Yankee Brew News February/March 2015 : Page 1
ILLUSTRATION BY HANS GRANHEIM estled in the hills of Spencer, Mass., s., is one of the most unique ue brewer-ies in America. a. Spencer Trappist at Saint int Joseph’s Abbey ey is one of only ten authentic Trappist breweries in the world. It is the first and only one of its kind here in the U.S. Like all Trappist breweries, the w er ie s t he Spencer brewery is operated by the monks that reside on the premises. By Josh Dion By John K. Read magine for a moment that you walk into one of your favorite pubs identified with craft brews. You start to survey the taps but are distracted by a sound all too rarely heard in bars today: live piano music. It is drifting in from a separate back room you hadn’t even realized was there. Stranger still, the song isn’t typical piano bar fare along the lines of As Time Goes By or Melancholy Baby . It’s A Mighty Fortress Is Our God . When you were a kid you thought it was just the theme song from Davey and Goliath , then you sang it in church. And now some 60 people are belt-ing out a hymn in your local watering hole. This is too weird. Or is it? Over the past several years in the U.S. and Great Britain, an increas-ing number of people have been flocking to pubs for events sponsored by Christian churches. Some such gatherings begin and end with prayer, others have a more casual feel. Drinking alcohol is not mandated, though it is certainly allowed. These events vary in title and format but generally fit one of two prevailing categories: Beer and Hymns , in which participants request and sing church music out of a hymnal; and Theology on Tap , an informal discussion on a scriptural and/or social topic usually facilitated by a pastor. It is common for many unchurched peo-ple today to believe that churches uniformly disdain alcohol. Indeed, some pastors who offer Beer & Hymns occasionally receive stern letters from evangelicals accusing them of leading their parishioners along the See Religion p.4 Top-Saint Joseph’s Abbey houses one of only ten authentic Trappist breweries in the world. Above-Father Isaac Keeley presides over brewery operations . PHOTOS BY JORDAN GRIFFIN The abbey sits on 2,000 acres of beauti-ful, breathtaking countryside. Formerly a dairy farm, the great majority of the land has been preserved as a tree farm. Three hundred-sixty acres of land are used for agriculture and another 200 acres for liv-ing. The monks have resided here since the 1950s when they moved to Spencer from Rhode Island. This particular community of monks, who follow the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, was founded in See Prayer p. 6 INSIDE Events Calendar....... 3 Beer Cooks .............. 8 Alehouse .................. 9 Tasting Panel ......... 10 Homebrew .............. 12 Maps/Directory .. 18-23 State by State News E. Massachusetts ..........14 Boston ............................16 W. Massachusetts .........24 Maine ..............................26 New Hampshire .............28 Connecticut ....................30 Vermont ..........................32 Rhode Island ..................34 NYC/Long Island ............36 Upstate NY .....................38
Is A Mighty Fortress The New Melancholy Baby?
John K. Read
Imagine for a moment that you walk into one of your favorite pubs identified with craft brews. You start to survey the taps but are distracted by a sound all too rarely heard in bars today: live piano music. It is drifting in from a separate back room you hadn’t even realized was there.
Stranger still, the song isn’t typical piano bar fare along the lines of As Time Goes By or Melancholy Baby. It’s A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. When you were a kid you thought it was just the theme song from Davey and Goliath, then you sang it in church. And now some 60 people are belting out a hymn in your local watering hole. This is too weird.
Or is it? Over the past several years in the U.S. and Great Britain, an increasing number of people have been flocking to pubs for events sponsored by Christian churches. Some such gatherings begin and end with prayer, others have a more casual feel. Drinking alcohol is not mandated, though it is certainly allowed. These events vary in title and format but generally fit one of two prevailing categories: Beer and Hymns, in which participants request and sing church music out of a hymnal; and Theology on Tap, an informal discussion on a scriptural and/or social topic usually facilitated by a pastor.
It is common for many unchurched people today to believe that churches uniformly disdain alcohol. Indeed, some pastors who offer Beer & Hymns occasionally receive stern letters from evangelicals accusing them of leading their parishioners along the proverbial road to hell. Interestingly enough, most of these handwritten tirades are unsigned.
Beer: A Lutheran Legacy
In fact, a large segment of the churchgoing public appreciates a good drink. For this legacy they can thank Martin Luther, the German monk who did much to spark the Protestant Reformation. This colorful holy man cursed like a truck driver and knocked down many a brew in his time. He initially embraced wine but was converted to beer by his strong-willed wife, Katharina Von Bora, who brewed it for him daily. Katharina knew that beer contained many nutrients and convinced Martin that it was a healthier choice than wine.
Indeed, Luther had an inordinate appreciation of strong drink. It was not unusual for him to advise despairing Christians to get drunk, as that was what he would do in his darkest moments. So convinced was Luther that Satan was a teetotaler, he once said, “when the devil says to you: do not drink, answer him: ‘I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.’”
Luther’s most blatant justification on the subject was more widely quoted: “Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!”
By the late 1800s and early 1900s, however, most Protestants were not of the same mind as their reformer. They saw the devastating effects of alcohol abuse in many families as industrial laborers ended their long workdays with long nights in taverns. “Temperance” songs abounded, most notably Henry Clay Work’s lachrymose Come Home, Father,” in which a little girl mourns her little brother who died before their errant father managed to drag himself home from the bar.
But back to the hymns. It is often said that Luther (as well as Charles Wesley, the Irving Berlin of Methodism) made liberal use of tavern song melodies for his original hymns. While some were secular folk songs, there remains a question as to how many of these melodies were lifted from pubs.
It’s About Fellowship ... Not Alcohol
Song origins notwithstanding, those who frequent pub theology gatherings echo the same sentiment: namely, there is something warm and convivial about experiencing the Divine in a cozy pub setting through comfortable fellowship and boisterous singing. Not only does such a format reach regular church attendees who want to experience an alternative to formalized liturgy, but it also draws in unchurched individuals across the age spectrum.
“Why was Christ’s first miracle to be the ultimate bartender?” reasons Geoff Little, who organizes Beer & Hymns events for Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn. “Jesus was interested in celebration. We separate being human from being spiritual all too easily in Nashville.”
Arguably no municipality in this country is more spiritually starved than our capital. The Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C., has proven a fertile mission field for Bryan Berghoef, a pastor with the Christian Reformed Church. For the past six years he has facilitated weekly pub conversations in this trendy neighborhood where the so-called successful and beautiful people gather to express their curiosity about the things that matter ... and share their brokenness. The success of this series inspired Berghoef to author a book, Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God.
Theology “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”
So how does pub theology play in New England? Quite well, thank you.
The Church of the Advent in Boston’s Beacon Hill is synonymous with the highchurch, “smells-’n’-bells” Anglo-Catholic arm of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Yet once the last candle is extinguished and the organist finishes the postlude, these people know how to have a good time. For the past 11 years the Advent has presented Theology on Tap at Cheers, the Park Plaza Hotel and currently Poe’s Kitchen at the Rattlesnake Bar. Associate Rector Sammy Wood was not yet on staff when the series started, but he is now the willing and enthusiastic coordinator of this series, which has been known to draw as many as 60 people to an event.
“For several years we had about five ‘blocks’ of three talks given in consecutive weeks about a single theme,” Wood explained. “This year we’ve changed our format from blocks of talks to just one talk per month on a stand-alone topic.” A special event on February 28 will feature Wesley Hill, author of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.
Pastors Keith Anderson and Angela Freeman from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (the largest and most “mainstreamed” of the Lutheran denominations) collaborated on both God on Tap and Beer & Hymns gatherings when they pastored churches in Woburn and Malden, respectively. Anderson now pastors at Upper Dublin Lutheran Church near Philadelphia where he has continued these traditions. His appearance at a seminar last January inspired David Miller to bring God on Tap to his home church, the Lutheran Church of Framingham.
Miller calls his series “Faith Brewin” and holds it at the Ashland Ale House in Ashland, Mass. Members of other area churches attend to hash out such topics as “Epic Journeys,” “Silver Linings” and “What Are You Thankful For?” While Miller is still excited about the series, he would like to see more robust attendance.
“Many seem hesitant to meet outside the church,” Miller said. “Others are concerned about mixing church and a bar for the message that might send. Still, I hope that it is an opportunity to share our faith outside of church, wherever that may be. If one person overhears us and asks what we are gathered for or even goes so far as to join in the conversation, I would be thrilled.”
The Cape Loves Beer & Hymns!
Down in old Cape Cod, the people at First Lutheran Church of West Barnstable are thrilled to be pulling in 50 to 60 people at their Beer & Hymns events. Among the participating venues were the ill-fated Tommy Doyle’s in Hyannis, Barnstable Tavern in Barnstable Village, British Beer Company in Sandwich and most recently the Riverway Lobster House in South Yarmouth. Most participants are First Lutheran members, although the church keeps getting the word out to other parishes with positive results.
Alison McMurry is a member of nearby Cotuit Federated Church who checked out the latest Beer & Hymns and loved it. “I like any excuse to sing, with or without a festive beverage, and to be around others who feel the same is delightful,” Alison shared. “The beer, food, and the wacky repertoire were a triple bonus!”
The “wacky repertoire” came from a specially compiled supplement containing hymn parodies and old hymns with words that could now be considered inappropriate. Isaac Watts, the prolific hymn writer who gave us Joy To The World and O God, Our Help in Ages Past, also penned Blest is the Man Whose Bowels Move. Bowels, in this instance, meant guts ... nerve ... resolve. Another favorite was Awake, My Soul To Joyful Lays. “Lay” was another word for song.
Pastor John Terry of the Federated Church of Hyannis attended the inaugural Beer & Hymns at Tommy Doyle’s two years ago and enjoyed it. “Lutherans and beer seem to be a natural,” he said.
Certainly First Lutheran’s pastor, Jonathan Ahnquist, is a natural for this fun format. He leads the singing with gusto and radiates joy.
“It’s all about going where the people are,” Ahnquist explained. “The gospel is not offended. Let’s rejoice and be glad! We’re not promoting drinking ... we’re promoting being.” Ahnquist is pleasantly surprised by “the affirmations I get out of the blue from people I don’t know at all, who come up to me and say, ‘hey, you’re the church with the Beer & Hymns? Great!’”
First Lutheran members continue to enjoy this tradition, which is presented several times per year. Gail Nickerson considers Beer & Hymns to be “a blast. Religion is supposed to be a good time.”
Rita Wahlstedt, whose Finnish grandfather was the founding pastor of First Lutheran literally 100 years ago, summed up the success of her church’s Beer & Hymns: “Spirited Lutherans sing better!”
Over the years the craft beer world has enjoyed many trends. We have sampled brews flavored with blueberry, pumpkin, watermelon, chocolate, ginger ... even oysters. Some styles fare better on a long-term basis than others. Whatever one’s taste in beer, however, there is a ton of evidence that two trends are here to stay: God on Tap and Beer & Hymns. So the next time you drop in for a pint of Mayflower IPA, don’t be surprised if you end up singing “Lift High the Cross.” And teach your girlfriend the optional soprano descant while you’re at it.
Prayer, Meditation, Manual Labor... And Beer?
Nestled in the hills of Spencer, Mass., is one of the most unique breweries in America. Spencer Trappist at Saint Joseph’s Abbey is one of only ten authentic Trappist breweries in the world. It is the first and only one of its kind here in the U.S. Like all Trappist breweries, the Spencer brewery is operated by the monks that reside on the premises.
The abbey sits on 2,000 acres of beautiful, breathtaking countryside. Formerly a dairy farm, the great majority of the land has been preserved as a tree farm. Three hundred-sixty acres of land are used for agriculture and another 200 acres for living. The monks have resided here since the 1950s when they moved to Spencer from Rhode Island. This particular community of monks, who follow the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, was founded in France 189 years ago. Sixty monks currently live at St. Joseph’s. At one time, that number was closer to 180.
This monastic order is cloistered, meaning that the monks do not interact with the outside world. In kind, the brewery is closed to the public. Living according to the rule of Saint Benedict, each day is dedicated to quiet life, prayer, meditation and manual labor. A typical day involves waking at 3 a.m., a call to prayer seven times a day and complete silence between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. A corkboard in a main hallway serves as the primary means of communication during quiet hours. The board features short notes scribbled on scraps of paper, examples being a request to find a lost book or an invitation to join in group prayer in the gardens at a certain hour. An extensive 40,000-volume library provides enough educational reading material to last many lifetimes.
A Need for Funding
For over 60 years, the monks of Saint Joseph’s have produced and sold fruit preserves, with the income from the operation supporting the abbey. Roughly ten years ago, the realization struck that the market for preserves and jams were limited. In the face of an aging and shrinking population of monks, a less labor-intensive method to generate income was needed. A committee was formed and tasked with researching alternative forms of income. After much research and prayer, the committee proposed a brewing operation. The proposal was met with mixed reviews from the community of brothers. After debate and more prayer, the community eventually approved the recommendation. The only question that remained was: “How, exactly, do you brew beer?”
Father Isaac Keeley, a resident of the abbey since 1978, was appointed director of the brewery. Father Isaac, who had no prior knowledge of brewing, traveled to Belgium to learn from his Trappist brothers. Taking on a task that some might consider overwhelming, Father Isaac dove in head first with excitement, eager to learn.
One of the first tasks was to determine what style of beer to brew. Trappist breweries are well known for dubbels, tripels and quadrupels, however Father Isaac was wary that his brothers in Spencer were all wine drinkers. His instinct told him that a lighter beer would be more palatable to his brethren.
“We initially chose a refectory beer, because that’s what they liked,” Father Isaac said.
Refectory ale, also known as patersbier (“Father’s Beer” in Flemish) or enkel (“single” in Dutch), is a session-like beer that is generally only served to monks within the monastery. In other words, it’s table beer.
On October 26, 2013, brewing operations began. Father Isaac served the first batch to the monks right after Christmas that year. The moment when his brothers first tried the beer was exciting and nerve wracking. At one point one of the monks, who had previously opposed the decision to start the brewery, went back for seconds.
“It was very emotional moment for me,” said Father Isaac.
And with that, the 6.5% alcohol by volume Spencer Trappist Ale was born. Like other Trappist styles of beer, Spencer Trappist is unfiltered, un-pasteurized and bottle conditioned, meaning that the beer continues to ferment in the bottle.
Having a brewery on site does not translate to a constant flow of beer at the monastery’s dining hall. In fact, consumption is quite limited; the brothers get to enjoy the product once a week on Sunday evening as well as on Catholic feast days.
Huge Capacity, Modest Output
The brewery itself is quite impressive. The highly automated, top-of-the-line 50-barrel brewhouse is capable of producing 50,000 barrels per year, although currently only produces about 4,000. A five-year plan shows the brewery producing 10,000 barrels. The disparity between capacity and planned production may seem surprising, however there is a distinct reasoning behind it.
“It’s oversized for what we need and it would have been more cost effective to go smaller”, said Father Isaac. “However, this scale is required so that we can maintain balance with monastic life”
Keeping that balance is of utmost importance to the monks, as the brewing operation should only consume a fraction of their time. Investing in a system of this size makes it possible to limit brewing operations to one six-hour session per week. Furthermore, by leveraging computerized automation, the brewhouse requires only two operators.
A batch of beer takes roughly five to six weeks to produce: one day of brewing, two weeks in fermentation and three weeks in re-fermentation.
Quality, Quality, Quality
To obtain the Authentic Trappist Product label, a number of strict regulations must be met. These rules focus on utmost quality of beer, and more importantly, ensuring that the brewing operation isn’t interfering with the monastic way of life.
Cleanliness and sanitation are strict, to the point where brewhouse drains are kept sparkling clean. Water used in brewing is obtained from an on-premise well. The beer is centrifuged to ensure an exact yeast count is obtained prior to bottling. Even the kegging line has a flushing system to ensure purity.
At the heart of the brewery is the lab, an element that the typical consumer doesn’t usually think about.
“The lab is the eyes of the brewery,” explained Father Isaac.
A brewery lab focuses on quality. Everything is measured and controlled, from pH balance to carbon dioxide and oxygen levels to perhaps, most importantly, yeast management. For a Trappist brewery, avoiding issues with yeast (such as contamination from wild yeast) is of top importance.
As daunting as it was learning to brew and operate a brewhouse, the monks at Saint Joseph’s agree that packaging the beer has had a steeper learning curve and has proven more difficult than imagined.
“I was like a kid with an erector set,” said Father Isaac when asked what it was like to assemble the massive packaging line.
The facility features a state-of-the-art bottling line that cranks through 6,000 bottles per hour. It takes six hours to bottle a full batch of beer. Packaging takes twice as many hands as the brewhouse, requiring a total of four people. Part-time packing help is sourced from outside of the monastery in order to limit the time investment needed from the brothers. Also, keeping in line with minimizing impact on the monastic community, distribution of the beer is outsourced to 1098 Distribution.
Spencer Trappist Ale is available in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Georgia, and North Carolina on draft and in four-packs of 11. 2-ounce bottles. When enjoying a bottle, Father Isaac has two recommendations: “Never drink straight from the bottle and pour vigorously to release the flavors and aroma!"