The monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, will find other ways to support their monastery.
Just one verse each day.
Despite being the first and only certified Trappist brewery outside of Europe, St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, will soon close its doors. The competitive American beer market made the monastic microbrewery financially non-viable. The monks will have to find other ways to support their contemplative way of life.
On May 14, Spencer Brewery made their decision public through their Facebook profile:
After more than a year of consultation and reflection, the monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey have come to the sad conclusion that brewing is not a viable industry for us and that it is time to close the Spencer Brewery.
We want to thank all our customers for their support and encouragement over the years.
Our beer will be available in our regular retail outlets while supplies last. Please keep us in your prayers.
A brief history of Spencer Brewery
Beer production has been a part of the European Trappist tradition since the 17th century, but it is not the only way these monasteries have supported themselves. Trappist monasteries make many other products, ranging from coffins to cheese. Spencer Brewery, launched in 2014, is (or was) just one of St. Joseph’s Abbey’s endeavors.
The debate over whether to start a brewery in Spencer lasted more than 10 years. When the abbey was founded in 1950, to be able to start earning their sustenance, the monks began producing and selling mint jelly, made with herbs grown in the monastery garden. The preserves became so popular that today “Trappist Preserves” are sold in more than 30 flavors.
The infirmary of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, with beds for 12 monks, is full most of the time. The cost of supporting the abbey’s elderly monks became unsustainable due to the increasing prices of medical services. This situation forced the monks to seek out new ways of increasing their income so that they could maintain both the monastic community and the works of charity that are supported by the Abbey’s activities.
After many visits to various Trappist abbeys in Europe, the monks from Spencer decided to set up a brewery that would be as automated as possible, thus making minimal demands of manual labor on the older monks.
As Fr. Isaac Keeley told Reuters in 2014, “Monks don’t really like change. But when we started to run out of options for a revenue source, we started listening.” When the brewery launched, its was able to produce 4,500 barrels of beer per year and hoped to expand to produce 10,000 barrels annually.
The director of Spencer Brewery, Father William Dingwall, told the Boston Globe that while the brewery was indeed popular, the beer market changed radically in just a few years, and the abbey’s brewery faced more competition than initially expected:
“It generated a great deal of interest,” says Dingwall. “But at the same time — I’ve spent a long time thinking about this and it is still a personal opinion, but it does reflect what we’ve been living through — the beer market in the US started to change radically. We stood out when we first opened up, but craft breweries started springing up everywhere.”