How am I just finding out about this now? Last winter the first official Trappist Brewery in the New World was launched by the brothers of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, MA.
For well over the last half-century, the Trappist monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey have been producing various jams & jellies to support their monastery and the community work that they do. However facing rising expenses, mostly due to the healthcare costs associated with an aging community — the average age of the monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey is 70 — they realized that something needed to be done.
So they decided to dig deep into the centuries-old tradition of their fellow Trappist monks in the Old World and decided to open a brewery. Spencer Brewery opened this past January as the very first Trappist Brewery outside of Europe.
The 60 monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey still rise at 3 a.m. for prayers and pass most of their days in silence. But when it is time for work, a handful head down to the monastery’s new brewery, the first outside Europe to produce certified Trappist Ale.
The venture has proven to be less labor-intensive than the monks’ other businesses, making religious vestments and fruit preserves. More importantly, they believe it can generate enough money to sustain a community of men with an average age of 70 who now spend about a third of their budget on health care.
“We’re trying to reinvent our economy,” said Father Isaac Keeley on a recent tour of the abbey’s low-slung stone buildings and starkly modern 30,000-square-foot brewery, nestled in a wooded property some 60 miles (97 km) west of Boston.
Work has always been a part of life for Trappists, a monastic order tracing its roots to 17th Century France, with monasteries around Europe and North America selling products ranging from coffins to cheese. The goal of these businesses is to bring in enough cash to sustain a community of men who pass most of their lives in seclusion.
The Spencer monks debated the move into beer making for more than a decade, as more of their members aged and moved into the monastery’s 12-room infirmary, which is usually full.
“The health costs are huge,” said Father Dominic Whedbee, the abbey’s 65-year-old prior, the group’s second-ranking member. “Our infirmary is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That way we can take care of all our men for the rest of their lives, which is our commitment.” Read More…
For now they are only brewing one style of beer, a 6.5% ABV Blonde Ale. Here’s the information on the beer from their website:
Our recipe was inspired by the traditional refectory ales known as patersbier (“fathers’ beer” in Flemish) in Belgium. These sessionable beers are brewed by the monks for their dinner table and are typically only available at the monastery. Spencer is a full-bodied, golden-hued ale with fruity accents, a dry finish and light hop bitterness. The beer is unfiltered and unpasteurized, preserving live yeast that naturally carbonates the beer in the bottle and keg and contributes to the beer flavor and aroma.
I’m gonna have to pick some of this up.