Trappist Beer 101

A recent quiz contest from Bon Beer prompted me to do a deep google dive into Trappist beers, and revealed to me that this is an area that I know very little about! In my #beerjourney, I have focused mostly on American craft beers and rarely wander into the import section when browsing my local beer stores.

“Name a Trappist brewery currently producing a holiday beer?”
– the question that prompted my deep google dive

The word “Trappist” is a legally controlled descriptor, similar in nature to how “champagne” can only refer to a white sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France. Only breweries that belong to the International Trappist Association may call their beers “Trappist”, and currently there are only 11 member breweries (6 in Belgium, 2 in the Netherlands, 1 each in Austria, Italy, and the USA). Straight from their website, here are the criteria that must be satisfied to join the International Trappist Association:

  1. The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery, either by the monks themselves or under their supervision.

  2. 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.

  3. The brewery is not intended to be a profit-making venture.  The income covers the living expenses of the monks and the maintenance of the buildings and grounds.  Whatever remains is donated to charity for social work and to help persons in need.

To get around the strict control of the “Trappist” designation, you may see beers described as “Abbey” ales, signifying that they were inspired by Trappist traditions. One of your local breweries likely offers a brew from this tradition; if not, New Belgium Brewing has widespread national distribution and offers a Single (Porch Swing), Dubbel (Abbey Ale), and Trippel (Trippel).

Unlike most American craft breweries, Trappist breweries tend to make only a few beers: Four brew only 1 type, most brew less than 4, and La Trappe makes the most (8).

Spencer Brewery– Trappist brewery currently producing a holiday beer

I got tripped up when trying to answer the original quiz question because…I was relying too much on wikipedia. Oops! Technically, St. Joseph’s Abbey is the Trappist brewery, and they own and operate Spencer Brewery.

Even though we have our own Trappist brewery right here in the US of A, Spencer Brewery is not an easy place to visit. Since the brewery is located within the monastery, they do not offer regular tours. Their website suggests that they hope to offer occasional events to visit the brewery, so it is worth checking back. Spencer is distributed domestically in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Ohio. If you live beyond those states, though, you are still in luck, as they partner with two online distributors that will ship to you (depending on your state’s laws): Monastery Greetings and Belgian-Style Ales.

Additional resources:


One thought on “Trappist Beer 101

  1. I’ve been very impressed with Spencer’s beers. They even make an IPA which a friend picked up for me. It was well out of date, but was still impressive in its flavor. When an IPA is old and still good, it makes you wonder what its like fresh.


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