No monks, no label: Achel is no longer an official Trappist beer

The world has lost a Trappist beer. Because of the extinction of the community in Saint Benedict's Abbey in Limburg, Belgium, Achel has to hand in its official recognition as a Trappist product. However, the beer itself will not disappear.


Merciless ageing

The continued existence of Achel as a Trappist beer had been under threat for quite a while. Due to a lack of new callings, there have been, for six months now, no monks in the community. Not that the monks themselves were stirring the brew kettles any more, but there was no Trappist monk in the area.


And that is a problem for the recognition of Achel as an authentic Trappist product. Three conditions need to be met. First, the product - in this case, beer, but it could also be cheese, for example - must be made within the abbey walls. Then, the proceeds may only go to the abbey's upkeep, the community and good causes; making a profit is out of the question. Finally, production must be under the supervision of monks from the order of Cistercians, as the Trappist monks are officially called.


Since the monks' disappearance, the abbey falls under the 'authority' of the Trappist Abbey of Westmalle. This abbey has no plans to stop brewing in Achel. That is why Achel can still call itself a Trappist. "Not much will change for beer drinkers," emphasises Abbot Nathanaël Koninkx of Westmalle Abbey. At most, there might be some changes to the label, where the logo can no longer be displayed. That logo was very prominent on the, otherwise, plain label.



The result is that Belgium is left with just five 'real' Trappist beers: Westvleteren, Westmalle, Orval, Chimay and Rochefort. But even then, the ageing of the abbey communities hangs like a sword of Damocles over the beers' heads. Koninkx illustrates the threat to his own abbey, which still has 27 monks. In the whole of Belgium, there are still about a hundred monks.


Trappist beers have undergone a certain international revival in recent years. In the Netherlands, where La Trappe had already existed for a long time, Zundert saw the day of light. And there are more countries where Trappist beers have been made for the first time. You have Engelszell in Austria, Spencer in the US, Tre Fontane in Italy and most recently Tynt Meadow in the UK.