In a statement on their website, the monks of St. Joseph's Abbey said the decision to start the Spencer brewery, named after the town west of Worcester where the abbey is located, was one of necessity. The order is required to make enough money to support its members, something the monks have done in the past with Trappist Preserves.
"However, when we look to the future, as our community grows and ages, we see our need for an additional enterprise that supports our community and charities in the years to come," the statement said.
Inspired by a brother who had developed an interest in brewing, the monks began studying the art. That included visits to Trappist breweries in Europe, most of them located in Belgium.
"We visited each Trappist brewery to learn everything we could from our European brothers," the statement said. "Beginning at the Abbey of Westmalle, we slowly made our way around Belgium, staying at the monasteries and making friends, receiving good advice and drinking some of the world's best beer."
The Boston Globe in a story last week said the abbey now has only 63 monks, down from 150 several decades ago, and their average age is 70. The abbey's buildings and its 2,000-acre property on a former dairy farm are expensive to run.
Brother Isaac Keeley, the brewery director, told the Globe the abbey hopes to produce 4,000 barrels -- enough for 1.3 million 12-ounce bottles -- this year. But their first distribution will be limited to the local area, including a small restaurant near the monastery.
Damian Carr, the abbot, said the monks celebrated the project on New Year's Day by tapping a barrel. The beer is 6.5 percent alcohol, somewhat higher than most U.S. beers.
''It's the kind of ale monks like to drink,'' Keeley said.