Trappists and beer (2/2)

A strict definition, but ...

Early in the twentieth century and right through the 1950s, many brewers wanted to take advantage of the Trappist denomination and reputation for their products. Therefore, they produced beers and called them “Trappists.” The Trappist monks logically started legal proceedings to protect the name.

Since the judgment of the court of Gent, on February 28th, 1962 “… the word Trappist is used commonly to indicate a beer brewed and sold by monks pertaining to the order of the Trappists or by people who would have obtained an authorization of this kind… is thus called Trappist a beer manufactured by Cistercian monks and not a beer in the Trappist style which will be rather called beer of abbey.”

It does, nonetheless, remain that despite the legal definition of what is a “Trappist beer,” it is never defined in a sufficiently strict way to cover all situations. This is why the International Trappist Association specified complementary criteria making it possible to define an Authentic Trappist Product.

Applied to beer, the wear of the "authentic trappist product" hexagonal logo means that :

  • The beers shall be produced by a production unit situated inside the monastery or its immediate vicinity.
  • Through its extent, physical configuration, organisation, use and management, the entire business equipment required shall demonstrate both an indisputable link of subordination to the accredited monastery and a business culture that fits in with monastic life.
  • The work shall be carried out by the monks or nuns themselves and/or laypersons from the accredited monastery or a business entrusted with the production, packaging and marketing, provided that this business is dependent on the accredited monastery and operates under the latter's supervision in terms of production and administrative management methods, quality, publicity and financing.
  • The proceeds shall be outside the scope of any independent profit motive and be intended for material, intellectual and spiritual needs, the maintenance of the buildings, their fittings and the environment of the accredited monastery, whereby any surplus arising from healthy and careful management is used for charity or social work or the needs of other Trappist monasteries.

Taking into consideration these criteria, the case of the abbey of Tilburg became more complicated. Indeed, in 1998, the monks, following an existing cooperation agreement with the Dutch brewery Bavaria, decided to withdraw from the obligations of managing the brewery, in the face of an aging community.

It appears that the monks of Tilburg, at that time, wanted to withdraw the hexagonal logo “Authentic Trappist Product” from their products. But shall we imagine that some other members of the International Trappist Association (ITA) also asked them to remove it ?

That did not prevent the abbey of Tilburg to remind us, that their beers were still real Trappist beers, even if they didn’t wear the hexagonal logo. On a legal point of view, they were right.

Specific interests may have been at work here, although this did not answer the criteria of the International Trappist Association.

The conclusion was simple: the beers of Tilburg had the right to be called Trappist without being an Authentic Trappist Product, as defined byt the ITA. It was a legally correct vision of things while the International Trappist Association probably had a more ethical vision.

A few years later, the monks of Tilburg reconsidered their position, and decided to do their best to fulfill the requirements that were needed to wear the hexagonal logo again. Negotiations were initiated with the international trappist association, and since September 2005 (official press release of the ITA in October 2005, 7th), the beers of Tilburg have the right to be designated as an "authentic trappist product" again. (information given by Brother Bernardus - Tilburg, October 6th)

The display of the logo “Authentic Trappist Product” will attest of the total respect of the authenticity, as it is defined by the International Trappist Association.

The attentive reader should meditate on these remarks… and can consult the “false Trappists” chapter of this site, to know some more.

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