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BEER MADE BY MONKS

By: Javier Sánchez “EL CERVECIAFILO”

In the Middle Ages, we nearly ran out of beer. It gives me goosebumps just imagining what the world would be like without this vital liquid that makes millions and millions of human beings so happy. The paradox of this is that those who saved the planet from such a catastrophe were the same ones who -centuries later- would angrily condemn it: the Catholics.  In other words, we can affirm that in some way it was divine intervention that saved us from such a tragedy.

The Middle Ages disrupted the social order in many ways.  Many of the customs and commercial practices of the time were affected and among them was agriculture and therefore the production of grains and beer. The Christian abbeys then became “protected” agricultural centers and, in addition, much of the scientific knowledge was concentrated, among which was the production of beer.

They produced it for three reasons. The first is because it constitutes an excellent food for the monks themselves, especially in the Lent seasons of fasting in which they could not try solid food.

Consumption within these religious centers reached impressive volumes since each monk was allowed to drink up to five liters of beer a day.  The second reason is that it was used as food for the many pilgrims who – fleeing wars and persecutions – frequently knocked on the doors of the abbeys. And the third reason, and perhaps the most important, was that it turned out to be an excellent source of funding for those religious communities.

The sale in the canteens of the abbeys allowed the monasteries to accumulate a large number of economic resources that were highly regarded and encouraged by the ecclesiastical authorities.  Christian censure of the high consumption of alcoholic beverages, especially by Protestants, is a relatively recent position.

Currently, all the abbeys that produce beer are Roman Catholic and are only once: Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, Sint Sixtus, Westvleteren, Scourmont-Lez, Achelse Kluis, Schaapskooi, Koningshoeven, Zundert, Tre Fontane, La Trappé and Achel.  They all belong to the Trappist order originally raised in the Cistercian monastery of La Trappé, France whose monks fled to Belgium and Holland during the French revolution.

The term Trappist is legally an appellation of origin and not a style of beer.

All the beers that these monasteries produce have a series of common characteristics: they are top-fermented Ales and they are bottle-conditioned. Its flavor is strong and with abundant yeast sediments, fruity and aromatic.

Most are sweet, although there are some dry ones. These beers are not so easy to find in restaurants in Mexico, although, in the United States, it doesn’t hurt to ask the waiter if they have them. The easiest thing to do is to go to specialized stores, where you will often find one or more of these Trappist beers.

It is common to confuse Trappist beers with the so-called abbey beers. Undoubtedly some elements relate to them, however, by themselves, they deserve an article that I will dedicate to them in the future.

Remember: the world of beer does not end at the corner store.  Search, experiment, and be surprised.

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