Religious institutions have a long history of brewing in Belgium, although often interrupted by conflict and occupation such as during the Napoleonic Wars and World War I. Very few such institutions actually brew today, although many have licensed their names to commercial breweries. Despite the limited production, the traditional styles derived from these breweries have been quite influential and have spread beyond Belgium.
Various terms have been used to describe these beers, but many are protected appellations and reflect the origin of the beer rather than a style. Those monasteries could brew any style they choose, but the ones described in this category are those that are most commonly associated with this brewing tradition.
We differentiate beers in this category as those that were inspired by religious breweries. Despite claims of uniqueness, these beers do share a number of common attributes that help characterize the styles. All are top-fermenting, have very high attenuation (“more digestible” in Belgium), achieve high carbonation through bottle conditioning (“refermented in the bottle” in Belgium), and have distinctive, complex, and aggressive ‘Belgian’ spicy-estery yeast character. Many are strong in alcohol.