Ever since America’s first and only Trappist brewery opened in 2013, I have been wanting to try the one beer it makes, Spencer Trappist Ale. Thanks to a friend of mine in Massachusetts, who recently sent me a bottle, I finally got a chance to try it. My thoughts on it are below.
Monks are encouraged to be self-supportive and offer charitable assistance to others by producing and selling goods to the public. For more than 60 years, St. Joseph’s Abbey sold jams and jellies under a Trappist Preserves label to support its monastic and charitable work. In recent years, however, it felt a need for an additional enterprise to help support the monastery for years to come.
“Years ago,” the St. Joseph’s monks write on their website, “one of our brothers expressed interest in brewing and even did some training at a local craft brewery. Over time, his passion for brewing affected some other monks, who recognized that brewing was a very traditional monastic enterprise … and the idea gained traction.
“With the blessing of the abbot, we embarked upon a two-year, data-gathering mission. We visited each Trappist brewery to learn everything we could from our European brothers. We slowly made our way around … staying at monasteries and making friends, receiving good advice and drinking some of the world’s best beer.” (The last stop on their first trip was Sint Sixtus of Westvleteren.)
Following monastic tradition, the monks voted and confirmed the project by an overwhelming majority. Following Trappist tradition, they named the brewery and the beer Spencer, after the town of Spencer, Massachusetts.
The recipe for Spencer was inspired by the traditional refectory ales known as patersbier (“father’s beer” in Flemish), which is the typical dinner-table beer brewed for the monks. The beer is unfiltered, unpasteurized and bottle-conditioned (live yeast naturally carbonates the beer in the bottle).
Spencer pours cloudy, with a light golden-orange hue. Its inviting nose is sweet (bread dough) and fruity (apple, pear). Its texture is creamy and full-bodied up front, but it finishes thinner and surprisingly dry.
Ingredients for Spencer include a proprietary blend of 2-row and 6-row malts and Caramel Munich malt grown in Wisconsin; Willamette and Nugget hops from Washington; mineral-rich brewing water drawn from protected wells on the abbey’s land; and a Belgian-style yeast strain that is propagated at the abbey.
Malt flavors in the beer are reminiscent of bread, white cake, wheat germ and dough, and they’re complemented by pleasant yeast esters of faint banana and clove. The beer finishes with a mild, peppery and herbal bitterness, along with a mineral-like quality. Meanwhile, its healthy ABV of 6.5 percent gently warms the back of the throat.
Overall, the beer has a nice complexity up front; unfortunately, flavors seem to fade quickly after each swallow. Regardless, it’s a solid and characterful Belgian-style ale, and if it were sold in Washington, I would gladly drink it again.