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The American Drunk Monks

spencerRegular readers of this site know that I have a soft spot for the Trappist breweries – or as I like to call them, the Drunk Monks. I am not Catholic (far from it) but I really appreciate the idea of monks incorporating the creation of good beer into their duties, and doing so both with a commitment to quality and a clear motive of giving back to the community (Trappist breweries are strictly non-profit, with proceeds going to support the monastery and to provide to charitable causes).

I know many don’t care who produces their beer, but I do. And it is hard to get worked up about the Trappist model. Non-profit. No harm. And we as consumers get some of the highest quality beer on the planet. What is not to like?

For those of you who don’t know there are 11 monasteries eligible to use the Trappist trademark. Not surprisingly six of them are in Belgium, with two in Netherlands and one each in Italy and Austria. The eleventh, certified in 2013 is – believe it or not – in the U.S. St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts is an anomaly in the Trappist world. Trappist is decidedly old school, both in geographic location and approaches to brewing.

An American Trappist is quite the thing. And it becomes relevant for me to mention because a couple of months ago Spencer, the brand they use, became available in Alberta. You can appreciate that I couldn’t help myself but to pick up some just about as fast as I could drive to the store. Plus I reviewed it for my latest column in Vue Weekly, which you can read here.

What I like is that the monks of St. Joseph clearly break the mould in terms of Trappist beer – sort of. The Trappist monasteries are famous for producing classic Belgian-style ales: Dubbels, Tripels, Quadrupels and their in sundry relatives. In many ways the monks have defined these styles for us.

St. Joseph produces one beer – not an uncommon tendency among the Trappists – and they certainly stick to the Belgian tradition. However, they have chosen to release in their solitary beer a blonde ale. Some might call it a Single as that is kind of what it is. They are the first Trappist to sell this particular beer.

Now, it is not all that crazy to sell a standard-alcohol strength blonde Belgian ale. In fact most of the monasteries produce such a beer on a regular basis for the daily consumption by the monks (a daily regimen of Tripels could create some havoc down at the Abbey). St. Joseph has simply chosen to sell that daily consumption beer.

As for the beer it has a light grain base with a touch of honey and floral sweetness. It has a mild spiciness from the yeast but nothing overpowering. It is an enjoyable, drinkable golden ale with a clear Belgian twist. I kind of feel it is something of a gateway beer for Belgian ales. Something people can edge their way into that world of funky, spicy flavours. (You can read a more complete review in my Vue piece).

I haven’t yet had every Trappist beer available – still missing the two newest additions, Abdij Maria Toevlucht and Tre Fontane – but it is nice to have one more ticked of my Drunk Monk bucket list.

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