The United States loses its only Trappist brewery

The last barrel has already been brewed, and the equipment should be auctioned off by the end of June. “Our beer will be available at our usual points of sale while supplies last. Please keep us in your prayers. » Thus the Trappist monks of the Abbey of Saint-Joseph de Spencer (Massachusetts, in the United States) announced on May 14, on their Facebook page, the cessation of their beer production for economic reasons.

→ READ. A simple, healthy and good cuisine… just like in the monasteries!

The only Trappist brewery in the United States, that of Saint Joseph’s Abbey (which has around 45 monks) opened in 2014. However, it never reached the 10,000 barrels a year it had made its goal. Its production did not exceed 4,500 barrels, according to its website. That is approximately 60,000 cases, distributed mainly in the New England states (Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, etc.), but also in the Midwest (Michigan), as well as in eight foreign countries.

Bear up

A specialist interviewed by the American Jesuit magazine America attributes this failure to fierce competition from India Pale Ale (IPA) beers, of English origin, on the American market for ten years. The beer industry has shifted towards cloudy, sweet-flavored, citrus-flavored IPAs”explains Andy Crouch, of the magazine All About Beer. “This is not the time for Belgian-style monastic beers. »

He specifies that even in Europe, we now produce beers “American Style”and that the breweries of the Belgian monasteries only survive because they are also “tourist destinations”. However, the Trappists of Massachusetts have always refused to open a place of tasting on site, in particular because of the too close proximity between the brewery and the church.

refusing to let go ” tear down “, these monks, who are part of the Cistercian Order of Strict Observance (Ocso), want to be imaginative. They hope to have found, by the fall, a more lucrative activity: the installation of solar panels, the construction of a natural cemetery, or the reopening of a guest house.

Heirs of Thomas Merton

It was in 1803, fleeing Europe in the wake of the French Revolution, that the predecessors of the Spencer monks crossed the Atlantic. After several decades on the east coast of Canada, this Trappist community moved to Rhode Island at the end of the 19th century, before arriving in Massachusetts in 1950. These two successive moves had the same cause: devastating fires .

It was precisely in the 1950s and 1960s that a generation of American Catholics followed, even into the monasteries, the famous writer Thomas Merton (1915-1968). This major spiritual figure in the United States combined social commitment and monastic life – Trappist, then. But his heirs are fewer today.

Around the world, around ten Trappist breweries

Most of the ten Trappist breweries still in operation in the world are in Belgium. There are also some in Austria, England, the Netherlands… In France, the abbey of Mont des Cats (North) revived its brewing tradition in 2011 after ceasing production in 1905. Its beer is however brewed in Chimay (Belgium), for lack of available premises in the North.

Another French monastic community, Benedictine this one, has been marketing – not without success – its beer since 2016: that of the Abbey of Saint-Wandrille, established in Normandy since the year 649. This quality beer, designed and produced in within the abbey, is recognized as a unique artisanal product.

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