Style: Belgian Pale Ale/ Trappist Patersbier/ Enkel
Brewer’s Note: “America’s First Trappist Beer/ Our recipe was inspired by the traditional refectory ales known as patersbier (“fathers’ beer” in Flemish). These sessionable beers are brewed by the monks for their dinner table and are typically only available at the monastery. Spencer is a full-bodied, golden-hued ale with fruity accents, a dry finish and light hop bitterness. The beer is unfiltered and unpasteurized, preserving live yeast that naturally carbonates the beer in the bottle and keg, and contributes to the beer flavor and aroma.”
The beer’s label is crisp and clean, with a tight formal look to it, reminiscent of its European brothers. Clutter is non-existent, and the fonts are crisp, interesting, and flow together. The striped background in the middle of the label is interesting on the eye, but does muddle things slightly, however. Overall, this is the first bottle from the first American Trappist brewery. It is a piece of history, and is instantly collectable. It also looks rather regal and nice, so putting it on a shelf is a no-brainer.
The beer pours a deep orange with amber highlights, like a morning sunrise. A head of gently-off-white bubbles forms above the beer, settling around a quarter of a finger’s width above the glass, and then quickly fizzling away to just a scrim. The bubbles leave a mildly thick lacing that draws its fingers up the sides of my glass, but I wish they would stick around a little longer. In body, the beer is opaque and hazy, with little to nothing coming through from the other side of the glass. There are, however, no visible particles floating around within the beer.
On the nose, the beer is distinctly of Trappist origins, with the potential to also be considered a hefeweizen… Big fruity esters and phenols lather the nose in thick banana scents, like a banana smoothie; hints of pineapple can also be sensed, and touches of spicy clove and other phenols can be felt in the nostrils. Subtle bread scents do dance as ghosts in the background of the nose, but really this beer is all about the fruity esters and spicy phenols of the yeast. There does seem to be a touch of spicy booze as well, which may just be me mistaking the esters for booze, but if not then it is a little odd for the ABV.
On the tongue, the beer tastes sweet and fruity with funky esters and spicy phenols, the middle and finish bring in a nice balancing spicy bitterness that mellows into herbal hops that are just a touch strong. Acidity also pops the mouth in the beginnings of the sip, leaving a light pucker in the lips. In flavor, the beer is again all about its yeast character. Spicy banana and pineapple smoothie molds into rich phenol clove, spice, and perhaps just a touch of Band-Aid. The finish brings out more herbal spices, mingling with herbal and grassy hops to give the beer a nice balance, though it still remains a touch too sweet, making the bitterness and spice a little harsh. The finish is a little quick for what I want it to be, but does leave a nice aftertaste of pineapple and banana esters. In the mouth, the beer feels rather odd. In body it is somewhere in the medium range, with a touch of watery thinness at its close, but in mouthfeel, the beer is thick and creamy with a touch of chewiness as well. There is a tug on the sides of the cheeks as the beer passes through the mouth, giving the beer a light grip, and the acidity certainly bites at the tongue, even after the beer has left, leaving the cheeks wet with spittle and the tongue slightly numb with spice and bitters. The mouthfeel still needs a little work in my humble opinion.
Overall, I am intrigued and impressed. It is no easy task to simply step into the venerable ranks of the Trappist Breweries. Some of the highest rated beers in the world come from these breweries, but I believe Spencer has built a strong foundation to quickly catch up to its European brethren. They need to work on the head retention of the beer, for starters, and the mouthfeel and is bit off, which hurts the beers drinkability, though it does make it ideal for pairing with food. I also would like less harsh spice/bitters from the yeast and hops, and a little more of a blending of the sweet, spicy, and bitter characteristics. I wouldn’t really call this a table beer, either, as its ABV and overall body are a bit much, but it would certainly do well on a table. This beer is excellent, however, and I am just nitpicking because it is joining such an elite class of breweries. This is a fine start for the monks in Spencer, MA!
For fun last night (mostly because I had already made the dinner, but had just rushed out to get this beer) I tried pairing this beer with spaghetti. The pairing wasn’t the best… I prefer linguini noodles for my ‘spaghetti’ dishes, and I add to them a thick red sauce (a blend of lots of commercial brands and a lot of canned mushrooms and venison burger). The red sauce is really what you want to pair with for this meal, and from what I’ve heard, an amber or Vienna lager will pair best with that as the rich malt is what you need to stand up the red sauce and meat. As the pairing was, the fruity yeast and rich acidity of the tomato sauce weren’t entirely compatible, and beat each other out in the mouth. By contrast, my girlfriend used a week old white wine sauce we had lying about, and claims the pairing was quite nice. The acidity and fruitiness of the beer paired very nicely with the sauvignon blanc, lemon juice, and fatty butter in the sauce, providing a nice canvas for the noodles to wiggle around in.