Beer probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind when you think of the word “monastery” – but since receiving official recognition on Dec. 10, Saint Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Mass., will become the first American brewery to be manned exclusively by Trappist monks.
The beer, labeled “The Spencer Trappist Ale,” is to be brewed exclusively within the walls of the monastery. Founded in 1950 by members of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, commonly known as Trappists, Saint Joseph’s Abbey has roots that reach far back to monks who fled France during its revolution at the end of 18th century.
Today, there are nearly 180 Trappist monasteries around the world. But of those 180 monasteries, only eight are also active breweries, with the recent addition of Saint Joseph’s Abbey increasing the list to nine.
America will be one of only four countries to host this type of brewery, which requires, according to the International Trappist Association:
1.) The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery, either by the monks themselves or under their supervision.
2.) The brewery must be of secondary importance within the monastery and it should witness to the business practices proper to a monastic way of life.
3.) The brewery is not intended to be a profit-making venture. The income covers the living expenses of the monks and the maintenance of the buildings and grounds. Whatever remains is donated to charity for social work and to help persons in need.
If all those requirements are met, then the beer will receive the "Authentic Trappist Product"(ATP) label. Of the eight breweries that currently hold the coveted ATP insignia (Achel, Chimay, La Trappe, Orval, Rochefort, Westvleteren, Westmalle and Stift Engelszell) not a single one exists outside of Europe – with one in the Netherlands, six in Belgium and one in Austria.
Trappist breweries have yet to leave Europe. Until now.
“At a meeting yesterday of the International Trappist Association in Brussels, the Spencer Trappist Ale was awarded the ‘Authentic Trappist Product’ designation,” François de Harenne, Commercial Director of the Orval Trappist brewery, told the Belgian Beer Specialist on Dec. 11.“The decision was made after several controls made on the premises during the last weeks…We also were lucky enough to taste the beer.”
Currently, there doesn’t seem to be much information about availability or distribution, but according to the Massachusetts-based Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project the monastery has already been brewing batches of beer for several months.
The label for The Spencer Brewery’s draft proudly states it is “American Trappist” and suggests that the beer “Pair with Family and Friends.” It has an alcohol content of 6.5 percent and is “inspired by traditional refectory ales brewed by monks for the monks’ table. Spencer is a full-bodied, golden-hued Trappist ale with fruity accents, a dry finish and light hop bitterness.”
According to zoning board minutes from the town of Spencer, the brewery plans to produce one “brew” per day, four days per week, eventually selling 10,000 barrels of beer by year five.
While the official release date for the beer is still TBD, keep an eye on the brewery’s “in construction” website. And if you get your hands on the draft, let us know.