After Achel’s disappearance, five Trappist breweries remained in Belgium: Orval, Westvleteren, Westmalle, Chimay and Rochefort. Do they still have a future in light of the sharp decline in the number of monks?
It is true, says Vanrafelghem, that there are not many posts and that there are also many monks who have dropped out. It is also not easy to become a monk, you have to count on a probationary period of about nine years before you can take vows.
But she said everyone is welcome at the monasteries, which means you’ll sometimes spot other nationalities as well, since those religious communities are well respected around the world. So sometimes you have people who come to Belgium who really want to enter those monasteries.
People often think that beer is what attracts these people, but a few years ago Vanrafelghem was able to look behind the scenes at Westvleteren Abbey. Then you see how observant the people there are and how different our way of thinking about it is and how they actually live, as she said, a life of sobriety and silence and establishing that connection with God as possible.
Whether it’s foreigners who will continue the Trappist Belgian beer tradition, Vanrafelghem can’t predict, but she thinks Trappist breweries will survive. She believes that there will still be enough men, all over the world or here in Belgium, who will want to be a part of her.
Possibly tweaking the strict standards so that parents don’t have to be involved in the brewing process, you wouldn’t think that was such a good idea, undermining the whole spirit of Trappist beer.
Vanrafelghem believes that it is very important for Trappist beer to remain authentic and that the core of their DNA really lies in not being profit-oriented. The decisions they make based on that, she said, have always contributed to good quality and if you mess with that and the monks are no longer involved in brewing, it won’t lead to anything good.
But even if Trappist breweries were to disappear, it wouldn’t be a disaster. Trappers are of course very pretty, and a little charming, Holy Grail even for some, Vanrafelghem said, but let’s not forget that we have around 420 breweries in Belgium, so we’ll still be able to quench our thirst a lot. Nice beer.
And I concluded that even without Achel, we still have a beautiful landscape of Trappist beer and beer in general.
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