If you’re on a journey to learn more about Belgian beer (and if you’re not, you should be), you may have wondered what is the deal with Trappist and Abbey ales? Are they the same? The simple answer is no, but it’s not that simple. There’s enough difference to write a book on the topic. Actually, Stan Hieronymus already has. Confusing the matter, the beers can be very similar.
Here’s one answer in a nutshell:
A Trappist brewery is one located at a monastery and operated under the supervision of Trappist monks. There are currently eleven Trappist breweries in the world, with six in Belgium. The Belgian ones you’ve probably heard of are Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren. Incidentally, there is one Trappist brewery in the United States, the St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer, MA. So, are Cistercian monks overseeing brewing operations? Then it’s a Trappist beer. You can learn more here.
Beer in the Trappist style from commercial breweries is called Abbey Ale. These breweries have no current monastic connection but brew and market in the monastic style. Some were once brewed by monks, but are now purely commercial enterprises. A good example of Abbey Ales are the beers from St. Bernardus. There’s a monk on the label, but it’s not Trappist.
The most common styles brewed by both Abbey and Trappist brewers are Dubbel, Tripel, and Quadrupel/Belgian Dark Strong. To taste some good examples of these, check out Nuit Belge in Nashville (3/18) and Charleston (3/25). Use code BM3 to save $10 per ticket.
If you want to know more about Abbey & Trappist ales, check out this informative blog post.