We’ve discussed Westvleteren XII numerous times on the website and podcast as its reputation as thee best beer in the world. One of the things that adds to its allure is that it is nearly impossible to get without nice connections within the beer geek world. This is because the brewers of this beer aren’t really brewers, they are monks who brew beer as part monastery tradition and part monetary income. Wesvleteren is one of nine monasteries in the world that are recognized by the International Trappist Association as authentic Trappist breweries. This is an extremely prestigious and rigorous classification which is indicated by the short list of breweries that have made the cut.
- The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery, either by the monks themselves or under their supervision.
- The brewery must be of secondary importance within the monastery and it should witness to the business practices proper to a monastic way of life.
- The brewery is not intended to be a profit-making venture. The income covers the living expenses of the monks and the maintenance of the buildings and grounds. Whatever remains is donated to charity for social work and to help persons in need.
- Trappist breweries are constantly monitored to assure the irreproachable quality of their beers.
This is of course counter-intuitive to the world of American craft brewing. While craft breweries are more likely brewing for their love of beer over a crass profit grab (which seems to separate them from their mass market brethren) they are not donating profits to charitable organizations nor brewing as a secondary purpose. While there are breweries with an intensely focused social mission the brewery is their primary focus.
These conditions have only been met by six breweries in Belgium, one in the Netherlands, and one is Austria. They are the only breweries sporting the official Trappist logo on their beers. That was until last Tuesday. As of December 10th Spencer Trappist Ale from St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts has joined the prestigious ranks of* Biéres de Chimay,Brasserie d’Orval, *Brasserie de Rochefort, Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmale, Brouwerij Westvleteren, Brouwerij der Sint-Benedictusabdij de Achelse Kluis,Brouwerij de Koningshoeven, and Stift Engelszell to become America’s first Trappist brewery.
This is a huge deal as America’s reputation for craft beer has grown in leaps in bounds around the world but despite having an unrivaled positions as number one in pushing the limits of beer beyond traditional convention America’s craft brewing revolution lacks the incomprehensible history and traditions of European beer culture. To have an American abbey producing a traditional abbey ale of such high quality to be deserving of being considered in the same realm as the beers of Chimay, Westmale, and Westvleteren is truly amazing. It adds another level of credibility and seriousness to the American craft beer scene that only further cements America as a leader in craft brewing.
The beer itself appears to be a simple blonde ale at 6.5% ABV. It is interesting that St. Joseph’s Abbey is bottling the beer at the European traditional 11.2 fluid ounces rather than the American traditional 12 fluid ounces. Just one more touch of authenticity to the Trappist tradition.
The back label contains the following text.
Inspired by traditional refectory ales brewed by monks for the monks’ table, Spencer is a full-bodied, golden-hued Trappist ale with fruity accents, a dry finish and light hop bitterness.
St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, is home to a community of Trappist monks and the first American Trappist brewery. Following the Benedicting tradition of ora et labora (prayer and work), the monks pursue a simple life of contemplative prayer, manual labor and hospitality. The brewery helps support the monks and their charitable outreach.
I hope to be able to get my hands on some of this monumentally important beer in the near future as while it may not necessarily beer your favorite style of beer it will be of the highest caliber of beer and worthy of the Trappist label. It is an exciting week for craft beer in American. Time to celebrate with a pint!