The Trappists-”O Brother, where are thou?”

Published on December 29, 2013.

This week, we welcome guest writer Carl Kins back to the site. Carl, an internationally known beer judge and author, lives in Kortrijk, West Flanders. You can read his full bio in this article here. Below is Carl’s take on all the recent press predicting the demise of the Trappist breweries in Belgium.

From Carl:

The last two years, the world of trappist breweries and beers has changed beyond recognition, thanks to the arrival on the scene of Engelszell (Austria), Zundert (Netherlands) and Spencer (USA).

It will continue to change in the future, albeit not all may be roses. Indeed, there are clouds looming at the horizon, accentuated by the recent amount of ink spilled in the Belgian press, meanwhile picked up by international contacts, about the impending demise of the Belgian trappists.

The reason for this horror story lies in the fact that most trappist monasteries do not have that many monks any longer, with figures continuing to decline, due to the brothers’ age. Achel has 5 monks all above 70 years of age, Orval has about 12, Westvleteren and Chimay have about 16. Rochefort is unknown to me but it will be less than 20. Only Westmalle has seen their figures grow in recent years from about 20 to 35 monks.

The problem is that the rules dictate that, in order to carry the official Trappist logo, there have to be monks in the monastery. If no new candidates enter the monastery, this may mean the end, not of brewing, but of official trappist product recognition. A new candidate takes at least 5 years before being able to take solemn vows.

So, hopefully the Brothers Coen movie “O, brother, where art thou” becomes successful also in trappist circles.

However, all is not that dark, as monks from other monasteries may request to be transferred. This is partially the reason why Westmalle has grown recently, and there are countries where vocations keep growing, e.g. US with Spencer, which has 68 brothers. Therefore, there is no reason for panic (yet?).

So, cheers, and enjoy a Trappist beer, wherever it comes from.

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