A Trappist brewery right in my backyard

A Trappist brewery right in my backyard

Spencer Brewery Trappist Ale
Spencer Brewery Trappist Ale

A big deal happened in the world of beer lovers as the new year began– A Trappist brewery began brewing beer outside of Europe. Well, to be clear, they began brewing it last year, but they’ve officially launched it. And the location of this brewery is less than hour from my home.

The monks of St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer, Mass., have received permission to be one of the first two Trappist monasteries outside of Europe to brew the famed Trappist beers. They were profiled on the front page of the Boston Globe today and on National Public Radio as they launched their new beer. At 4,000 cases per year, they’re not going to be showing up on tap at your corner bar, but it’s still a significant event in beer circles.

That’s because Trappist beers, including the famed Belgians like Chimay, are considered among the world’s best beers. And the new ales from Spencer Brewery are made with the centuries-old recipe, using locally sourced ingredients but the original prized and all-important Trappist yeasts used exclusively by the 10 Trappist monastery breweries.

Of course, the modern world likes to titter about the seeming incongruity, what seems like sober, pleasure-rejecting monks induging in the “Devil’s brew”. But that misunderstands the Catholic relationship with beer and alcohol. While some of the great Temperance crusaders of the 19th and 20th century were indeed Catholics, it was mainly a Protestant phenomenon. In fact, beer was very important to medieval Christians. Stephen Mansfield in the book “The Search for God and Guinness” notes that St. Arnold, a patron saint of beer, once remarked, “From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world.” After he died, his funeral procession stopped at a tavern for a beer, but only one mugful was left. They passed it around and every man drank his fill. St. Brigid once turned a bathtub of water into beer so the lepers she served could drink. St. Columbanus convinced pagans not to burn a barrel of beer to their idol but to drink it in thanksgiving to the one true God.

Throughout the Middle Ages, monasteries were centers of beer brewing as a service to the community, partly because beer was essentially liquid bread, i.e. full of nutrients for the populace, and partly because the alcohol disinfected the water and made it drinkable. Mansfield even notes a funny little ditty about beer-brewing religious orders:

To drink like a Capuchin is to drink poorly;
To drink like a Benedictine is to drink deeply;
To drink like a Dominican is pot after pot;
But to drink like a Franciscan is to drink the cellar dry.

The Trappists in Spencer won’t be drinking their cellars dry. While medieval monks received a daily ration of beer, the modern monk drinks only on Sunday and high holy days.

What’s nice is that they have no desire and no need to downplay their monastic Catholic character as evinced by this video showing a day in the life of the abbey. It’s a beautiful, quiet vignette.

So how is it? The Globe’s beer review deems it “highly drinkable”.

The beer begins with soft sweetness balanced by white pepper and cloves. It’s highly drinkable, the kind of beer that turns so many craft beer newcomers onto more brews.

How can we get some? Lucky for me, it will be sold only in Massachusetts at first. Now I just have to find a place selling one of those 4,000 cases.

1 comment
  • I’m looking forward to trying this beer. A new Beer Cellar craft brew store opened in Newton a few months back. I hope they will have some in stock this week. I’ll let you know if there’s any there!