I'm pleasantly surprised to find a small selection of Trappist beers for sale at a venue in Inner City Brisbane, Australia.

A quick look at the Chimay website (one of the beers available) shows a map explaining that you can get a Chimay pretty much anywhere. This map doesn't even include Australia, so I assume it's more widely available than they claim.

Now, all the branding explains how the beer is brewed in a traditional Trappist abbey, under the supervision of the monks, which is congruent to my understanding of how Trappist brewers operate.

So how does one Abbey produce enough beer to be able to sell it not only all over Europe, but on the other side of the world in seemingly mainstream quantities?

3 Answers 3


Wikipedia's article leads to several sources that substantiate what @ValentinGregoire preempted. For example, Chimay put up a series of short video clips that take us through surprisingly up-to-date facilities capable of bottling up to 40,000 bottles a day! (Probably it's just my own prejudices—associating monks and monasteries with old times, thus old technologies—causing surprise in my case.) With many other competing beers, and demand checked by relatively higher prices, the abbey alone suffices.

The volume produced, according to this 2012 article, is 120,000 hectoliters of beer annually, or 16,000,000 bottles (750 mL) of beer. To put this in some perspective, according to this 2008 article St. Bernardus at the time was exporting to 20 countries and producing 13,000 hectoliters (considerably lesser than Chimay) annually. And as @ValentinGregoire started saying, Westvleteren is difficult to find because the monks of the abbey of Saint Sixtus decided not to increase production despite the beer's popularity, and thus produce only 4,800 hectoliters according to a 2005 publication.

For me, it's hard to grasp such large numbers in any meaningful way. I looked up Stella Artois' production figures (and not because it's Belgian—it was just the first popular, global beer to come to mind), and found that in 2012 they produced a little over 10,000,000 hectoliters that year. Divide that by Chimay's 120,000 hectoliters per annum. Can I believe that 83 units of Stella are being consumed for every 1 equivalent unit of Chimay? Meant only as a sanity check and not any rigorous argument, it checks out as believable to me—after all, Stella's on draught all over the U.S. (I can't speak for other countries but I'm sure everywhere else too).


I am not sure about this but as it occurs to me, through the years these abbey breweries got larger and get operated with more efficiency and more modern equipment (I guess!!). What I do know however: Chimay is one of the largest Trappist brewers so it's not that weird that it's widely available. With hundreds (thousands!) of beers in Belgium, Chimay is a popular beer, but far from the most popular. I think that's the reason why they can sell a lot abroad. Also a fact, beers like Westvleteren (that won a lot of prizes) are even in Belgium (where it is brewed) pretty rare and hard to get. Basically you have to go to the Abbey yourself to get some beer. If you're there, you only get ONE crate (6 beers) per person. I was lucky enough to visit Westvleteren a while ago and found out that in the nearby cafe you also could buy one crate per person, however there were only about 100 crates available that day and only one type was available. You can drink all types though by ordering it to drink in the café (3 types). If you would ever want to taste Westvleteren but cannot find it, Sint-Bernardus Abt 12 is a very similar beer. I've heard that it is brewn exactly the same way but with some slight differences.


Stan Hieronymus, the author of "Brew Like a Monk" has some info on his website (from 2006) about production numbers from various Monasteries:

Monastery    Production Brew staff      Monks   Monks in br’y
Achel        2,000 HL   2               17      1
Chimay       120,000 HL 82              20      0  
Orval        45,000 HL  32              16      0
Rochefort    18,000 HL  15              17      6
Westmalle    120,000 HL 41              20      0
Westvleteren 4,750 HL   10              28      7

Stan also mentions in Ep 37 of Beersmith Radio that some of these Monasteries own their own bottling plants and production facilities. I can't remember which one, but one of the Abbey's facility that they operate out of is owned by Heineken, but operated by the monks.

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