Often imitated but never duplicated, Trappist ales have become a by-word for quality in the beer world. Known for their simple ingredients, and the dedicated order of monks that brew them, beer connoisseurs have been known to travel around Europe to seek them out. Now though, with the first non-European Trappist brewery open right here in Massachusetts, one need not buy a plane ticket (or shell out the 20s at that one bar that stocks up), to enjoy a top-quality Trappist ale. With such high standards, it might have been difficult to stand out against its tradition-heavy European brothers.
It not only stands out, but could quickly be considered one of the best Belgian-style ales in the entire country.
Located in St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, MA, Spencer Trappist Ale was started as a way of increasing the revenue the abbey can take in each year to support the monks and their charities. After travelling around Belgium sampling their brothers’ beer, and with the help of local microbreweries like Harpoon, the monks started selling their beer to the general public last winter. The beer has been met with great reviews, and has been flying off beer store shelves almost as quickly as they’re loaded on.
The beer is made from just four ingredients: barley, water, hops, and yeast, which is amazing given what complex flavors and aromas these men of God were able to develop. Best drank in either a Chimay glass or a big wine glass, it pours as a nice amber liquid with a thin but sturdy head. A gentle sniff arouses memories of banana cream pie, very unique for a Trappist ale (and much appreciated). Yet despite the head’s clue of a potentially sweet beer, the beer itself is actually very clean, crisp, and has a slight lemon flavor to it, almost like a Belgian-style white ale but with more body. There is also a slight hoppy bitterness to it, which really rounds out the beer and leaves the drinker wanting more after each sip.
The only real downside of the beer is the price, but even that is only minor given the divinity of the brew. A four-pack can run about $17, depending on the store, and the bottles are 11.2 ounces each, down from the typical 12 ounces. However, the beer is used to support the monastery, with remaining funds supporting social justice causes. It’s not only a beer good for the tongue, it’s good for the spirit.
It’s a beer that can be had with any meal, or at any time of day, though the monks suggest it be “paired with family and friends”. They might have a point, this is the kind of beer that shouldn't be kept a secret, and it does taste a little better in the company of loved ones.
This is a beer that could very well be the crown jewel of the Massachusetts craft beer scene, not only for its complex taste, but also the fact that it’s America’s only Trappist ale. Pride may be one of the seven deadly sins, but trumpeting this beer is worth the added time in the confessional booth.