“I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings: I would like the people of heaven to be drinking it through time eternal.”
~ St. Brigid of Ireland
In the Middle Ages, beer (which is made from cereal grains) was one of the safest, most nutritious everyday drinks for northern Europeans — since grapes didn’t grow in that colder climate, and water was often polluted.
Occasionally a batch would go bad, and people would blame the devil for the problem. To keep demons away, brewers would place religious statues in their brew house and also ask the local priest to bless a new batch.
Bock beer is a darker, stronger beer which began in northern Germany. It is brewed in the fall aged through the winter, and served in the early spring. Beer festivals traditionally began on St. Joseph’s Day (March 19) and often included the blessing of new beer.
Many monasteries brewed their own beer. It was a staple of the monks’ diet because of its nutritional qualities (they called it “liquid bread”). This was true especially during the Lenten fast, which restricted solid food.
Some monasteries often served as inns for travelers, monks sold their beer as a means of support. Some beers will bear the name of the monastery.
Monastery brewhouses, from different religious orders have existed all over Europe, since the middle-age. From the very beginning, beer was brewed in French Cistercian monasteries following the Strict Observance. For example, the monastery of La Trappe in Soligny, already had its own brewery in 1685. Breweries were only later introduced in monasteries of other countries, following the extension of the Trappist order from France to the rest of Europe.
The Trappists, like many other religious people, originally brewed beer as to feed the community and to be self-sufficient.
Nowadays, Trappist breweries also brew beer to fund their works, and for good causes. Many of the Trappist monasteries and breweries were destroyed during the French Revolution and the World Wars. Among the monastic breweries, the Trappists were certainly the most active brewers: in the last 300 years, there were at least eight Trappist breweries in France, six in Belgium, two in the Netherlands, one in Germany, one in Austria, one in Bosnia and possibly other countries.
Today, seven Trappist breweries remain active, in Belgium and the Netherlands.
To learn more about Trappist Beers and Monks, click here.
Trappist Beer: The Champagne of Belgium
~ Excerpted in part from The Little Black Book: Six Minute Reflections on the Weekly Gospels of Lent 2009