The only Trappist brewery in the US is closing

Tastes change – and the beer made by the only Trappist brewery in the US isn’t hitting the spot any more.

Rather than change the recipe they worked so hard to perfect, the 45 Trappist monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey have decided to close their brewery.

The “Spencer brewery” venture, begun after much research in 2014, has been unprofitable because its complex, dry Belgian-style beers have been unable to compete with the new, popular, sweet, hoppy India pale ales (IPAs).

“The beer industry has migrated toward hazy-style IPAs with soft, citrus aromas,” says Andy Crouch, publisher of All About Beer </em magazine.

“It’s not a good time for Belgian-style monastic beers.”

He explains that in Belgium the main beer-making monasteries cope as they have much bigger breweries run as modern businesses by laypeople, with on-site bars, restaurants and aggressive sales techniques.

They’re big producers too – one puts out over 100,000 barrels a year. By comparison, Spencer failed to reach the mere 10,000 barrels per year it had aimed for.

The monks at St Joseph’s on the other hand never agreed to a tasting bar or restaurant on site, even if it might have popularised the brand.

“The brewery is too close to the church to invite in outsiders,” says William Dingwall, OCSO, who will wind down the brewery operation.

“We resisted turning the whole operation over to laypeople. We wanted it to be a monastic business with monastic labour.

“We saw ourselves as brewing in the Catholic tradition. Belgium had the established brands and that was the model we were following.

“We tried really hard to make a go of it, but unfortunately it didn’t work out.

“But we’re not floored by it. We’re going to continue to pray and meditate.”

The last barrel has already been brewed. An auction of the equipment is expected to take place before the end of June. The monks hope that by autumn the brewery building will be empty and ready to harbour a different money-making business.

There are several options. The monastery has a guest house. It’s also leasing land for solar panels and looking into building natural cemeteries, where bodies decompose organically without metal caskets or embalming fluids.

Sources of income for the world’s 169 Trappist monasteries vary: they make coffee, fudge, fruitcakes, jams, bread and even clothes. One new idea is coffins. “Trappist Caskets” has a nice ring, they think.


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