Centuries ago Monks in most religious orders began brewing beer as an ingenious way to solve the problem of unsanitary drinking water; they turned it into beer.
These monks, who lived in Belgium - the heartland of brewing, abided by the laws of St Benedict. This means living a life of few priorities other worshipping god and making beer. And so with little distraction the beer naturally became exceptional.
Fast-forward almost a thousand years and the influence of these master craftsmen is still going strong in Trappist and Abbey beers. Both types sit closely together but have distinct differences:
These can only be brewed within the walls of a monastery, with monks making sure that the consistency of their traditional recipes are adhered to. Any profits, of course, go to maintenance and charitable deeds.
There are only 11 beers in the world that can claim the name Trappist. These include the Belgian beers of Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westvleteren, Westmalle and then 5 brewed outside of Belgium, Mont des Cats (France), Stift Engelszell (Austria), Zundert, La Trappe (Netherlands), and Spencer(USA).
The majority of Trappist beers are ‘top’ fermented. This process matures the recipe and gives a distinct taste and alcohol content that is only successful if the right blend of environment, time and temperature is created.
Many Trappist monks also make a beer that is only available within the monastery and offered on festive occasions. This is known as ‘Patersbier’, which translates a ‘Father’s beer’.
These are beers that are based around the monastic brewing style but aren’t produced by Trappist monks.
Many Abbey beers were once brewed within the walls of the monastery but due to war or other disruptions had to move their operations to a new site.
The popularity of Trappist beers saw a rise in the production of Abbey beer producers trying to replicate the distinctive characteristics that the monks put into their beers over the years.
So how does St Stefanus fit into the story? Well, the St Stefanus recipe started in a monastery that the monks built in the Belgian city of Ghent.
The monastery went through numerous hardships and survived being burnt down twice and countless wars. Through every adversity, though, the recipe survived and was handed down.
For generations, now, the St Stefanus recipe has been kept alive thanks to the determination of not only the monks, but also the dedicated people who simply have a passion for great beer. Arguably, it is an abbey beer that, in authenticity, is as close to a Trappist beer as possible.
Have you tried any other Abbey or Trappist beers? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.