Trappist 'bottles of the best' now made in USA

Fr Isaac

St Joseph's Abbey, near Boston, Massachusetts has long sold jams and jellies. Now it has become the first monastery outside of Europe to join the elite club of brewing authentic Trappist beer.

For more than a century, Cistercian monks have been brewing and selling what many beer lovers consider some of the best in the world.

Now the 63 brothers of St Joseph's Abbey - about an hour from Boston, Massachusetts - will join them, selling the first Trappist beer brewed outside Europe.

Hitherto, only eight monasteries - six in Belgium and one each in Holland and Austria - have produced the only beer recognised by the International Trappist Association as authentic Trappist beer.

For nearly 60 years, the monks in Spencer had been selling jams and jellies to help support their community. The journey from jams to beer started nearly five years ago when St Joseph's sent two monks on a fact-finding mission to the Belgian Beer Fest in Boston.

But the Massachusetts monks' ambitious venture was hardly met with enthusiasm by their exacting Trappist brothers in Europe - within hours, their European brothers were alarmed to learn of the inquiries.

‘The original scepticism was because we were outside of Europe... and Americans,’ said Fr Isaac Keeley, a former potter who has been at St Joseph's for 35 years and now directs the brewing. ‘And the fear we would go too big, too fast.’

Fr Keeley and another monk from St Joseph's packed up and moved to Belgium in December 2010 to see how their European brothers brew - and to convince them that they could properly produce an American Trappist beer.

The European monks were not the only ones who needed convincing. Back at St Joseph's, a robust debate among the brothers was under way. Some were concerned about starting what would be the most expensive enterprise undertaken by the abbey.

But everyone agreed the ageing monastery buildings were getting increasingly expensive to maintain and in the end, more than 85% of the American brothers voted for the project.

‘We see it as a 50-100 year project. (Just) as we're standing on the shoulders of those who came before us and built these building and supported the way of life, hopefully future generations will be able to stand on our shoulders, what we are doing - and we see the brewery as part of that,’ said Fr Damian Carr, head of St Joseph's Abbey.

Now the European monks, warming to the idea of an American Trappist beer, began giving close counsel to their Massachusetts brothers.

After more than 20 trial batches, the monks in Massachusetts settled on the recipe for what would become Spencer Trappist Ale, a 'refectory ale' of 6.5 percent alcohol. The cloudy, golden beer is all-American yet rooted in European tradition with sweet, yeasty notes familiar to fans of other Trappist ales.

Photo: Father Isaac tastes a sample of Spencer ale wort. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

See fulll report:  US monks are brewing like brothers (Times of Malta)