Just what is an abbey beer?

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Abbey beers are becoming better known and more sought-after in the speciality beer world. Some of the most highly regarded and well known European abbey beers include Grimbergen, St. Bernadus, Affligem, and of course, St. Stefanus. What defines an abbey beer? There are several different qualities that can define an abbey beer: • A beer brewed by a non-Trappist monastery • A beer that was once brewed by monks inside a monastery, but has now transferred to another source or brewery • A beer produced with the name of an abbey Why do they exist? Monks have always had a strong connection with beer brewing. It was acknowledged that brewing was part of the work a monastery should do to provide for its community, by supplying a hearty drink to local people at a time when water shortages and pollution frequently occurred. During Lent, monks would also sustain themselves on beer and share their surplus with those in need of help, including the homeless, and patients in the hospitals they established. Confusion with Trappist beers There is a common misconception amongst some beer drinkers that the term ‘abbey beer’ is the same as ‘Trappist beer’. Thus, the two are often mistaken or used interchangeably. Yet, there are marked differences between them. While still having monastic links or branding, an abbey beer is no longer produced within the walls of a monastery. Whereas, a Trappist beer is, quite simply, “a beer that is brewed by or under the control of Trappist monks”. Abbey beers are more common than Trappists for a number of reasons, but mainly because they also have fewer restrictions on their scale of production or distribution, enabling them to brew in larger batches. St. Stefanus Belgian abbey beer The larger-scale production and distribution of abbey beers are by no means a sign of compromised taste or authenticity. In fact, transferring the production of our beer to the local Van Steenberge Brewery has ensured that our centuries-old recipe and yeast strain are protected and that actual production of our beer is more sustainable. Brewing techniques, equipment and testing are ever evolving, and the brewery is able to keep up-to-date with these developments. This ensures that St. Stefanus continues to be enjoyed across the world and is always of the highest quality. Do you have a favourite abbey beer?

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