For the monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, spirituality finds a home in an unconventional space: their 36,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art brew house.
The stainless steel building is tucked behind the Trappist monks’ stone abbey. “The brew house lends itself to quiet, to a certain amount of mindfulness and prayerful atmosphere,” says Father Isaac Keeley, the Director of Spencer Brewery who acts as a spokesman for the organization whose members largely adhere to a vow of silence. “There’s a point when liquid has to come to a rest … so there’s even a contemplative moment in the process.”
We may not know what goes on exactly between those four walls, but we do know one thing: the brewery produces excellent beer. Their beer is a new kind of Trappist beer, a reddish-gold Belgian ale.
St. Joseph’s decided to begin brewing a few years ago to finance the monastery, which, despite the relatively sparse life monks’ lead, requires a chunk of change. There are the costs of healthcare, not to mention the costs associated with preserving and maintaining the land the aging monastery sits on.
While Spencer is the first Trappist brewery outside of Europe, monks have a storied history earning money from alchohol. Take, for instance, Dom Perignon. The $200 bottle is not just one of the most name-dropped brands in rap history, it is also the namesake of a 17th Century French Benedictine monk.
According to Father Keeley, the brewery won’t earn a profit for at least a decade. And, of course, profit is not a goal: The International Trappist Association requires the monks limit revenue to the needs of the monastery and its charities. The alcoholic endeavor is part of a century-long plan to provide financial infrastructure for the economy of the monastery. Plus, says Keeley, brewing is good for the soul. “Manual labor is actually a part of the Rule of St. Benedict that stresses the importance of ‘ora et labora’—‘pray and work’—and where ‘idleness is the enemy of the soul,’” he says.
The brewery will release its second beer, a holiday ale, next month—followed by a Russian stout in 2016.