Monastery brewer Westvleteren, whose legendary beers are produced by monks in the Sint-Sixtus abbey in West Flanders, are to label their bottles for the first time in 75 years.
The brewery produces three of Belgium’s celebrated Trappist beers, named after the order or monks who run the abbey. Trappist beers – the appellation is strictly limited to those beers that meet the stringent conditions laid down by the International Trappist Association (ITA). As a result only 13 monasteries now have the right to use the appellation – Achel was dropped when its population of living monks dropped to zero.
As well as the Belgian monasteries, there are Trappist breweries in the Netherlands (Koningshoeven, La Trappe and Zundert, Maria Toevlucht); the US (St Joseph’s , now closed), Austria (Stift Engelszell), Italy (Tre Fontane), England (St Bernard Abbey), France (Mont des Cats) and Spain (Cerveza Cardeña).
Admirers of the Westvleteren beer itself will experience no change. The new development is cosmetic. The new labels allow consumers to differentiate the four varieties at a glance – not as handy as it might seem, since the beers are rarely on open sale. But the labels will contain all manner of legal requirements – energy values, ingredients in three languages, and a QR code that links to even more information few beer drinkers ever felt a lack of.
The full encyclopedic range of information provided is not legally required, explained Brother Godfried, prior of the abbey. “But we are responding to the demand of many of our consumers with those labels. It is simply a trend in the food world to communicate very openly. We have also become more sensitive to it ourselves. I often see some brothers here studying a box or a package.”
However the development is not the sea-change it might seem to be, he told Het Nieuwsblad.
“We are leaving behind one tradition to get something better in return, to make progress, he said. “In addition, we keep the look and feel. When the bottles are in the crate, the labels are placed so that they cannot be seen, but only the classic, dark bottles with the distinctive ring with the relief inscription Trappist beer.”