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Trappist in the USA! – Spencer Ale

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Spencer Ale - Trappist Ale

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Word had been sneaking out for the past 18 months that a Trappist brewery was being developed at an abbey somewhere out in western Mass. When there are only 8 Trappist Breweries in operation, In-The-World! doubts naturally form. Then more concrete evidence began to trickle out. News of Daniel Kenary of Harpoon offering advice in the early planning stages, perked my ears up a bit. When I heard that Dann Paquette (Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project) was involved in mentoring the soon to be brewing monks, my antennae was raised to full alert-mode (Ok, that sounds a bit weird). Finally, a month ago, the release date of a Trappist ale from St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer, MA was announced. I dutifully notified my local packies of the news, plus supplied them with all of the distributor lists…just in case. I was like a 6 year old waiting for Christmas to come!

January 17, 2014: While running my purchase of Spencer Ale through the register and chatting with the owner of my local packie, a beer “expert” standing in line (must have been an expert with a 12’er of Heineken in hand) denounced my claim that this was “truly” a Trappist ale. He announced to anyone within ear shot that only “Belgium” monks were allowed to brew Trappist beer. Oh, ye of little faith, and/or that are geographically challenged!

People everywhere have known with certainty, that Trappist monks are known for making very good quality cheeses and jams. Some folks are quite aware that Trappist monks also brew up some fairly potent ale, and sometimes drink said ale during their fasting rituals in the country of Belgium. Then there are just a handful of beer geeks who, without hesitation can prattle off all 9 of the Trappist Breweries (6 Belgian, 1 Dutch, 1 Austrian and 1 German (currently not brewing, but still licensed). Now we can add a seemingly unlikely 10th. That’s right; there are now 10, officially licensed Trappist Breweries in the world. Only 10 breweries can display the Trappist logo. And what are the criteria for official Trappist certification?

From Wikipedia:

  • 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 association has a legal standing, and its logo gives the consumer some information and guarantees about the product.

So, how does this newbie compare to the more-well established Trappist breweries from Europe? And what might the future hold for a newbie in an already crowded field of very good New England breweries?

First off, the ale pouring forth from St. Joseph Abbey may be new, but it is a seemingly timeless creation with loads of deliberation, consultation, and divine planning before the brewery even broke ground. The brewery is quite large. The monks there will brew around 4,000 barrels this year. They have the capacity to brew more than 10 times that amount! The brewery is also a “green” facility. Thoughtful planning went into insuring they fit their 36,000 square foot facility into the surrounding landscape. Spent grain is donated to local farmers and a solar array is in the works.

Now what about the beer, you may ask? Here’s my review;

11.2oz dark brown bottle. Served in a Westy Goblet
It pours a yellow/orange-tinted golden color with a solid 2" fluffy white head. Loads of sticky and patchy lacing clings to the glass throughout.
The first whiff is more akin to a spicy Saison than a typical Belgian Pale Ale, with fairly potent smells of dried and rubbed citrus rind, yeasty banana phenols, clove, dry horse barn, peppery spices, bread, with just a faint whiff of gin.
The flavors, too are Saison-like with the aforementioned citrus peel, cloves, pepper and banana. Yet the flavor profile expands a bit with a fruit cup taste that emerges as it warms. The maltiness also develops nicely with each gulp. The dry yeasty and citrusy flavors fade and the distinct piney and edgy northwest hop bitterness become dominant. The malt provides just enough supportive backbone. That taste of gin is noticed in the aftertaste.
The body is at first very dry and spritzy. A more flowing, gulpable liquidity rolls in after the first few swallows.
I was a little taken aback by the cost ($17.45) for a 4 pack and tentative to dive right in and begin reviewing. So 3 Spencers later, here goes...
Feeling a road trip coming on!

With all that brewing capacity, I wonder what they’ll brew next? Perhaps a Dubbel? Maybe a Tripel? Why not an Imperial Porter? Why should all Trappist ale taste like it was brewed in Belgium?

Cheers! And Amen!

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