Dutch Trappist Breweries

What is a Trappist brewery?
Trappist beer is top-fermented beer brewed by Trappist monks (Cistercian, following the teachings of St. Benedict) in their abbey. There are only 7 breweries in the world that are allowed to call themselves "Trappist" breweries. All other beers related in some way to abbeys are referred to as "abbey beers".

There are 5 Trappist breweries in Belgium:
Abbaye de Scourmont - Chimay
Abbaye d’Orval - Orval
Abbaye Notre Dame de St. Rémy - Rochefort (this month’s glass)
Abdij St. Sixtus - Westvleteren
Abdij der Trappisten van Westmalle - Westmalle

And 2 in the Netherlands:
De Schaapskooi - La Trappe
St Benedictusabdij/Achelse Kluis - Achel

Achel, beer on the border

Relatively recently, a new Trappist brewery opened in Achel, a small town on the border. Supposedly the abbey has land in both countries, some of it in Belgium and the rest in the Netherlands. Unsure of the brewery's exact location, the Vermin Brewing International Research Team simply headed towards Achel, only about a 20 minute drive from the VB Headquarters. Eventually the team saw a very small sign pointing down a tiny little street... "Kluis".

The abbey was set way out in the country and the smell of horses was quite prominent. When the team entered the main building, they were greeted by many old photographs lining the walls of the various monks and buildings associated with the abbey. Unfortunately the team was also greeted by the strong smell of cigarettes. The team made its way past the many small tables in the quaintly decorated dining room towards a long food bar in the back, also equipped with 3 beer taps. There were no tours but one could see several large, modern, stainless steel storage tanks (each with a capacity of 1000 liters) sitting in the adjoining room behind a very large panel of glass.

The team decided to escape the stifling smoke and monotonous background music of the dining room and sit outside on the small back patio instead. The open patio was separated from the main dining room by a large glass wall and it overlooked a long narrow courtyard which was lined on either side by a row of old brick buildings (former cow stalls perhaps). The chairs and table were a bit wet from the rain earlier in the morning but they were not soaked and easy to dry off. A warm gentle breeze flowed through the courtyard and grey clouds and noisy swallows filled the sky overhead.

The team ordered two beers, the 4° and the 6°, as well as some homemade beer cheese. The very light colored cheese was mild and good. The light-colored beers were both extremely yummy and hoppy. The team also decided to sample the 5° beer because this was the very first day that it was released. A custard raisin pie with a sugar coating was selected to accompany it. The dark beer was extremely tasty, mild and malty, although from the team's location, it tended to smell a lot like... horses.

After returning the glasses back to the bar inside, the team watched how meticulously some employee mopped the brewery floor by the tanks. They then headed back down the long courtyard to see what else was there. A monk in a long brown robe was just closing up a religious items store. He then hopped on his bike and darted off through a doorway hidden among the long row of brick buildings. There was also a liquor store which even sold the abbey's homemade wine.

One could then exit the walled complex and walk around to the large abbey and church on the other side. Normal folk weren't allowed to visit them, so the team had to be content with reading the sign posted outside the gate. Apparently the St Benedictusabdij - Achelse Kluis was formed by monks who moved from the abbey in Westmallen in 1864.

Upon having completed their small tour of the complex, the team began the return trip home, the memory of several very tasty beers still in their minds and on their tongues.

Beer by the Book

Even though the directions to the abbey were less than adequate, the Netherlands is a relatively small country and eventually the Vermin Brewing Research Team pulled up to the huge old abbey gate. The purpose of the visit: a tour of the Netherlands' only (at that time) Trappist beer brewery... Trappistenbrouwerij De Schaapskooi in Berkel-Enschot (by Tilburg).

The team bought their tickets then waited patiently outside the large gates for the tour to begin, watching the crowd grow to a good 100 people. Fortunately the huge crowd was divided into two groups, but even these were still not small enough to be able to easily hear the Dutch tour guide, a somewhat soft-spoken yet very friendly woman.

As we neared the brewery buildings, we caught the lovely malty scent of fresh beer being brewed. We entered the brewery and visited the old copper brew kettles. Here we learned the history of abbey and the strict requirements for the monks as well as their beer. Back in 1881, twelve Benedictine monks fled from Normandy, France, because of mass secularization. They arrived in the Netherlands and had to temporarily live in an old sheep stall (or “Schaapskooi” in Dutch). Eventually they received land from King Willem II. In order to earn enough money to build an abbey, they started brewing beer. Eventually they were able to build the lovely abbey of "Onze Lieve Vrouw van Koningshoeven". Apparently one can also visit the huge church but only on Sunday. We then learned about the brewery itself and got to see the three huge shiny new brew kettles which were installed only a few years ago when the brewery was completely modernized.

Outside on the abbey grounds, we visited the old bakery and shops that used to suport the entire abbey, the picturesque swimming pond, and the working firehouse. We were informed that the monk who drove the firetruck during the fire drills didn't actually have a driver’s license and therefore could only drive short circuits within the abbey walls. We briefly met with one of the monks, with his long white beard and plain brown robe, before heading on to the keg filling room. We learned that a good 40% of the beer is exported to various countries in Europe as well as to the USA. Then it was on to the highly mechanized bottling room, where the bottles were filled, corked and sealed.

We then finally reached the highlight of the trip... the tasting room. We were given a choice among several La Trappe beers, but all ended up choosing the ”D’Or“, a lovely 7% alcohol beer that was brewed only once... and, as the Dutch like to say, “op is op’ (“when it’s gone, it’s gone”). While we sipped our very tasty orange-colored beer, we watched a short film over the daily life of the monks. It appeared to be a rather demanding life but not without its share of pleasures. The most amusing scene had to be of the monks during a fire drill, all wearing firefighter outfits over their robes.

After the film, the gift shop was opened, and the VB Team was at the front of the crowd purchasing various delicacies such as creamy beer cheese, sweet beer liquor and its accompanying shot glass, several beers, and a brewery bar towel. As an added bonus, the team was given a lovely free guide in English about the abbey.

Eventually it was time to depart. As we started heading to the car, however, we were caught in a sudden downpour. We paused briefly under the huge entrance gate before making the final dash to the parking lot. We hardly even looked back at the tall church spires as we rushed home to heartily enjoy our many lovely purchases.

The brewery makes four top-fermented beers:
La Trappe Enkel 5.5%
La Trappe Dubbel 6.5%
La Trappe Tripel 8.0%
La Trappe Quadrupel 10%

The 30% alcohol Konigshoeven Bierlikeur comes from a recipe from Pere Leon van Hoorne, a monk from Katsberg who led the brewery in 1895 and installed a distillery on the abbey grounds.

The brewery also produces a beer cheese, made with the milk from local cows and their own Dubbel bier.