A bell tolls loudly, penetrating the quiet darkness as it summons us from our slumber; a new day has begun. Bodies weary and eyes blinking in the dimly lit room, we kneel and begin our morning prayer in hushed tones, maintaining an atmosphere of silence. Light breaks through the windows of the Abbey, signalling the time to begin our daily rhythm of sacred study, prayer, and simple, honest labour.
‘For then they are monks in truth, if they live by the work of their hands.’
(48th Chapter of the Rule of Saint Benedict)
Written in the sixth century, the Rule of Saint Benedict is the formative inspiration for Trappist life and stresses the importance of ora et labora: prayer and work. The religious order is named after La Trappe Abbey in Normandy, France where the movement began in 1892. The Rule of Saint Benedict states, ‘this way of life procures greater attention and respect for our environment. It penetrates our relationship with the world with a wholesome simplicity.’
Trappist prescribe to a strict schedule of prayer, vigil, and masses, taxing manual labour, a meagre diet and social isolation. While the physical work served as a form of repentance, it also means that the monasteries are self-sufficient, producing goods that are sold to provide an income. While monastic industries span a wide range of artisanal goods and services: food production, cleaning products, candles, wine, and liquor, they are most renowned for producing high quality and unique Trappist beer. Unlike conventional beers, Trappist brews contain living yeast and residual sugars which means they continue to ferment in the bottle and improve with age. They are top fermented, unpasteurized and contain no chemical additives.
There are ten recognised Trappist breweries in the world; six of these are in Belgium, two are in the Netherlands, one is located in Austria and the most recently developed brewery is in Massachusetts, USA.
For a beer to be classified as an authentic Trappist product, it must satisfy several criteria:
· It must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery – by the monks or under their supervision.
· The income received by the monastery must be for the living expenses of the monks and maintenance of the property. Profits are to be donated to charity.
· The brewery must be of secondary importance to the monastic way of life.
With a history dating back to 1884, La Trappe’s Koningshoeven is an authentic Trappist brewery, situated on farmland near the border of Belgium and The Netherlands. La Trappe produce their beer within the walls of the abbey under the direction of the monks whose focus is good stewardship of God’s creations: people and the environment. As a result, La Trappe’s beers are crafted from high quality, organic ingredients.
This focus extends to the brewery’s corporate social responsibility; in each of their departments, monks and employees of La Trappe treat people and nature with care and respect, contributing to a healthier world for future generations. A proportion of their earnings is donated to a monastery that has been established in poverty-stricken Uganda. The brothers have agricultural experience and they are helping the local population to build their economy. La Trappe’s profits are also being used to fund two local schools and provide clean drinking water to the local community.
La Trappe brew with natural products – hops, barley, yeast, and water from their own spring. The brewery is innovative in their approach to sustainability too. The monks use spent grain from the brewery for baking bread to reuse residue and waste as much as possible. They also have a greenhouse underneath their fermentation tanks which contains ferns and subtropical plants so they can filter their wastewater. The plants absorb the microorganisms in the water so that the monks can recycle it on their property.
This environmental stewardship exemplifies the teachings of Saint Benedict and is evident in their latest, organic pale ale, La Trappe Puur. Puur means ‘purity’ – one of the guiding principles of the Trappist order.
La Trappe Puur is brewed using green energy and is certified by SKAL, the body for organic production in the Netherlands. Light blonde with a sturdy collar, it is an unfiltered Trappist ale with refreshing, zesty aromas of yeast and floral undertones provided by the hops. Puur is accessible and smooth, with a temperate finish and mildly bitter aftertaste. La Trappe brewers strive to craft high quality, authentic products that are made with the utmost respect for the environment, ‘by the work of (their) hands.’