Trappist and Abbey Ales are an elusive group when it comes to classification, as neither term denotes a single style. In general, categorization is based on amount of malt and relative strength – Single, Dubbel, Tripel and Quadruple where the Single is has the lowest ABV (below 6%) and the Quadruple has the highest (8-12%).
Trappist v Abbey Ales
The real distinction between Trappist and Abbey ales came about in 1962, as a result of a ruling where Biere Trappiste or Trappistenbier became a legal appellation. In accordance with the rules, a Trappist beer must be brewed by monks, or under the direct supervision of monks within a Trappist monastery. The brewery must always be of secondary importance to the monastery, and is not meant to be a profit-making venture.
This landmark ruling was the result of legal action spearheaded by Chimay against several breweries, some secular and others without monastic connection, which were making beer commercially and calling them Trappist Ales. As a result, the primary difference between Abbey and Trappist beers is that Abbey ales are brewed for profit, whereas Trappist beer is made as a means of self-sufficiency to cover monastic living expenses and maintenance, with proceeds going to charity and community outreach programs.
In 1997, eight Trappist breweries came together to found the International Trappist Association (ITA), to protect themselves against others using the Trappist name. Since 1997, authentic Trappist beer can be recognized by a hexagonal logo on the label. Presently, there are only twelve Trappist breweries in the world: six in Belgium, two in the Netherlands, and one each in Austria, England, Italy and USA.