Case Studies

Spencer Trappist Brewery Branding


Design Team: Lauren Dickens, Erick Montes & Christian Helms
Creative Direction: Christian Helms

Crafting an identity for the first Trappist Brewery ever on U.S. soil.

When the monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, MA decided to make craft beer history, they reached out to us to help build a brand that reflected their culture. The fruitful collaboration was a joy for all involved, and resulted in a brand expression that highlights the Abbey’s higher purpose and ambitious vision. The rest is history.

Brand Packaging & Proprietary Glassware

One of the challenges in building the Spencer brand was creating a packaging system that honored Trappist tradition but also felt fresh, energetic and distinctly American. St. Joseph’s monks and the monastery itself fueled a design solution that balances historic elegance with bright, youthful character.

Leveraging a unique culture and viewpoint.

St. Joseph’s Abbey is one of nearly 180 strictly Trappist monasteries active around the world. When the monks approached the agency, only eight of those monasteries were also breweries and there had never been a certified Trappist brewery in the United States. Trappist certification isn’t easily attained and the construction of a brewery is a substantial investment, so the brand identity needed to be considered just as carefully.

Monks are encouraged to live contemplative, quiet lives and to live by the work of their hands; every element of their day holds significance. We began our work with the Abbey by learning about the monks, their daily lives and environment. In frequent Skype chats between work, prayer and meals, our team became familiar with the group’s culture and daily lives.

The Abbey itself offered strategic opportunities for a unique visual vocabulary. We developed custom typography based on engravings forged into the Abbey altar, and a striking color palette referencing the warm light that filters through the building’s stained glass windows. The monastery’s iconic bell tower serves as a structural and spiritual beacon for the monks, which we leveraged as a strong symbol for their dedication and devotion.

Mindful and Meaningful Brand Language.

As we worked with St. Joseph’s, we were as struck by their generosity as we were their commitment. In creating brand language for Spencer, we chose to clarify and amplify their collective point of view, while offering a twist on traditional pairing notes. Many Belgian-style ales offer up suggestions for complementary food combinations; we recommended that Spencer drinkers “Pair with Family and Friends”.

“We were amazed. Out of the gate, Helms really grasped who we are as a monastic community. They had significant insight into our identity and mission- the energy generated was palpable here on the East coast.”

Brother Isaac Keeley, Director of Spencer Brewery

History that looks forward.

Spencer’s offering is particularly contemporary, yet stays true to the strict guidelines for Trappist beers. The monks chose to brew a lower-alcohol, more sessionable beer that appeals to a broad spectrum of craft beer drinkers.

The intersection of the brewery’s historic foundation and contemporary vision fueled the creation of a striking packaging system that stands apart from other Trappist beers in the marketplace. The vibrant and lively brand extension eschews Belgian and Trappist beer clichés and differentiates the brand without seeming irreverent or disrespectful.

We pride ourselves in finding compelling ways to articulate the core of what makes a community special and resonant. The monks gave us an opportunity to explore a rich culture outside of our experience – it was an education and a joy.

In addition to brand identity development and primary packaging, we consulted on key aspects of the brand including the development of proprietary glassware, brewery signage and other brand extensions. Learn more about Spencer Trappist Ale at spencertrappistale.com.

“Working with Helms was fantastic, and the market loves the packaging – it’s elegant, distinctive and has a genuinely monastic character. It’s been more successful than we even hoped for! We’re grateful to Helms Workshop for all they achieved for us.”

Brother Isaac Keeley, Director of Spencer Brewery
Helms Workshop®