To quote Garrett Oliver, the term “abbey ales” is “specific enough to be vaguely useful, but broad enough to be frustrating.” The term doesn’t actually denote an actual style of beer, but a family of traditional monastic styles that can range from pale to dark, sweet to dry, and a variety of alcohol levels. But what they do have in common is their Trappist origins.
There are currently 11 breweries whose beers are designated as “Authentic Trappist Product” by the International Trappist Association. To earn this distinction, the beer must be made on the monastery’s grounds, by monks, with profits strictly going toward monastery maintenance or charitable works.
Six of these breweries reside in Belgium: Rochefort, Westmalle, Westvleteren, Orval, Chimay, and Achel. La Trappe and Zundert (Netherlands), Stift Engelszell (Austria), and Tre Fontane (Italy) also hail from Europe, while the most recent addition was right here in the United States: Spencer Brewery in Spencer, MA.
These breweries, by and large, are known for their traditional Trappist ales: singel, dubbel, tripel, and quad (also known as dark strong ale). Each style gets progressively stronger, with singels generally ranging from 4.8-6% ABV and quads going from 8-12%. Singels and tripel are yellow or golden in color, with dubbels and quads ranging from amber to brown. Singels and, to a lesser extent, tripels, will exhibit a notable spicy-floral hop profile. Dubbels and quads are decidedly malt-forward, with flavors of dark fruit and esters.
These beers are widely considered to be among the best in the world. Ask our Beer Geeks for recommendations, and enjoy!