Trappist beer, created by Belgian monks, could be in short supply in the coming years.
Monks at the oldest Trappist brewery in Belgium are concerned about the brewery’s outlook as the abbey community shrinks, according to a March 26 article from The Observer. As fewer individuals pursue monastic life, the distinctive beer category could be difficult to find.
The “Trappist” designation applies to beer, cheese, and other products created at an abbey by monks or nuns, per the International Trappist Association (ITA) guidelines. To be labeled as such, profits from the sale must benefit the maintenance of the monastery or abbey grounds, community, and charities. Trappist beer ranges in style and is commonly considered high-quality based on the ingredients and time dedicated to brewing it.
The Westmalle brewery, located in north Belgium, produces three ales that are distributed internationally but primarily found in Belgium and the Netherlands. The historic brewery produced the first Belgian tripel ale and is today one of only a handful of Trappist breweries left in the world. At Westmalle, monks oversee operations but typically don’t participate in hands-on production.
Managing director Philippe Van Assche told The Observer that fewer people are choosing to become monks, and he doesn’t foresee that changing any time soon. Shifting priorities about the role of religion and monks’ rigorous schedules contribute to the decline, Westmalle abbot Brother Benedikt says.
The Westmalle brewery is currently collaborating with the ITA to establish a legacy plan — such as possibly establishing itself as a foundation — and continue operations in case there are too few monks to oversee it. The ITA controls which breweries can be considered Trappist and ultimately has the final say over Westmalle’s designation.
While Westmalle could continue operating as an abbey brewery with outsourced employees, breweries must be overseen by monks or nuns to be considered Trappist.