When I tasted this beer in the brewery’s private tasting room, I found it to be very good, and dangerously drinkable. Francois de Harenne, commercial and administrative director of the brewery, told me, "Draft Orval is only an experiment, and we have no plans to offer it to the public." This is unfortunate, as I would love to see draft Orval at my local taphouse!
Orval also produces a table beer for the monks, called "Vert" (green) or "Petit" (small.) This brew is a lower alcohol version of regular Orval, at 3.5%. It is a very good session beer, and can be found at the Abbey’s tasting cafe, l’ Auberge de l’ Ange Gardien. This inn also offers some filling light meals.
There were monks on site here from 1070, and the historic ruins of the old Abbey are worth a visit. The modern Trappist Abbey is closed to the public, as the monks prefer their privacy. But there is a gift shop with many interesting items.
Brasserie Rochefort, located within the walls of l’ Abbaye Notre Dame de St-Remy, in Namur province, produces three of the world’s great dark beers. Called Rochefort 6, 8, and 10, the beers contain 7.5, 9.2, and 11.3%, respectively. The 6 is only brewed a couple of times per year and accounts for about 5% of the brewery’s production. However, Gumer Santos, Rochefort’s brewing engineer, told me during a visit last November, "With the trend towards stricter laws on drinking and driving, we could make more, if demand dictates."
The 8 degree beer represents about 60 percent of production, with 35 percent left for the mighty 10. The three brews are all a darkish ruby-red to brown color, with very distinctive malt character and a pleasant sweetness.
The brewhouse at Rochefort, dating to 1960, is one of the most beautiful in the world, especially on a sunny day when the highly polished copper kettles seem to exude a majestic gleam and sparkle.
Brother Antoine, who retired from the job of head brewer in 1997, still works on bottling days (Thursdays) even though he is in his 80’s. He still had his wits about him on my recent tour, evidenced when a member of my group asked how he came from the Netherlands to be a monk at a French-speaking Trappist Abbey in Belgium, "I rode my bicycle!" he replied.
While Rochefort is the only one of the seven Trappist breweries not to have an official tasting cafe, the Abbey and brewery have a friendly relationship with Relais St-Remy, a restaurant/taverne located just a few km from the Abbey on Route de Ciney. We had an excellent meal at the taverne, a plat du jour of Duck cooked in Rochefort 6, with frites and croquettes. The Taverne stocks the three Rochefort brews plus a number of others, and the service was very friendly.