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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Spencer Brewery: Profile and Tasting

By Max Spencer

St. Joseph’s Abbey of Spencer, Massachusetts, made history in 2013 by housing the first Trappist brewery in the United States. The official name of the brewery is The Spencer Brewery, and we are lucky enough to now have them on our shelves. To those unacquainted with Trappist breweries, this is a huge deal. There are only eleven Trappist breweries in the world — six in Belgium, two in the Netherlands and one each in Italy, Austria and the United States. Trappist breweries are considered amongst the best in the world, and rightfully so — included in their ranks are the likes of Orval, Chimay, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren. But what exactly are Trappist breweries, and what makes them so noteworthy?

Trappist breweries are all run by Trappist monks at Trappist monasteries — there is no other way to achieve this designation. Trappist monks belong to the Catholic Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. The order began in the 1600s at La Trappe Abbey in France as a reformist movement led by Jean de RancĂ© in response to the lax attitude of other monasteries during that time1. Trappist monks observe a strict monastic lifestyle, one based around prayer and work — ora et labora3. Much of their labor revolves around the production of goods to be sold to the public; products such as cheeses, chocolates, breads, jams, cleaning products, body care products, and — of course — beer4. The sales of these products support the financial needs of the monasteries and their charitable endeavors — meaning that your purchase of their beer benefits the entire community where the monastery is located3.

Spencer Refectory — from the website
Because labor is a central tenant to the lives of Trappist monks, they tend to put time and effort into their products on a level that not many other operations can't match. Their products are truly artisanal, truly hand-crafted and truly outstanding. The Spencer Brewery is no exception when it comes to this standard of quality and effort. When creating new beers, they meticulously create test batches before committing to a recipe to be released — 13 experimental brews over three years in the case of their Quadrupel Ale2. They use many local ingredients, including a proprietary yeast strain, and are currently working towards farming their own barley.

The decision to open a brewery followed the need for additional income besides their famous jams and jellies. The idea originated as a suggestion from a monk with brewing experience and a passion for it. After approval, a group of monks went on a two-year research trip, visiting the other extant Trappist breweries to learn methods and gain inspiration3. The monks at The Spencer Brewery have made some unique decisions on what to brew relative to other Trappist breweries. While they have several classic Belgian offerings in their arsenal — a patersbier, a quad, and a holiday dark — they also craft some modern styles not traditionally attributed to Trappist breweries — an IPA, a pilsner, an imperial stout and an Oktoberfest lager. Try a beer from Spencer Brewery — maybe you will find a new love in beautifully crafted beers from an ancient heritage of monks.

The Spencer Trappist Ale (patersbier)

Gold with a lacey white head. Aroma dominated by a stone fruit character — specifically apricot. There are also prominent spice notes, including clove and cinnamon. Slight tones of citrus and grain. Palate follows the nose — stone fruit, spice. There is a clear slightly sweet grainy character, yet the beer is bone dry. Very effervescent. The finish is dry and spicy with a light bitterness. A great example of a classic Trappist beer. Complex, yet incredibly balanced between fruit and spice — dry yet easily drinkable.

The Spencer Trappist Feierabendbier (pilsner)

Straw gold with a white head consisting of fine bubbles. Classic pilsner nose — earth, spice and floral tones from noble hops with a slight grainy character. Palate follows the nose closely — there’s a grainy cereal character up front with notes of oregano, basil and dried flowers from the hops in the middle. The malt and hop character mingle in the finish. Very dry, pleasantly bitter.

The Spencer Trappist IPA

The first ever Trappist-brewed IPA to be commercially available. Orange-gold with a white head when poured. A hop profile including German Perle, Apollo and Cascade results in a piney, resinous IPA with tones of pineapple and citrus in the nose and palate. The malt build has a fair amount of caramel and biscuit character with some slight sweetness to balance out a medium-high level of bitterness. The bitterness lingers with a prominent note of pine needles on the finish. Reminiscent of a West Coast IPA with a brash character, but slightly more reserved than some.


1 “A Newcomer’s Guide to the Trappists.” Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, 2017,
2 Keeley, Fr. Isaac. “The Spencer Brewery Releases New Beer: American Trappist Brewery Introduces New Quadrupel Ale.” The Spencer Brewery, 2017,
3 ”Our Story.” The Spencer Brewery,
4 “Products.” The International Trappist Association,

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