American monks are done letting their European counterparts have all the brewing fun. For more than a century, Catholic Cistercian monks known as Trappists have been brewing and selling what many beer lovers consider some of the best in the world. Eight monasteries—six in Belgium and one each in Holland and Austria—produce the only beer the International Trappist Association recognizes as authentic. But yesterday, 63 monks at St. Joseph's Abbey—about an hour's drive west of Boston—joined the party, selling the first Trappist beer brewed outside of Europe.
Their ambitious venture was hardly met with enthusiasm by their exacting Trappist brothers in Europe. "The original skepticism was because we were outside of Europe ... and Americans," said Father Isaac Keeley, director of brewing. "And the fear we would go too big too fast." The abbey has for decades supported itself by making jam, but five years ago it sent monks on a fact-finding mission first to the Belgian Beer Fest in Boston, and then to Belgium itself to study the art. The European monasteries made three strong recommendations: Build a state-of-the-art brewery, hire a skilled brewing engineer, and brew just one kind of beer for the first five years. St. Joseph's heeded that wisdom, and now has a multimillion-dollar setup that would be the envy of almost any microbrewery in the world. (Read more brewery stories.)