We’ve made it the sixth entry in our D&D beer pairing series. This of course means we’ve landed on the monk this time. To be clear, the D&D monks are usually presented as martial artists with a spiritual side, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least mention the non-roundhouse kicking variety of monk’s who have a long and storied history with beer. Rest assured we’ll touch on both. As usual, I’ve got licensed cicerone, Jessica Clare, here with me to give you an expert’s perspective.
Jess: Ah, the monks. Now we’re getting into your favorite category of beer: The Trappists.
Since I visited liiiiiike six of the Trappist breweries / abbeys in Belgium a couple months ago, I feel extra confident that monks would be all up on the Trappist traditions.
Me: OK, I’ll bite. What’s a trappist?
Jess: Trappist breweries (there are fourteen of them in the world now: six in Belgium, two in the Netherlands, one in Italy, one in the US, one in Austria, one in France, one in Spain, and one in England) are ALL at Trappist monasteries, and any money made off their beer / other products (there are a bunch that make cheese, chocolate…. other stuff…) must go back to maintaining the monastery or into bettering the community. No one’s getting rich off Trappist beer, which is crazy considering some well-known beers like Chimay, Orval, Westmalle, and Rochefort are ALL Trappists.
The monks who make Trappist beers are part of the Order of Cistercians, a very strict order of Benedictine monks. They take a vow of silence (a few Trappist monasteries nod to this in their marketing—for example, La Trappe’s tagline is “taste the silence”) and only speak about work and God or whatever. They dedicate their lives to prayer and work—most Trappist abbeys also have farms. And they live much, MUCH more austere lives than their Catholic counterparts. Their abbeys are absolutely gorgeous, but much simpler and more humble than the churches typically built at the time. (Think Lutheran. They looked a lot like Midwestern churches.)
The discipline, humble living, and intense dedication to their craft and work absolutely makes me think of the good ‘ole monks of the D&D world. Many of the monks still spend the majority of their lives in their abbeys, living very communal lives.
It’s also worth noting that Trappist beers, though absolutely some of the best in the world, are also fairly straightforward without a lot of crazy variety or ingredients. Hell, Orval only makes ONE beer, and it is absolutely one of the best beers in the world and if it was all I could drink for the rest of my life, I would die happy. I can’t think of anything more monk-like than steadfastly making the same beer for centuries and being so goddamn good at it that no one ever questions it.
Me: D&D Monks are heavily themed after Shaolin Monks, unfortunately they’re forbidden from drinking. However, could you talk a little bit about Chinese beer styles?
Jess: China doesn’t actually have a long history of brewing beer as we would recognize it, and doesn’t have the same history with booze that a lot of other countries / regions have. Historically, they definitely brewed, but they used grains like rice and millet, sweetened with honey, fruits, and herbs. Mass production of beer didn’t really start until after 1900, when Polish, German, and Czech brewers started up breweries in China.
Even today, they drink less beer in China. Latest stats have Chinese drinkers at 22L per year, compared to 80L per year in the US and 160L per year in the Czech Republic (overachievers).
Me: Mr. Miyagi (who would be a monk if he had a D&D class) chopped a bunch of beer bottles in half and chose whiskey rather than beer to get hammered on in the Karate Kid. Are karate and beer fundamentally incompatible?
Jess: To get into Mr. Miyagi, though, Japan actually does have a pretty old and interesting brewing history. Japan’s industrial brewing began in the 1850s, and sort of exploded. Sapporo and Asahi are about the same age (late 1800s), and are still going strong today. Japan’s craft scene has exploded lately, too, with lots of little new breweries popping up and making some cool beers (check out Hitachino, they’re awesome). Japan is also the country of origin of one of my favorite hops, Sorachi Ace. It’s totally a weird hop and not one of the cool kid IPA hops, but god DAMN is it good in a saison, a cream ale, or pils.
As for the possible fundamental incompatibility between karate and beer, tough call. I mean, if you use It’s Always Sunny as a source (and I ALWAYS do), Country Mac drank a shitload of beers and then beat up a black belt, so… interpret that as you will.
If you wanna catch up on the rest of the series: