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Though only five Trappist breweries still exist in Belgium, the number used to be greater. The last to cease production was the Benedictine monastery at Affligem (during WWII). "Yeah, but I can still buy Affligem" you might say, and you'd be right. Their classic Doubles and Tripples are still made by the De Smedt brewery under license of Affligem. Abbey ale is a term associated with beer brewed by non-monastic types, frequently under such a license. These beers cannot be called "Trappist", but usually derive their name from a shrine or a church or some other religious icon. It is typical for abbey ale to mimmik the styles of Trappist beer. Doubles and triples, such as appear in Westmalle's line, are very popular. Some beers, like St. Bernardus, are more similar to the dark, profoundly powerful brews of Rochefort and Westvleteren.

It should be mentioned that Abbey Ales can be thought of in two categories: the ones legitamately associated with a monastic order and the ones that arn't. Affligem, as stated above, is brewed under the liscence of a real monestary. Others, like St. Feuillien is named after a defunct abbey, thus it is an abbey ale by name and not by association.

A while back there was some legal activity regarding use of the term "abbey ale". My understanding is that the Trappist brewers banded together to legally force non-monastically related brewers to call themselves "abbey-style ales". The reason, as stated in an article the was published in England in the later 90's, was that the unflattering depiction of monks on labels was hurting monastic recruitment. Number of new monks were down around 80%. It would seem to me that the pious life-style of a monk would be a far more significant reason for dwindling numbers. None the less, I wish them luck in their efforts to survive.

Belgium, 1984, Abbey Affligem


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