Beer writers and enthusiasts and good friends Caroline Wallace, Sarah Wood, and Jessica Deahl came up with the idea to take a road trip through Europe and North America to visit all the breweries currently making Trappist beer. When they started making plans, there were ten, but by the time they got everything in place, that number became 11. They traveled through Belgium and the Netherlands and even to Massachusetts to gather history and information and take lots of beautiful pictures, and the result is the lovely Trappist Beer Travels.
Filled with information on each of the 11 Trappist breweries, it's almost a travel guide for those interested in following in their footsteps, as they include tips on the attractions at the monasteries and the cities nearby as well as ideas on where to stay and where to eat.
While some of the monasteries are still rather isolated (Rochefort, in Belgium, doesn't allow visitors, only guests interested in an extended spiritual retreat), most have made room for visitors with gift shops or restaurants. and still others are embracing modern technology wholeheartedly. The Abbey brewing La Trappe in the Netherlands is using solar panels and electric cars and relies on the man they have nicknamed their e-monk to run their online store, and the monks in Vleteren, Belgium Googled the women before they arrived.
While the standards set by the International Trappist Association mandate that the Trappist beers are brewed within the walls of the monastery and are brewed or supervised by the monks, some breweries take pride in the monks being a part of the entire process (Westvleteren) while others are happy to provide jobs to 30% of the nearby town (Chimay) or to employ locals with learning difficulties and mental disabilities (La Trappe). However they chose to make their beers, each one is enriched by the contemplative focus and closeness to nature that these monks' lives offer.
With rich histories of wartime struggles and religious unrest, each Abbey and their resulting beer is infused with centuries of wisdom and resilience. Each beer's story is different and fascinating, and knowing more about these beers and their origins can only increase our enjoyment and reverence as we raise our glasses. I found this book to be beautiful and moving, and I am considering ordering a copy for every beer lover in my life. I may not make it back to Europe in my lifetime, and if I do, I may not be able to tour all these beautiful abbeys, but I can hold a piece of them in my heart as I enjoy the fruits of their labor and say a quiet thank you to all the monks who had a hand in making all our of our lives richer with these lovely ales.
Galleys for Trappist Beer Travels were provided by Schiffer Publishing through Edelweiss, with many thanks.