A group of Massachusetts monks known for their jams have set up a brewery steeped in more than 100 years of European tradition.
Father Isaac tastes a sample of Spencer ale wort (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
For more than a century the Trappist monks have been brewing and selling what many consider some of the best beer in the world exclusively at just eight European monasteries — six in Belgium and one each in Holland and Austria.
Now, after 60 years of making and selling jams, 63 brothers from St Joseph’s Abbey based just outside of Boston are moving into the beer trade to sell the first Trappist beer ever brewed outside of Europe.
The move from jams to beer was sparked nearly five years ago when two monks from St Joseph’s were sent on a fact-finding mission to the Belgian Beer Fest in Boston.
Father Isaac Keeley, director of brewing at the monastery, said they initially experienced scepticism from their European counterparts.
Later Keeley and another monk from St Joseph’s packed up and moved to Belgium in December 2010 to see how their European brothers brew — and to convince them, and their brothers at St Joseph, that they could properly produce an American Trappist beer which would not financially cripple the monastery.
Eventually 85% of the US brothers voted in favour of the project which would become the most expensive enterprise ever undertaken by the abbey – a figure that remains undisclosed.
Father Damian Carr, head of St Joseph’s Abbey, said” “We see it as a 50-100 year project.
“Just as we’re standing on the shoulders of those who came before us and built these building and supported the way of life, hopefully future generations will be able to stand on our shoulders, what we are doing — and we see the brewery as part of that.”
Bottles of Spencer Trappist Ale
The European monks, not wanting to let go of their strongly laid traditions, made three recommendations to the St Joseph monks.
That to brew beer of Trappist quality they must build a state-of-the-art brewery, hire a skilled brewing engineer, and brew just one kind of beer for the first five years.
Having secured a bank loan the St Joseph’s monks built a multi-million-dollar brewery funded by their previous jam venture, “Trappist Preserves.”
After more than 20 trial batches, the Massachusetts monks settled on the recipe for what would become Spencer Trappist Ale, a “refectory ale” of 6.5% alcohol, which was swiftly approved by their European brethren.
Spencer Trappist Ale will only be in Massachusetts at first, but there are plans afoot for the brand to one day expand into the global market.