Trappist brewery to close
The Americans have rejected Trappist beer. They have called time on their only Trappist-run brewery at St. Joseph’s Abbey, an hour west of Boston in the town of Spencer.
Their complex and dry Belgian-style beers have been unable to compete with the sweet, hoppy India pale ales, or I.P.A.s, that dominate the U.S. beer market.
The St. Joseph’s community of around 45 monks have just admitted defeat at the hands of the I.P.A. hordes and voted to cease operations.
Isaac Keeley, O.C.S.O., who had been running the brewery immediately resigned. He said he couldn’t bear to dismantle what he had spent so many years building.
The monastery appointed as his replacement William Dingwall, O.C.S.O., a 61-year-old monk from Toronto.
“We tried really hard to make a go of it, but unfortunately it didn’t work out,” he said. “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 the fall the brewery building will be empty and ready to harbor a different money-making business.
St. Joseph’s needs revenue for housing, health care and food. They also allocate some of their funds to supporting local charities. A generation of monks followed the celebrated writer Thomas Merton into monasteries in the 1950s and 1960s, but as they age, there are fewer able-bodied monks left.
St. Joseph’s, as a result, is studying its options.
“We're quite imaginative,” said Father Dingwall.
The abbey is leasing land for solar panels and looking into building natural cemeteries, where bodies decompose organically without metal caskets or embalming fluids. And it hopes to reopen its guest house, closed because of Covid-19, this coming winter.
St. Joseph’s opened the brewery in 2014 because its other businesses, such as making jellies and vestments for a declining population of Catholic priests, had suffered.
“We saw ourselves as brewing in the Catholic tradition,” said Father Dingwall. “Belgium had the established brands, and that was the model we were following.”
In Belgium, the main beer-making monasteries are still thriving because they have much bigger breweries producing over 100,000 barrels a year and more, which are run by laypeople as modern businesses, with on-site bars, restaurants and aggressive sales techniques.
By comparison, Spencer failed to reach the mere 10,000 barrels per year it had aimed for.
The monks at St. Joseph’s never agreed to a tasting bar or restaurant on site, even if it might have popularized the brand.