Beer connoisseurs worldwide agree that Trappist beer is among the finest in the world. Trappist beer is brewed by Catholic Cistercian monks also known as Trappists, hence the beer's name. One may not immediately equate monks with beer brewing, but as it turns out, brewing beer is a big deal among Trappist monks. They even have an International Trappist Association that recognizes authentic Trappist beer.
Eight monasteries, six in Belgium, one in Austria and another in Holland have been making the beer for many years. Starting Jan. 16, they were joined by 63 brothers of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Boston who are the first Trappist beer brewers outside Europe. The monks of Spencer, Massachusetts (located an hour west of Boston) had been relying on revenue earned from jams and jellies to support themselves. Now, they have decided to follow the lead of their European brothers by brewing and selling beer.
The Mass. Trappists beer’s story started 5 years ago when St. Joseph’s sent representatives to Belgium to gather information to learn how they could also make the beer. At first, there was skepticism because no American monks had made Trappist beer before and the European monks had reservations that their American counterpart might “go too big too fast" and compromise the quality and brand of the beer.
Many members of St. Joseph's Abbey needed convincing too, as beer brewing is a very costly business venture with a lot of risk involved. However, they moved forward with their plans. With the recommendations of the Belgian monks, St. Joseph’s built a state-of-the-art brewery and hired a skilled brewing engineer with a bank loan.
The European monks also helped their American brothers develop a good recipe for the beer. After 20 tests, the Massachusetts monks finally settled on the recipe for Spencer Trappist Ale.
The newly brewed beer was taken to Belgium by St. Joseph’s Father Isaac Keeley, the brewery director, where it received applause and approval from the Belgian brothers.
"They approved it unanimously," he said, "and after the vote there was applause."
For now the beer is only distributed in Massachusetts but plans are underway to expand the market nationally and internationally in the future.
Image via Wikimedia Commons