If beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy, as Ben Franklin supposedly once said, then Europe's Trappist beers are that idea incarnate.
Crafted by monks who for centuries have lived and brewed by the motto "prayer and work," traditional beers bearing the "Approved Trappist Product" label are continually rated among the best in the world. Until last month, this coveted designation of origin only came on beer from nine approved monasteries (including Chimay, Westmalle and Roquefort), all of which are in Europe and only six of which are available in the U.S.
Enter St. Joseph's Abbey, a quiet cloister in the unassuming New England town of Spencer, Massachusetts, which this week will release the first ever American-made Trappist beer, itself an unlikely brew.
Spencer Trappist Ale is the product of years of research and investment by St. Joseph's monks, who (according to NPR) called upon nearby craft brewery Pretty Things for an introduction to non-macros and then sent several of their own to Belgium for brewmaster training at other abbeys.
The self-sufficient monks - who for the last 60 years have cooked and sold their own Trappist jams and jellies - then constructed a 36,000 square-foot eco-friendly stainless-steel brewery with a sustainability plan that aims to keep the operation as valuable in 100 years as it is today. They even started a 10-acre field of barley, where they will be studying how to grow the essential beer ingredient in Central Massachusettes.
The resulting inaugural product is a less-sweet beer that is lower in alcohol and easier to drink than most of the hearty Belgian dubbels, tripels and quadruples released by Trappist monasteries. Instead, it is St. Joseph's take on a "refectory ale," a balanced, 6.5% ABV beer that the monks, themselves, can consume in the the refectory without getting too tipsy before their monastic duties. We like to think of it as a session beer blessed by the heavens.
Spencer Trappist Ale will hit shelves throughout Massachusettes first and, if all goes well, expand to other states soon.
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For more information on Spencer Brewery, visit spencerbrewery.com. Or watch the video, which shows a day in the life at St. Joseph's Abbey (gardening, pottery, beer chemistry, God).