Last orders as band of brotherly brewers dies off

A six-pack of Westvleteren 12 is displayed at Ales Unlimited on December 12, 2012 in San Francisco, California.


DEMAND for Europe‘s elite Trappist beers, brewed in monastic seclusion behind abbey walls, is at an all-time high — but soon there may be no one left to make them because fewer people want to become monks.

The International Trappist Association (ITA) stipulates that only beers made by the monks themselves or under the monks’ supervision can be awarded the hallowed label of ‘Authentic Trappist Product’.

With fewer people joining an order, the breweries are struggling to find suitable recruits. At Belgium‘s Orval monastery — one of only eight in the world producing certified Trappist beers — the number of monks is now 12, down from 35 a few decades ago.

Trappist beer has been gaining in popularity, in part because of its scarcity. Under ITA guidelines, the beer must be sold only to provide for the needs of the community or the monastery, and not for general profit. The US in particular has developed a taste for the brews, and last week a monastery inMassachusetts became the first outside Europe to be given permission to start brewing its own.