Monastic beers: the spirit of brewing monks
Monastic beers, as explained in our previous chapter “Monks and beer”, are generally defined as beers referring to monks or to religious symbols. When they wear the name of an abbey, they are then called “abbey beers”.
The Belgian monastic beers that we know today belong to a family of beers that appeared during the first quarter of the 20th century. Thus, since 1913, Rémy Poucke, brewer in St-Gilles-lez-Bruxelles, has made the “Beer of the Capuchin”. It should be noted that truly authentic monastic beers were created centuries ago, and some famous examples remain today, such as Mallersdorf and Andechs of Germany. Unfortunately, the number of authentic monastic breweries is rather limited today. The vast majority of the monastic/abbey beers we know today have little or no direct links with monks or nuns.
However, these abbey beers use the high secular reputation of genuine monastic beers to promote an image of tradition and quality.
The monastic beers enjoyed rapid progress in Germany and Belgium in the 19th and 20th century, but were less well-known in other countries. However, there were some famous examples in France and in the United States of America, mainly during the first part of the 20th century. Some other examples were found in various European countries, especially in Eastern Europe.
The denominations of these beers show no ambiguity: they are often named Pater (Father), Monniker (Monk), Abt (Abbot), Vader (Father), etc., in Belgium, and Benediktiner, Kapuziener, Augustiner, Kloster, etc., in Germany. These are names that evoke monks or monasteries, and sometimes are associated with drawings of abbeys or religious people. The monks are often represented as jovial characters, very often corpulent, as to show the quality of the beer and its associated welfare. Images and names are carefully chosen to evoke values of tradition and know-how. The brewers, while paying homage to the work that was formerly carried out by the monks, try to suggest that their beer is the vehicle of these secular values of quality.
Very often, these monastic beers see great success, sometimes becoming more famous than genuine monastic or Trappist beers. The fact that they are generally not brewed by the monks does not predict their quality. Some of them are indeed excellent beers…