Trappist beer is beer brewed behind the walls of peaceful Trappist monasteries. Very few have seen inside these breweries, but (from left to right) Caroline Wallace, Sarah Wood, and Jessica Deahl have been lucky enough to see inside all 11.
Three weeks of travels across Europe and the Northeast United States gave the ladies a lifetime of stories to fill their newest book: Trappist Beer Travels.
Before the release of the book I was lucky enough to talk with two of the writers and fellow Austinites, Caroline Wallace and Sarah Wood. We grabbed some Belgian beers at Austin’s only Belgian beer bar Mort Subite, and talked all about their travels and the history of Trappist beer.
What to Know About Trappist Beer
First let’s start with who the Trappists are. The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance is a Roman Catholic religious order of monks and nuns who follow the Rule of St. Benedict. Know as Trappists and Trappistines, respectively, they produce a variety of high-quality, handmade goods to sustain their monasteries.
One of those products is beer and there are just 11 Trappist monastery breweries in the world making Trappist beer.
“There’s No Trappist Style of Beer”
It is the Trappist monks who make the beers ‘Trappist,’ and they’re brewing Belgian beers. The older breweries especially tend to stick to just a few recipes. All while the International Trappist Association keeps a close eye monitoring the quality and operations.
The criteria for Trappist beers is set by the International Trappist Association (ITA) and the beer has to meet these three standards:
- The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery by the monks or under their supervision.
- The brewery must be of secondary importance within the monastery and it should witness to the business practices proper to a monastic way of life.
- The monks must use the money to support the monastery and only brew enough to cover the living expenses and maintenance of the grounds. All the profits go back to the monastery or their charitable work in the community/beyond.
Beer brewed in the Trappist breweries is enjoyed for its honesty and humbleness. Sarah noted that these monks are “very humble, very reserved; there is a lot of peace to be found at the monasteries.”
There are 11 total Trappist breweries in the world, the book includes details, interviews, photos, and tasting notes from all:
- Orval Brewery – Belgium
- Brouwerij der St. Benedictusabdij de Achelse (Achel) – Belgium
- La Trappe Brewery – Netherlands
- Rochefort Brewery – Belgium
- Bieres du Chimay – Belgium
- Westlveteren Brewery – Belgium
- Brouwerij Westmalle – Belgium
- Trappistenbrouwerij de Kievit (Zundert) – Netherlands
- Stift Engelszell Trappist Brewery – Austria
- Tre Fontane Brewery – Rome, Italy
- Spencer Brewery – Massachusetts, USA
The Experience of a Lifetime
The writers of Trappist Beer Travels, Caroline Wallace, Sarah Wood, and Jessica Deahl, share a passion for travel and discovering new beers. These three are also the writers behind the all-women-run beer blog BitchBeer.org. Together, “they’ve collectively visited hundreds of breweries, covered national beer events, and interviewed some of the biggest names in the industry.” This is the second book for Wallace and Wood and Deahl’s longform writing debut.
For this book debuting early Summer 2017, they traveled thousands of miles together. Starting in Belgium, before traveling to the Netherlands, Austria, and Italy, and finally to the Northeast United States. Completing a world tour of the 11 authentic Trappist monastery breweries.
Trappist Brewery Road Trip
The three beer lovers completed a feat in itself by successfully visiting all 11 Trappist breweries in one three week trip. Their initial idea was a bit more ambitious: they were planning to do the trip in ten days, “amazing race style.” During their planning, Tre Fontane in Rome opened, changing their minds to add make it a leisurely three weeks. Still, Sarah added, “it was a whirlwind and their was a new brewery nearly every day.”
When I asked if it was difficult getting into contacts with the often-private Trappist monks, Caroline backed up by explaining the :
“First, we were like, ‘What is the order that we should go about this?’ Should we get a publisher for the book so when we approach the monks they know we are legit? Or should we start approaching the monks, and then the publisher so the publishers know we are serious and legit? We just knew we didn’t want to waste much time. We eventually decided to get the book deal first. Even after we talked to our publisher, there was still a big risk.”
Asking why, she laughed and told me it was, “‘Cause now we gotta do it! So we reached out to the abbeys and ultimately went through the International Trappist Association. Which ended up being a really valuable resource connecting us to all of the monasteries. Our idea was, well if this doesn’t work out, we can just write a book about our travels and getting to see whatever we could see.
Jumping in, Sarah said something that really sunk in with me just how incredible this trip was for the three friends: “It was an experience that no one else has had, and it is something I will treasure to the day I die. It really allowed the book to be something the really unique.”
Capturing the Beauty of the Trappist Travels Through Drawings
The third person behind this book is one I unfortunately did not get the chance to meet. Jessica Deahl is currently based in Chicago, but I was lucky enough to see, in-person, the original artwork she created for this book. Her original artwork seamlessly captured the spirit of each destination they visited.
Deahl is also the one responsible for the beautiful sketches of the Trappist monastaries. The initial sketches of each location were done by her as she sat in front of the buildings. “There’s a ‘je ne sais quoi’ about the place that I think she did a wonderful job capturing.” Sarah told me.
The Trappist Beer Travels book is out now to purchase! It’s a large, beautiful book with 200+ pages full of helpful travel tips, plus new and historical photography plus original artwork. You can buy online from Amazon.
For those in Austin, come up to WhichCraft Taproom and Bottle Shop on June 9th, 6-10pm, for the Official Book Release Party! The authors will be there to sign books plus there will be Trappist beer samples and offerings, on-tap! Facebook Event Page
For a full list of Trappist Beer Travels signings and events, check out their calendar here!
For audio of the interview and more fun stories behind the Trappist Beer Travels book, just click play! It’s only twenty minutes, but highlights with timestamps are below:
- 00:47 “There’s no Trappist style of beer.”
- 03:07 Forming a plan: Getting into contact with the monks and the International Trappist Association.
- 05:00 Tips for Where a Newbie to Belgium and Trappist beers should start.
- 07:47 How did the monks start brewing such great beer?
- 10:21 The most memorable experiences of the international beer trip
- 15:37 How the three decided they should do this, and like all good things, it involved beer.
- 16:40 Finally, do the monks know how good their beer is?
What’s your favorite Belgian-style beer? Let me know in the comments! Cheers!
By the way, let’s get connected on social media. I’m always sharing my newest interviews and adventures, fun events, and exclusive beer giveaways.