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Bring It On, Belgium: America’s First Trappist Ale

Joshua Willem van den Berg - April 2014

Spencer, Massachusetts—American craft brewing has taken on an ecclesiastical element. In January, the brothers of Saint Joseph’s Abbey began selling Spencer Trappist Ale, America’s first authenticated Trappist beer. Prior to The Spencer Brewery, nine Trappist breweries operated globally: six in Belgium and one each in Austria, Holland, and France. As American craft brewing continues on its upward market trend, induction into one of the oldest and most exclusive brewing traditions is a shining badge of national achievement.

Spencer, located 60 miles west of Boston, is the first American monastic brewery approved to use the “Authentic Trappist Product” label on their packaging. The appearance of this logo offers the guarantee to consumers that the product is crafted with strict observance of the Trappist criteria. The beer must be brewed within monastery walls by or under the direct supervision of the monks; brewing can never interfere with the monastic way of life; and all profits must go toward the upkeep of the abbey and its costs of operation, with any surplus donated to charity.

The story began in 2010, when, initiated by one brother’s interest in crafting beer, two monks traveled to Belgium on a two year journey. This trip, as well as one subsequent European tour, gave the monks at St. Joseph’s the impetus to start brewing.

The ale itself falls under the category of patersbier (“father’s beer” in Flemish). The International Trappist Association decided that Spencer would continue brewing their one approved ale for five years before branching into other beer styles. Spencer describes its ale as full-bodied and golden-hued, with fruity accents, a dry finish, and light hop bitterness. The beer is not filtered or pasteurized, and its live yeasts in the bottle contribute to the complexity.

The production goal for 2014 is set at 4,000 barrels.