Holy beer, America! There's breaking Trappist beer news.
According to Belgian Beer Specialist, on Tuesday, 10 December 2013, the United States became home to an officially recognized Trappist brewery —the first and only in the U.S. —St. Joseph’s Abbey, in Spencer, Massachusetts, where the monks are brewing Spencer Trappist Ale.
Monasteries of the Roman Catholic Trappist monastic order self-support by producing goods such as cheese, breads, preserves, and, a centuries-old tradition, beer. In recent times, the last has been rarer. For much of the latter 20th-century, there were only six such Trappist brewing monasteries, world-wide: Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, Westvleteren,, and La Trappe. And, not quite world-wide, but in Benelux: the first five in Belgium, the last in the Netherlands.
The Trappist brothers at the Belgian Abbey of Saint Benedict were the most recent to take up the mashing fork, in 1998, with Achel, whereas those at Onze Lieve Vrouw van Koningshoeven had been intermittently immersed in hot Holy Water as to whether they actually controlled the brewing operations of La Trappe. All was forgiven in 2005.
Westvleteren has been considered the rarest of these, whereas a 'quadrupel' from Rochefort has for several years been crowd-annointed on BeerAdvocate.com as the best beer in the world. Or is it Westvleteren? It depends on whom you ask. The monks themselves remain silent.
Even before Word War II, Trappists were trying to protect the name of "Trappist beer". The monks of Orval were quite conscientious in taking the interests of the Trappists to heart by hiring a lawyer and instituting legal proceedings. Since the name “Trappist” referred to the origin of the product, any businesses which subsequently and unjustly made use of the name “Trappist” or “Trappist Beer” could be sued for dishonest business practices. On September 6, 1985, the Commercial Court in Brussels made it even more explicit: “It is now common knowledge that customers attribute special standards of quality to products made by monastic communities, and this is especially true of Trappist monasteries."
[In 1997,] the International Trappist Association (ITA) was established and the “Authentic Trappist Product” label was created to ensure the consumer of the origin and authenticity of these products, especially in the beer market where a considerable number of brands portray themselves using a “religious” image even though the products don’t come from a monastery.
Our label guarantees the monastic origin of the products as well as the fact that they measure up to the quality and traditional standards rooted in the monastic life of a real Trappist community. Even though this label can be used on other products, at present it is only used on beer, liqueur, cheese, bread, biscuits and chocolates.
And, now, that exclusive club has expanded to ten brewing members.
Number eight is Stift Engelszell, an abbey in Austria, which, last year, became the first Trappist monastery outside of Belgium or the Netherlands to receive imprimatur for its beer.
And, on Tuesday, 10 December 2013, numbers nine and ten were admitted. The Trappist Abbey Maria Toevlucht, in the Netherlands, producing Zundert and ...
.... St. Joseph’s Abbey, the first, and only (it bears repeating) Trappist monastery brewery in the United States. The brothers there in Spencer, Massachusetts, have been well-known for their preserves. Now, they are preserving barley malt in liquid form.
These changes are so new that the International Trappist Association has yet to list them on its website. But, then again, maybe it doesn't update 'religiously.' It was Baltimore, Maryland-based, blogger Chuck Cook who reported on the news: at Belgian Beer Specialist about St. Joseph's and on Twitter (@BelgianBeer1) about Zundert.
The label [of Spencer Trappist Ale] proudly states “American Trappist” and “Pair with Family and Friends.” The beer is blond with 6.5% abv. Also of note is that the label states the beer contains 11.2 fluid U.S. ounces, or 33 cl of beer, which is the same size used by most of the Trappist breweries in Europe, rather than the 12 fluid ounce/355 ml size that is most common here in the U.S.
For Americans, it might just be a quicker jaunt to Massachusetts than to Belgium. Hello, Spencer!