For many, the story of beer begins and ends with Trappist brewing. Brewing was a pivotal part of monastic life in the middle ages. Water could and often would become contaminated with human and animal waste. This contamination led to the spread of various diseases. As beer was always boiled and contained a measure of alcohol, it was much safer to drink than the water. This made beer the beverage of choice in the middle ages, particularly in northern climates unable to sustain vineyards. Monastic life, especially in rural settings, was particularly physically draining and the monks drank beer at every meal for hydration and strength.
Today, there are only 6 (or 7) Trappist breweries still operating. Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, Achel, and Westvleteren which are all in Belgium. To use the Trappist logo, the breweries must be run partially by the monks and the proceeds are generally used for the monastery’s charitable work. Koeningshoeven (Netherlands) is also part of the Trappist Association, but the brewery is run by an LLC for the monastery.
These breweries are not open for tours but nearly all have a visitors center and cafe nearby. Trappist beers available for public consumption are typically high in alcohol, but the patersbier, made for consumption by the monks, is about 4.5% alcohol. Often the local cafe is the only place where you and I can try the patersbier. Even though the breweries are off limits, a visit to any of these gives a view back in time through a simpler lifestyle. Top this off with a cold Trappist beer and raw cheese and enjoy a beautiful afternoon in the Belgian countryside.