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Monks bring Trappist art of beer-making to the United States

Trappist Brother Jonah Pociadlo prepares to pour Spencer ale (CNS)

A Trappist brewery has opened for the first time in the United States.

The new brew, Spencer Trappist Ale, is made at St Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, by Cistercian, or Trappist, monks who wear the distinctive black and white habit.

Brother Jonah Pociadlo told Catholic News Service: “It’s got a wonderful smell to it. I hesitate to describe it, because it’s something I think is pretty subjective. But I can almost taste it without it even touching my lips.”

The association requires all beer with the Trappist name to be brewed at a Cistercian monastery, either by monks or lay people supervised by monks.

Trappist breweries must be monitored to assure the quality of the beer is impeccable and the brewers are required to observe business practices that keep the monastic way of life at the forefront, meaning no profits are to be made.

Trappist Fr Isaac Keeley, director of the Spencer Brewery, told CNS: “They’re very protective of the Trappist beer brand and they always want to ensure that a brew with that label meets the high standards they’ve set for it.”

The income earned is intended to support living expenses for the monks and maintain the buildings and property at the monastery. All money left after those expenses are met must be donated to charity.

Once the association approved the Spencer monks’ business plan, architectural designs and beer model, they were able to send two members of their community to one of the brew-house monasteries in Belgium for six months of technical training and immersion in monastic beer-making culture.

In the meantime, construction began on the Spencer Brewery facility, their first beer (Spencer Trappist Ale) was refined, the monks were trained and the enterprise began to take shape, Fr Keeley said.

The brewery employees include eight monks from the Spencer monastery, four lay workers who are also employed in the Trappist’s 60-year-old preserves business, and a brewmaster, Larry Littlehale, who was trained in Germany.

St Joseph’s Abbey is a contemplative monastery, making the mission of the Trappist different from many Catholic religious orders that oversee ministries in parishes, schools, universities or other social settings.

Their monastic community doesn’t oversee such ministries. Their primary function is to lead a life of prayer, meditation and study, and to sustain that existence they add a manual labour component.

“We have a very explicit commitment to being self-supporting,” Fr Keeley said. “Traditionally, we’ve been farmers. We came to Spencer in 1950 in order to really continue as dairy farmers.”