Last Friday I flew to Boston to visit my aunt and uncle for the weekend. Knowing how I feel about beer, they made a special effort to include new brews in our weekend plans!
As soon as I arrived on Friday evening my aunt offered me a Spencer Trappist Ale (much needed after navigating two airports). She received this beer from a colleague, and after a little research I am excited to report that it’s the first and only certified Trappist beer made in the United States! So what exactly constitutes a Trappist beer? The word “Trappist” refers to a branch of the Cistercian order of monks. For beers to carry the “Authentic Trappist Product” logo 1) They must be produced within the walls of the monastery or in the vicinity of the monastery 2) The production process must be in accordance with the business practices proper to a monastic way of life 3) The profits are intended to provide for the monastic community and for serving disadvantaged communities, groups, and individuals. The monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, MA have been making jams and jellies to support the monastery for over 50 years, and a couple of years ago they decided to start brewing beer as well. They spent two years visiting Trappist breweries in Europe, drinking beer and learning about brewing from their fellow monks, and then founded the first American Trappist brewery on the grounds of St. Joseph’s in December of 2013!
The story behind the beer won me over before I even took the first sip, but I was pleased to discover that it’s also quite tasty. The Spencer Trappist Ale is a golden, belgian-style ale with notes of fruit and honey and a slight hop bitterness. The beer is unfiltered and unpasteurized, preserving live yeast that naturally carbonates the beer in the bottle. My aunt, who isn’t typically a huge beer person, enjoyed the ale as well. She even chose it over a cocktail when we were out later that evening!
On Saturday, after a morning run around the Esplanade, we showered up and headed over to Harpoon Brewery. The place was packed, and we had to wait in line for 30+ minutes to even buy tickets for a tour later that day! We grabbed a delicious lunch at Legal Harborside, made a quick trip to the Institute of Contemporary Art, and then returned to Harpoon for the 5 o’clock tour. Harpoon is the largest, most well-known brewery I’ve ever visited, and I have to say that I didn’t enjoy their tour as much as those of smaller breweries. It seemed scripted, wasn’t as intimate, and I felt like they were just herding us through to make room for the next group. One of the last stops on the tour is the back tasting room, where typically everyone is given a tasting glass and allowed to sample any of their many beers. Unfortunately, the taps in the back tasting room were on the fritz, so we didn’t get this perk, but to compensate the brewery generously provided each of us with two tokens for free pints in the beer hall!
I used one of my tokens on the Harpoon Leviathan, an incredibly rich Imperial IPA. I’ve been able to find bottles of the Leviathan in Virginia, but it was far better straight from the Harpoon tap.
My aunt ordered the Big Squeeze, a tart, refreshing, grapefruit shandy, and her friend George chose the Long Thaw White IPA. I can’t remember what my uncle decided upon, but we were all pleased with our selections. Although Harpoon’s tour wasn’t my favorite, I enjoyed hanging out in their lively beer hall, and those guys brew some damn good beer! I had their original IPA several times during the course of the weekend and found it to be a solid option: medium-bodied, well-balanced, and easy to pair with food.
Thanks, Shash and Dan, for giving me a “taste” of the Massachusetts beer scene! 😉