After 5 years and over 260 beer columns, it feels, sometimes, that I’m writing the same words over and over. There are only so many adjectives for taste, sight and smell. How much longer can I conjure up correlations to beer between my rambling diatribes, knowledge of history and personal anecdote? After all, despite the ambitious proliferation – conflagration, even – of craft brewing these last couple of years, there’s nothing new under the sun, right?
Call it going through my middle-age doldrums. Call it a crisis of faith. Bless me, father, for I have used up my vocabulary and run out of story angles. Is there anything left to read or write about?
What’s that? Really? There’s a Trappist monastery here in the US making officially-designated beer? Tell me more.
Why is this a big deal? Mainly because there are only 9 Trappist monasteries in Europe that make beer commercially, meaning that they’re among the rarest in the world. Particularly Westvleteren who only sells their product at the monastery provided the buyer signs a contract with He who is I Am that they won’t take it home and attempt to re-sell for commercial gain. They released gift packs once for sale in the US. As predicted the lion’s share ended up on websites, prices fiercely gouged.
In accordance with their Roman Catholic Cistercian vows, any fruits of the Trappist monks’ labor are sold only for the providence of the monastery’s needs. All income is used to maintain their work. And when your life is dedicated to faith, introspection and production, there’s a lot of care that goes into everything you do.
St. Joseph’s Abbey was founded in Spencer, Massachusetts on December 23, 1950 after a long journey from the original La Trappe monastery to Switzerland during the French Revolution, off to Nova Scotia and Quebec where they founded Petit Clairvaux, on to Rhode Island and, eventually, their current home. Multiple fires and illnesses tested their strength and courage over the centuries, but they’ve since flourished over the last 75 years.
In 2013, the International Trappist Association granted St. Joseph’s the right to Trappist designation for their vesture, fruit preserves and beer making them only the tenth such entity and the first in America. Another thing that sets Trappist ale apart from everyone else’s is the ITA constantly monitors production for quality. Quality motivated by unwavering faith.
St. Joseph’s only makes one beer, but they do it well. Spencer Trappist is Belgian pale ale that’s honey in color with a frothy head leaving whole rings of lacing. The fruity yeast esters appear immediately on the nose followed by notes of banana bread, apricot, apple and white pepper. A mélange of spice and fruit hit the palate with pear, lemongrass, hay, candy sugar, cantaloupe and slightly bitter hops. Spencer is very light-bodied and possessive of a clean finish.
If it weren’t made by monks, this just might be a sin to enjoy.