The Spencer Brewery is adding “Monk’s Reserve Ale,” a new Belgian-style quad to its storied line-up of American-made Trappist beers.
Being America’s only Trappist brewery gives Spencer some unique advantages and some unique challenges when it comes to introducing any new beer. But quads are different – they’re the holy grail of this revered monastic tradition.
Monk’s Reserve Ale (10.2% ABV) is fragrant, robust and full-bodied, mahogany in color and crowned with a dense, tan, frothy head. Its malt-forward profile yields to a warm finish. Pretty much everything you’d expect from one of these beguiling malt monsters.
The team at Craft Beer Cellar headquarters got to learn all about the unique development process firsthand during a visit to the peaceful brewery back in February.
The invitation came from Father Isaac Keeley, who manages the brewery at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, MA. Outside of beer circles, St. Joseph’s is most famous for its line of delicious Trappist preserves.
The 48th chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict states “for then are they monks in truth, if they live by the work of their hands.” Following this rule, most Trappist monasteries produce goods that are sold to provide income for the monastery.
St. Joseph’s jam and jelly production began in 1965, but beer production didn’t begin until 2014, after four years of planning and discussion among not only the monks at St. Joseph’s but also with the International Trappist Association (ITA), a board of various Trappist monks who vet every product carrying the Trappist name.
Monk’s Reserve found its final form through 13 different recipes, workshopped and debated over three years. Brother Jonah Pociadlo, one of Spencer’s brewers, explained to us how their needs are different from some other brewers.
“We see our work on a much longer trajectory than other breweries,” said Brother Jonah.
“Three years may seem like a long time to bring a new beer to market. But we have to get our beers just right, not only because we want to be happy with what we’re producing, but because we have the reputations of all our other brothers around the world to protect.”
Brother Jonah went on to explain how any new offerings must be approved at quarterly meetings of the ITA before they can be brought to market. However, a recipe must be set before there’s a beer to take for approval, and that was part of Craft Beer Cellar‘s reason for visiting Spencer.
The drive into Spencer’s brewery is very calming. It feels like the brewery is on the end of the farmland property, but the slow long drive in fills you with a sense of peace and calm. Despite its rustic setting, the brewery has all the modern conveniences, bells and whistles. It’s an incredible facility.
After a tour with Brother Jonah and Spencer sales director Marvin Simpson, we sat down at a long table to taste two of the different quad recipes and share our notes and commentary comparing the two. We considered the beers’ combination of flavors and aromas, but also which would be more commercially viable.
The first beer we tried was quite sweet and had a lot of brown sugar flavor, with a subtle background of dark fruits, cola and toasted malt. The second beer was less sweet and, most notably, had an elegant roasted note that wasn’t exactly to style, but really set the beer apart from expectations for a Belgian quad.
After some thoughtful discussion we decided the second beer was the better option, thanked our hosts and went back to headquarters. A recent communique from Father Isaac informed us that the recipe we preferred was the one that has been brought to market as Monk’s Reserve. The first Trappist quad brewed in the US will begin released in the Boston area today. You should be able to find it in all Craft Beer Cellars as the pipeline gets filled, or check our webstores.
Monk’s Reserve will also be available for sampling at the Spencer Brewery Open House on June 24 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Spencer Trappist beers – which include a Belgian-style blonde ale, German-style pilsner, imperial stout, and the first-ever Trappist-made IPA – are also available in New Hampshire, Michigan, Ohio, Connecticut, France, Belgium, and Spain.