Whilst on a trip to The Netherlands we stayed in the southern city of Tilburg which is due west of Eindhoven. 10-15 minutes drive away is a Trappist brewery, the first one to be established in The Netherlands, namely La Trappe which is located at the Abbey O.L.V. Koningshoeven.
How could I travel all the way from the USA and pass up this opportunity to go and tour round such a famous brewery? Of course I could not so I contacted a couple of my good friends who live in The Netherlands and off we went on a very rainy afternoon though luckily once we arrived the rain stopped and the sun came out – bonus!
What is a Trappist brewery?
Currently there are 10 Trappist breweries:
- Achel (Belgium)
- Chimay (Belgium)
- La Trappe (Netherlands)
- Orval (Belgium)
- Rochefort (Belgium)
- Spencer (USA)
- Westmalle (Belgium)
- Westvleteren (Belgium)
- Zundert (Netherlands)
In order to attain the denomination of being called a Trappist brewery an abbey much conform to the following requirements which are governed by the International Trappist Association (ITA):
- The beer must be produced within the walls of the monastery.
- The brewery must be owned and run by the monks.
- A portion of the proceeds must go to charity.
Please note that with point #2 other people can be involved with the brewing, including an external Master Brewer in some cases, but ultimately the ownership and management must be done by the monks.
Only Trappist breweries can call their beers Trappist and that any other breweries using this in their beer name will soon receive a ‘cease and desist’ as the organization wants to protect the heritage and quality that goes with this name.
History of La Trappe
You may notice from the list of the 10 Trappist breweries that they are all named after the town that they are located in except for La Trappe which is located in Tilburg. So why is the brewery named ‘La Trappe’?
The Trappist order originated in the Cistercian monastery located in La Trappe, France, but following religious persecution the monks sought refuge in safer countries that included Belgium and were later followed by the likes of The Netherlands.
Abbey O.L.V. Koningshoeven takes its name from King Willem II who had a presence in the local area where the monastery was set up but in order to have an appealing name for their beers they took the name of the original monastery in France – La Trappe.
The La Trappe name comes from that of the French abbey of ‘Notre-Dame de la Grande Trappe’ in the Normandy village of Soligny-la-Trappe, also known as ‘La Trappe’.
Touring the Brewery
We made a reservation by emailing the brewery as they only do tours at 2pm (14:00) and spaces are limited. The price was Euro 10 (approx $13) per person which is very good value in my opinion and consists of:
- A 45 minute tour around the brewery.
- A glass of La Trappe beer.
- A 30 minute film about the life of the Monks and the Brewery.
We had a fantastic guide who was very expressive, knew his stuff and had mini quizzes on our tour to see what we knew and help us remember the information he passed on to us.
The tour started with an explanation of how the monks came to The Netherlands in the 1884 from France and set up a self-sufficient monastery with about 100 monks (now only 20). The average age of the current monks is 60 with ages ranging from 28 to 87 years old.
In an effort to be more environmentally friendly the brewery has 25% of its power coming from solar panels and also has an electric car plus charging point. The water is taken from their own well and they are always working on improving their water utilisation.
On our way into the brewhouse we noticed that the contents of the mash tun were being emptied out into an outdoor container to later be used for animal feed and bread which they make in the monastery.
Next to the brewhouse door is a sign ‘Bierbrouwerij De Schaapskooi’ which is the original name of the brewery before being changed to ‘La Trappe’ for marketing reasons. The name means sheep barn due to the use of the original buildings. The modern tasting room is built in the same style with a thatched roof.
Once inside the brewhouse we found two sets of equipment with both being German in style; the first were older and smaller copper vessels and the second were larger and more modern stainless steel vessels.
The beers are brewed with Pale grains for the base malts and Dark Roasted specialty grains to provide color depending on the beer. As mentioned earlier the water comes from their own well and Hallertauer hops used for bittering, flavoring and aroma come from southern Germany.
We were provided with an in-depth explanation of the brewing process including how they put the finished beer into barrels (or kegs) for bars and restaurants to serve on tap – these are force carbonated. In addition to this the beer is bottled with sugar and more yeast for bottle conditioning (carbonation) but before being shipped to stores, bars and for export via Bavaria distribution the cases are placed in a warm room for three weeks so that the secondary fermentation can take place under controlled conditions.
Here are a few facts about the La Trappe brewery:
- 12,000 are filled per hour whilst the bottling line is running.
- 33cl Euro bottles are recycled for use in stores – packed into red boxes.
- 33cl new bottles are used for sale in bars, restaurants and for export – packed into black boxes.
- The brewery capacity is 130,000 hectoliters per year (110k US barrels).
- Current output is about 90,000 hectoliters per year (76.7k US barrels).
- 12-15 batches are brewed per week (Mon-Fri).
- La Trappe is sold in 55 countries.
- Bottled beers have a date on them and are listed as being good for 2.5 years but the beer is in fact even better up to another year providing it has been properly cellared.
Interestingly the monks used to run a fire engine service for the local area and a Blacksmiths. The Monastery has plenty of land and on it they grow a lot of their own produce in order to be as self-sufficient as possible.
With the remaining land they also rent some out to local farmers to bring in income plus they work with the Diamant group to help with the labor on the farm and at the same time provide disabled and needy people with rehabilitation. Some of the gardens and woods are available for the public to enjoy walks and cycling routes.
Tasting Room (Proeflocaal)
After the tour we returned to the Tasting Room and each selected one of their beers to enjoy whilst watching a 30 minute film (in Dutch with English sub-titles) about the monastery and the monks themselves.
The range of beers available are:
- La Trappe PUUR – a 4.7% light ale.
- La Trappe Witte Trappist – a 5.5% Witbier.
- La Trappe Blond – a 6.5% Belgian Blond.
- La Trappel Dubbel – a 7.0% Belgian Dubbel.
- La Trappe Bockbier – a 7.0% Traditional Bock (seasonal in the Autumn/Fall but was available in the bottle).
- La Trappe Isid’or – a 7.5% strong Belgian Pale Ale.
- La Trappe Tripel – a 8.0% Belgian Tripel.
- La Trappe Quadrupel – a 10.0% Belgian Dark Strong.
- La Trappe Quadrupel Oak Aged – – a 10.0% Belgian Dark Strong that has been aged on port, whisky, wine, brandy or bourbon barrels depending on the release (bottle only).
In addition to these they had a beer called Jubelaris which was being retired, this was similar to the Isid’or but with a slightly lower ABV.
After the film we sat outside to enjoy the rest of our beers in the sun and then visited the shop to grab some beers to go. In the shop there are also cheese, chocolates and plenty of gifts and souvenirs for sales e.g. beers with matching La Trappe glasses.
We enjoyed our visit to La Trappe enormously and can certainly recommend it. If you are in the area why not take a couple of hours to visit them and also enjoy the monastery surroundings.
For further information on La Trappe, visit their web site.
If you have any question or comments, please feel free to add them below.