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21 January, 2021



Brewing news Belgium: Trappist breweries facing shortage of new monks

Belgium’s world famous Trappist beers are under threat from a crippling shortage of new monks to replace its ageing brewing brothers, The Telegraph reported on January 21.

The recruitment crisis has already led to one brewery, Achel, losing its Authentic Trappist Product label after the last two monks at the St Benedict's Abbey in the province of Limburg, close to the Dutch border, retired.

There are about 100 Cistercian monks brewing in Belgium, which is the spiritual home of the Trappist beers and, until recently, boasted almost half of the world’s 14 Trappist breweries.

The vast majority have already reached retirement age but fewer and fewer Belgians are replacing them, leading to fears the monastic order could die out.

“Achel is the first of the six monasteries that no longer has a living community. For the past four years there have only been two brothers,” Abbot Nathanaël Koninkx, of the Westmalle Abbey, told the De Tijd newspaper.

“In Westmalle, there are still 27. I do not dare to say how many will still be there in twenty years' time. If you can provide more vocations, please do.”

He added, “If there are no vocations, the monastic order disappears and so does the name. The beer can continue to exist, but no longer under the Trappist label.”

The Authentic Trappist Product label is only awarded to beers made in the immediate surroundings of an abbey, produced under the supervision of monks or nuns and sold to fund the monastery and for charitable works.

Production of the six Achel beers, a mix of blonde and dark beers which can be as strong as 8 per cent, will continue but without the international quality mark because no monks are supervising the brewing.

Eoghan Walsh, author of Brussels Beer City: Stories from Brussels Brewing Past, said, “The number of new vocations for new monks have dropped off a cliff in Belgium, and they have never exactly been very high to begin with. The existential reality of what this means for one of Belgium’s most cherished brewing traditions is becoming clear.”

He told The Telegraph: “Were this trend to continue a world without the ‘authentic Trappist Product’ label on beer bottles would be a huge shame.The Trappist tradition is such an integral part of Belgian beer’s identity and their disappearance would leave a gaping spiritual hole in the lives of drinkers here.”

The Achel brewery in the walls of St Benedict’s Abbey is the smallest of the Belgian Trappist breweries. The first beer brewed on site was in 1852 and in 1871 it became a Trappist monastery.

Beer was brewed there until the First World War. The monks fled German occupation and in 1917 the Germans dismantled the brewery for its copper. The monks rebuilt the brewery in 1998.

There are six Trappist breweries in Belgium and 14 Trappist breweries worldwide.





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