The Flemish daily De Standaard announced the departure of the last two monks from the Abbey of Saint Benedict d'Achel (province of Limburg), an inevitable consequence of the decline in vocations. They joined the Abbey of Notre-Dame du Sacré-Cœur in Westmalle last summer for health reasons.
Achel beer therefore loses the “Authentic trappist product” label, created in 1998 and conferred by the International Association of Trappists, which authenticates the origin of the beer. Even if the production is maintained in the abbey and the profits remain intended for the charities of the monastic community, one of the three conditions guaranteeing the label is no longer met: the production must be supervised by monks.
The Trappists, officially known as the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, follow the rule of St. Benedict of Nursia (born around AD 480). The Cistercian order is a reformed branch of the Benedictines whose origin dates back to the founding of the Cîteaux Abbey by Robert de Molesme in 1098.
After the Council of Trent, a deep spiritual renewal manifested itself throughout the Church. In the Cistercian Order, it was reflected in the 17th century by the Strict Observance movement, which reform Abbot Armand-Jean Le Bouthillier de Rancé applied to the Abbey of La Trappe, in the forest of Mortagne, Orne, which gave its name to the Trappists.
During the French Revolution, the state confiscated La Trappe monastery and closed religious houses. The monks then took refuge in Switzerland, Russia, and also in Belgium where they settled in Westmalle, in the province of Antwerp in Flanders.
Since 1836, a reform has allowed the Trappists to consume the drinks of their regions. For instance, the French monks produced wine. But in Belgium, the local drink of choice was beer, and so the monks began to brew and the first Trappist beers were born.
In Belgium, five breweries now produce “Authentic Trappist Product” beers: Chimay (Notre-Dame de Scourmont Abbey), Orval (Notre-Dame d'Orval Abbey), Rochefort (Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy Abbey), Westmalle ( Notre-Dame de la Trappe du Sacré-Cœur Abbey), and Westvleteren (Notre-Dame de Saint-Sixte Abbey).
In other parts of the world, six other beers also benefit from this label: La Trappe (Abbey of Our Lady of Koningshoeven) and Zundert (Abbey of Our Lady of the Refuge) in the Netherlands; Spencer (Saint Joseph Abbey, United States); Engelszell (Stiff Engelszell, Austria); Tres Fontanes (Monastery of Saint Vincent and Saint Anastasius at Tres Fontanes, Italy); and Tynt Meadow which has been brewed since 2018 at Mount Saint Bernard Abbey in England.