The history of beer stretches back literally thousands of years, as historians believe the suds we know and love today were first whipped up by the Sumerians who started brewing the precious liquid all the way back in 4000 BC.
Since then, beer has been a staple in the diets of civilizations around the globe. While it would be a bit of a stretch to call it “nutritious,” it still served an important role in many societies that capitalized on the potable nature of the beverage and relied on it to get some calories workers could use for fuel while going about their day.
That includes the Trappist monks who have long relied on the liquid they whip up inside their monasteries for sustenance while fasting during Lent (a strategy that inspired one man who ultimately lost 50 pounds by drinking nothing but beer for 40 days a few years ago).
If you’re a beer fan, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with the mystique surrounding Trappist beer.
The style—which is governed by regulations that mandate it must be produced inside a monastery staffed by members of that particular religious order—is a bit hard to find in the wild, but the 13 breweries around the globe that currently produce it have a reputation for pumping out some of the best beer on the planet (with Westvleteren and Rochefort arguably serving as the cream of the crop).
Part of the reason Trappist beer is so acclaimed is that the people who make it have had literally centuries to perfect that particular art. However, some of its producers are facing an existential crisis—and there’s no easy solution in sight.
According to The Guardian, monks at Westmalle (Belgium’s oldest Trappist brewery) have become increasingly worried about its future due to the lack of people who view “disavowing their worldly possessions and committing to a life of poverty in a monastery” as a desirable way of life.
A man identified as Brother Benedikt had this to say when discussing the issue:
“Today’s society offers few starting points that can give rise to a monastic vocation. Religious life is no longer considered important and is seen as mysterious, with a negative connotation.”
While this is somewhat concerning, fans of Trappist beers can take some solace in knowing they won’t disappear overnight, and there are plenty of non-Trappist breweries that are able to produce similarly stellar beers in the same traditional styles to fall back on if the “authentic” version does end up becoming increasingly scarce.