America's Only Trappist Brewery is Getting a Little More American With Each Beer

Austin Ray

THE GIST
The Spencer Brewery—one of only 12 certified Trappist breweries on earth, and the only one outside of Europe—has announced plans to expand its lineup with the release of a new beer. This alone is hardly noteworthy, but the process Spencer abides in order to bring a new product to market is a bit more complicated than that associated with the average beer release. More than that, the new beer, a Trappist Quadrupel brewed in the Belgian tradition called Spencer Monk’s Reserve Ale, represents another pivot for the company from a business perspective.

WHY IT MATTERS
In the words of Father Isaac Keeley, Spencer’s brewery director, “It is a major event for a Trappist brewery to introduce a new Quad.” That’s because, before promising this new beer to you, Spencer traveled from the U.S. to Belgium, where it offered the product up to the International Trappist Association (ITA) for “sensory evaluation and a vote of approval.” Luckily for St. Joseph’s Abbey, which launched the brewery named for its hometown in western Massachusetts in 2014, the new product was “well received.”

Adds Father Keeley in a press statement, “We took our time developing this one and we are rather happy with the result.”

But that process of approval isn’t the only thing worth recognizing here. The very fact that Spencer has taken to releasing new products so soon since launching at all is a sign the company has taken another step away from the early recommendations of its European brothers.

According to the Associated Press, European Trappist monks were initially skeptical of the very idea of a Trappist brewery in America, fearing such a business would “go too big too fast.” And that's a fair concern! If only because, you know, America? Ultimately, however, they got on board. But they did make a few recommendations. Among them: “brew just one kind of beer for the first five years,” according to the AP.

And so it did, initially launching exclusively with Spencer Trappist Ale. In 2015, however, just a year after opening, the brewery released Trappist Holiday Ale, a “classic Trappist,” followed by a series of “American Trappist” offerings, including an Imperial Stout and an IPA. At the time, Father Keeley explained the move to the Boston Globe like so:

“Our original business plan was that we’d do this one beer, maybe it would take five years to get national distribution, and then we’d do a second Trappist classic… It turns out that plan was really flawed. It didn’t take sufficiently into account that the American market right now turns on what’s new, what’s a limited edition.”

Now, in 2017 (the company’s fourth year of operation), Spencer is releasing yet another beer, this one its third Trappist classic. Of course, none of this is to suggest this is a story of rogue monks throwing out the historical playbook. Spencer has reportedly flown to Brussels for approval for its subsequent releases. But it’s an interesting reminder that even in the monasteries, brewers need to put at least some of their faith in the marketplace.

—Dave Eisenberg

READ MORE
The Spencer Brewery Releases a New Beer – A Quadruple Ale [Mass Brew Bros]