Patersbier, The Light Brew Created Only For Monks

The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance is a monastic order of the Roman Catholic Church that was founded in 1098. They follow the Rule of St. Benedict, which stresses prayer, poverty, and work. One influential monastery in La Trappe, France gave rise to the moniker the order is more commonly known by: Trappists. No doubt the ears of many beer fans will twitch at the mention of this name, for Trappist abbey's have been in the business of brewing beer long before it was even a business. The beers were developed as a way to create a product for the abbey's community, while also providing an income to keep the monastery running. 

The small nation of Belgium is home to some of the finest Trappist breweries in the world. Places such as Chimay, Rochefort, and Orval are renowned for creating the signature Belgian beer styles of Dubbel and Tripel. However, devotees of these monastic brewmasters will know that the monks themselves did not sample the fruits of their labor. Instead, they drank an elixir known as patersbier, or father's beer.

Developed for nourishment, patersbier is not something you are likely to encounter outside the walls of a Trappist abbey. This is not out of an abundance of caution to protect some secret recipe, but because patersbier was never intended for sale. The purpose of the drink, rather, was for the monks to have a refreshing beverage that could be consumed without causing disruption to their daily rituals and spiritual study.

How patersbier is made

Sometimes referred to as a single or enkel, patersbier is a light beer that is believed to be brewed using the age-old technique called parti-gyle. Essentially, any mash leftover from a previous brew is collected and reconstituted into another beer. This means that there is no one master recipe for patersbier. As it is not technically a specific style, it could be derived from any number of different beer recipes, some of which are available and can provide clues as to a patersbiers ingredients. 

As patersbier is part of the Belgian ale tradition, it is made using top fermentation. Warm Belgian, Trappist, or Abbey yeasts rise to the top of a wort likely consisting of a combination of Pilsner malts, hops, sugar, and spices. Top-fermented beers are left to ferment in the open air at warm temperatures either at or above 66 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ingredients vary from abbey to abbey, and from maker to maker. An important factor to remember, however, is because the patersbier is intended as a nutritional supplement, the alcohol content is intentionally kept very low, typically no more than 5% ABV.

Flavor and difference from other Belgian beers

The results of the top fermentation mean that patersbier tends to have a golden hue, a smooth texture, and a refreshing pop. It is a light beer with hoppy undertones, without being intensely hop-centric as an IPA. The aroma tends to be floral and spicy, with hints of honey hitting the nose. The flavor from the malts takes on a light sweetness, cut just so by the bitterness of the yeast, and followed by those light hoppy undertones. Again, this depends on the maker, but the overall idea is for an easy-drinking beer that is very crisp and well-balanced. 

It is worth it to compare patersbier to the other Belgian Trappist styles, the dubbel and tripel. Brewed for sale to the public, these beers are far stronger and much more flavorful and colorful. Dubbel is high in alcohol and roasted malts, with a very dark color and decidedly more viscous texture. They have a caramelized quality, with notes of chocolate, pepper, and darker fruits.  Tripels are pale and hazy but offer higher spice, floral, and fruit notes. Very easily drinkable thanks to its use of pilsner hops and low sugar, the citrus notes of these refreshing beers tend to hit you after you've already had one too many. 

Depending on what the abbey in question liked to produce, the resulting patersbier was likely re-brewed using the leftover malts from one of these two styles of beer. 

Where to find patersbier

Because patersbier is so exclusive to Trappist life, true iterations are difficult to come by outside of a monastery. It's for this reason that patersbiers are highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts. The only way to get the proper stuff is to befriend the monastic order and see if they won't send you home with a bottle or two. Very few secular, commercial companies brew or sell authentic patersbier, but there are some that have created their own versions inspired by what they know of the monk's drink. 

Trillum Brewing Company in the United States and Beau's in Ontario, Canada have their own takes on the Belgian monastic classic. Brewed using Trappist yeast and a variety of other light fare ingredients, like Spalter hops and pilsner malts, these are some of the closest of the small group of commercial iterations to the authentic beer you are likely to find. 

There is also the option of brewing your own patersbier at home, provided you have the proper equipment. Northern Brewer has an entire Patersbier All Grain Recipe Kit that provides the ingredients you need. The recipe has a 6-week turnaround time and yields 5 gallons. If you're inclined to do so, you could also do some research and acquire all of the ingredients yourself. You could then brew up your own iteration of patersbier that you can either share with friends, or do as the monks do, and keep it a special secret.