As most of you already know, earlier this week a new Trappist brewery has been revealed: Tre Fontane Abbey in Rome was granted the right to use the “Authentic Trappist Product” logo on its beer. Italy made the list, along with Belgium, Netherlands, Austria and United States and there are now 11 Trappist breweries in the world.
The Italian Trappist monastery, the only Abbey in Rome, is located in the EUR district, just south of the city centre. Tre Fontane Abbey has been producing beer for a year, sold under the name “Birra dei Monaci” (Monks Beer) until 4th May 2015 when the right to use the “Authentic Trappist Product” label on the new Trappist beer was granted. The prestigious achievement was reached after Tre Fontane Abbey set up a microbrewery within the walls of the monastery and the Quality Audit of the International Trappist Association voted favourably to their application.
I personally had the pleasure to taste Tre Fontane beer a few weeks ago. It’s definitely different from all the other Trappist beers available, but before talking about the product itself I’d like to give you some context around the history of the abbey and what I’ve learnt during my visit there.
The abbey is situated near a busy road junction but the landscape changes dramatically as soon as you step into the 16-acre property. Surrounded by peace and quiet, this beautiful place makes you soon forget about the stress of everyday life. In such a relaxing atmosphere, I’ve been welcomed by Sergio Daniele, spokesman of Tre Fontane microbrewery and distillery.
The beer in fact is the last of many Trappist products made by the monks of Tre Fontane: olive oil, various kinds of honey (flower, acacia, and eucalyptus), a large assortment of chocolates, and liqueurs made of the Eucalyptus trees that surround the abbey. Eucalittino is a sweet eucalyptus flavoured liqueur that used to be popular in Rome as a digestif, while Eucalyptus Extract – still produced according to the original 1873 recipe – is a bitter liqueur, with a strong balsamic aroma and no added sugar, obtained by the cold maceration of Eucalyptus globulus leaves. But what do liqueurs have to do with beer? Both are made with Eucalyptus, a tree that has strongly influenced the history of Tre Fontane Abbey.
There has been a settlement there since at least the sixth century, but Cistercians of the Strict Observance moved to Tre Fontane only in 1868 when the property was given on perpetual lease (emphyteusis) to reclaim the malarial surroundings. An extensive land reclamation work was performed through the completion of canal systems, which greatly improved the drainage of the area, and the planting of 125.000 eucalyptus trees. That’s why eucalyptus has become the symbol of the Abbey and monks have developed an in-depth knowledge of eucalyptus trees (there are over 600 different species).
After this historical introduction, let’s talk about the Trappist beer. As briefly mentioned, Eucalyptus leaves are added during the brewing process making Tre Fontane beer one of the very few Trappist beers using unusual ingredients – if I’m not wrong, the only other example belongs to the Abbey of Stift Engelszell whose recipe includes local honey. Beside Eucalyptus, Tre Fontane beer with its 8.5% abv content is inspired by the original Trappist Tripel.
I’m generally sceptical of unusual spices, but I have to admit that Tre Fontane beer is well mastered: the aroma reveals a typical Belgian profile – they may have used yeast given by another Trappist brewery as often happens, while the dry finish ensures a good drinkability. The aroma of eucalyptus is elegant and prominent only in the after taste, with pleasant balsamic, slightly bitter notes.
The beer that has been awarded the Trappist hexagon is an evolution of the one I tasted, although very similar. The recipe of batch #4, currently in the fermentation tanks of the 10 hl microbrewery, has been slightly reviewed to further improve the quality of the product. This search of perfection started 3 years ago: for a long period the beer has been brewed and revised in a brewery close to the Abbey, afterwards Tre Fontane monks have turned to the International Trappist Association for advice and know-how. So the first Italian Trappist beer is the result of a long process aimed to create a high quality product.
Now we can only wait for the launch of the first bottles labelled with the “Authentic Trappist Product” logo, which will be available for sale in the abbey’s shop along with the specifically designed glasses.
As a beer lover, having a Trappist Brewery in Italy is a great satisfaction and represents the icing on the cake of the still growing Italian craft beer movement. And personally, I hope the birth of Tre Fontane beer will encourage Rome to turn the spotlight on the old brewing traditions of Europe. The Capital is well-known for offering a great variety of craft beers from all over the world, but the focus is too often on modern interpretations and new styles. I wonder if the new Trappist beer could bring more balance in one of the most important beer cities in Italy.
I can’t end this important article without some special thanks. First, Sergio Daniele for having welcomed me at the Abbey where I spent a wonderful afternoon and had the chance, not only to taste the beer and visit the brewery, but also see the life in the abbey: a great experience and memories that won’t fade away. And finally, I’d like to thank my friends Enrico Pozza and Rossella Gargiulo for their precious information and encouragement to write this article. I hope this report gives you the same enthusiasm I had when I visited Tre Fontane Abbey.