TRAPPIST IS A SMALL SUN IN SPACE BUT A SHINING STAR ON EARTH
Spencer Trappist Ale, Spencer, Abv 6.5
We chose the beer of the day in honor of a dramatic astronomical discovery that was front page news a few days ago. A relatively small star – about one tenth of the size of our own less than gigantic source of light—has an active solar system with several planets close enough to it to provide conditions that might make life possible. The Belgian astronomers who discovered it named it Trappist-1 and removed all thoughts that it might only refer to an order of monks by naming their quest for additional life supporting planets after a Belgian cookie (see tomorrow’s post).
Choosing a Trappist beer for today’s post was a challenge. We’ve had over 40 Trappist ales – from all the Trappist Breweries other than the 2014 newcomers in the Netherlands and Italy. We hope that the sky high ratings we gave Westvleteren weren’t the result of beer snobbery – they weren’t blind tastings, but they surely tasted good.
Since the theme is otherworldly, though, we thought the right beer for this column would be the one and only Trappist brewery in the United States. The Saint Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, has been around since the 1950s, but only began brewing in 2013. All Trappist Abbeys are required by the order to fully support themselves, with any unneeded funds used for charitable projects. Years ago Father Robert at Chimay explained to us that the Trappist calling was to “take God’s gifts and make them useful to others.” St. Joseph’s has done well over the years with a highly respected range of jams and jellies. As their community grew – and aged—the need for additional income brought them to the decision to brew. After a couple of years touring established Trappist breweries, they opened in 2013.
Like the longer-established abbeys in Belgium, they’ve named the beer after their location rather than the abbey. Like other Trappist breweries, they try to keep the brewing a secondary activity to their religious commitments. They do not offer tours because tours would disturb the contemplative life of the monks, and we suspect, diminish the distance between what they do and a regular commercial business.
The beers are worth seeking out. They’ve had a great deal of help in developing a definitively Trappist ale, yet one that isn’t a copy-cat either. They say that a beer geek should be able to identify the yeast they’ve used; it didn’t seem so obvious to us, but we do know they finished their research with a long stint at Westvleteren.
Tasting notes: A full-bodied ale with a fruity-candy sweetness and just a bit of the light funk that’s typical of abbey beers. It has a creamy feel as it drinks with very ripe apple. The brewery claims some banana notes, but we didn’t find many. Not quite a “farmhouse” beer, but most Trappist abbeys are indeed farms.
Food Pairings: Cheese. Get something local, or find something slightly funky at a good market. Mussels are an obvious choice and we think it would go well with a range of seafoods. Review #0073 20170226
Tomorrow: We we continue our tribute to the year’s biggest astronomical find– Trappist-1, a star that supports several earth-like planets that may be capable of supporting life. The group that discovered it plans to continue their search for planets that might sustain life. Their organization “Search for habitable Planets Eclipsing Ultra-cool Stars” produces the acronym SPECULOOS, a Belgian cookie. We review a Belgian beer brewed to taste almost exactly like that cookie.
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