Inside abbey where Belgian monks brew Trappist beer

Story highlights

  • Only 1 beers in the world can be considered Trappist beers
  • They are brewed in abbeys by monks following specific criteria

(CNN)TRAPPIST isn't just the name of a star system supporting seven Earth-size exoplanets 40 light-years away. The researchers who named it were inspired by their favorite beer.

Of the many thousands of beers produced around the world, only 11 can use the name "Trappist." Six of them are made in Belgium, one in the United States, two in Holland, one in Italy and one in Austria.
    These beers are all brewed with three criteria in order to earn the name and mark "Trappist":
    1. The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery, either by the monks themselves or under their supervision.
    2. The brewery must be of secondary importance within the monastery, and it should witness to the business practices proper to a monastic way of life.
    3. The brewery is not intended to be a profit-making venture. The income covers the living expenses of the monks and the maintenance of the buildings and grounds. Whatever remains is donated to charity for social work and to help persons in need.
    Monks who go by the name of Trappists are from the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, a branch of Roman Catholicism.
    One of their homes is the Abbey of Orval, a 885-year-old monastery nestled in a valley in the Ardennes mountain range in the Gaume region of Belgium. The abbey was built on a water source and is the perfect spot for a life of solitude, prayer and brewing.
    Many of the Trappist abbeys were destroyed during the French Revolution but rebuilt.
    Brother Xavier, a monk at Orval, said that at the start of 20th century, monks "reconstructed the buildings that you can see, and it is in the context of the reconstruction that led to the idea of creating a brewery at the time to finance the reconstruction on the monastery and, for today, maintenance of the buildings and for social work" -- showing that Orval adheres to all the policies of the Trappist name.
    Although the monks didn't discover a brewery in the ruins of the old abbey, they did find telltale signs of brewing: a field of hops dating back hundreds of years.
    Now, Orval produces 22 million bottles of beer a year. Philippe Henroz, managing director of the abbey, says the output is not huge but is "enough to give means to the monastery."
    Not all Trappist beers follow the same recipes, but they all have one more thing in common: water.
    Henroz made a clever case for water on the new TRAPPIST exoplanets: "For brewers, the most important thing is if they find water, because without water, we cannot make beer. If they find water, it is a very important thing for our brewers."