The Brewing Monks:
The Benedictine Breweries
In the first 5 parts of the The Brewing Monks, we looked specifically at the history of the Trappist order and the current Trappist Breweries. In the first part, The Brewing Monks: A Brief History of the Trappist Order and Monastic Brewing, I looked at the history of the Trappist order and how abbeys become involved in brewing. In the Second Part, The Brewing Monks: The Trappist Breweries (Part 1), I delved into the history of Rochefort, Stift Engelszell, Westmalle, and Westvleteren. In the third part,The Brewing Monks: The Trappist Breweries (Part 2), I covered the history of Chimay, La Trappe, & Achel. In the fourth segment, The Brewing Monks: The Trappist Breweries (Part 3),I looked into the origins of Zundert, Orval, & Spencer Abbey. The next section, The Brewing Monks: Almost Trappist, detailed some news about a few Trappist monasteries that are in the process of becoming full-fledged Authentic Trappist Product (ATP) breweries and a few that are producing beer but don’t qualify to use the ATP label. The next several parts will dive into the world of the other Monastic Breweries; the ones that belong to different monastic orders than the Trappists.
The first part of The Brewing Monks: The Benedictine Breweries (Part 1) explored the history and beers of Nursia, Andechs, Weltenburger, and The Monastery of Christ in the Desert. The second part will look at two more German monasteries with a long brewing tradition and two in the United States whose breweries haven’t opened yet.
Kloster Scheyern boasts the 3rd oldest continually operating (mostly) brewery in the world. The abbey is located north of Munich in the Bavarian countryside and has been a local fixture for nearly 1,000 years. From its earliest days, Scheyern was renowned as a writing school and had some of the best manuscripts available, many of which are preserved at the university in Munich. In addition, they were renowned for their teaching of art and science throughout their history. Scheyern, like the rest of Europe’s monasteries, didn’t escape the Napoleonic wars and reforms and was shut down in 1803 until it was revived by King Ludwig I in 1838. The brewery has been in operation since 1119. In 2006, they underwent a full renovation and upgraded their facilities to the standards of a modern brewery. They currently produce:
- Klosterbier Hell
- Klosterbier Dunkel
- Hopfazupfabier – A Marzen Fest beer
- Benediktus – A 11.5% ABV strong beer
- Christkindl Bier – A Christmas beer
Kloster Scheyern doesn’t appear to be imported into the United States at this point in time.
Ettal’s founding takes place during the turbulent time of the Avignon Papacy in which a succession of French popes moved and kept their seat of power in Avignon, France. Louis IV (Ludwig) of Bavaria who vied for and got the title of Holy Roman Emperor in spite of the Pope’s wishes was excommunicated in 1324. When Louis IV was pressing his claims in Italy and establishing himself as King of Italy he also set up his own pope, Antipope Nicholas V, while he was in Rome. On his return to Bavaria, he established the monastery at Ettal which lies at the border of Bavaria and Austria on the key route to Italy. The Benedictine abbey he established had a space for monks, nuns, and for Teutonic Knights, of which Louis was a protector. The abbey’s key location was established to help protect and encourage trade between Louis’s Bavarian and Italian holdings while the Teutonic Knights helped keep order.
After its founding, the events that occurred at Ettal followed the patterns of most of the monasteries of western and central Europe. They abbey went through periods of growth and retraction interspersed with fires and the various Protestant/Catholic wars until it was secularized in 1803 during the Napoleonic era. The abbey was sold into private hands and resold until the monks of Scheyern, with the backing of Theodore Baron von Kramer-Clett, reestablished Ettal as a Benedictine monastery. The abbey quickly reopened its school system which was again shut down due to World War II and then reopened in 1946.
Ettal’s brewery was founded in 1609, or rather their offsite brewing operations were moved onto the abbey grounds into a new brewery. The brewery, throughout its history, continued to grow and expand. However, unlike the rest of the abbey which was shut down in 1803, the brewery continued to operate in private hands. During this time, the brewery continued to be upgraded until the monastery was reestablished in 1900. The brewery quickly proved to be a key asset for the newly reestablished monastery. The monks continued developing and modernizing their brewery which allowed them export to most of western Europe. Today, the brewery is still successfully producing top quality beer brewed by the hands of monks. Their lineup includes:
- Ettaler Edel Hell – Helles Lager
- Ettaler Kloster Dunkel – Dunkel Lager
- Ettaler Kloster Curator – Dark Doppelbock
- Ettaler Heller Bock – Pale Bock
- Benediktiner – Weissbeir
The Ettaler beers are imported by B. United International.
Benediktiner is imported by Belukus Marketing. Benediktiner became so popular that they monks decided to collaborate with the family owned Bitburger brewery to produce the quantities that they couldn’t at the abbey. Thus, they are imported into the US via Bitburger’s importer.
Mt Angel Abbey has been a fixture in Oregon since its founding in 1882 when Benedictine monks from the Abbey of Engelberg in Switzerland arrived in the western US to found a new chapter. Along with the monastery, they founded a school and a seminary. While the school was eventually shut down due to the increased complications of running a modern educational system, the seminary is still very much active and hosts almost 200 students of various varieties, including those seeking to become priests and secular students working towards advanced degrees in theology.
Recently, the monks have been seeking new revenue streams to help fund the monastery and seminary. Naturally, being good Oregonians, they looked towards their monastic heritage and thought brewing might be a good enterprise to add to their repertoire. This makes a lot of sense since hops are grown on some of their lands. They’ve already developed a logo and name for the brewer: Benedictine Brewery. Currently, they’re in recipe development and will start off with a light beer and a dark beer with some seasonals making later appearances. From initial reports the beers will pay homage to Belgium with its strong monastic brewing tradition while also taking on the local flavor of Oregon beers. Currently, Alex Ganum of Portland’s Upright Brewing is helping the monks with their recipe formulation.
At this time, there is no beer to purchase, but you can buy brewery souvenirs from their onsite gift shop or the brewery’s website. The brewery should be producing beer by late 2014. Initially, they’ll only be selling their beer onsite. To this end, they’re installing a tasting room.
St. Mary’s Monastery – Petersham, Massachusetts (Est. 1985, Brewery Est. ?)
St. Mary’s is a new monastery in the scheme of things with just under 30 years of existence. They’re actually part of a twin community and share lands with St. Scholastic Priory, which is home to 9 Benedictine Nuns. Currently, they make some of their funds by selling various items through their gift shop, including Benedictine Balm which is a hand cream made by the monks. While there are no firm plans as of yet to institute a full commercial brewery, they have approached a few of the other American monasteries that brew.
They do, however, home brew quite frequently in 10 gallon batches. In 2012, Father Gregory even won 2nd place in the Garden Ale House’s home brew competition. 3 of the monks brew on brew days and an additional 2 help on bottling days. Right now they brew a blonde, a triple, and a Christmas ale for their own use. As of yet, there is no firm decision on when and if they will open a full commercial brewery, although it seems likely at this point.
Do You Know Any About Other Brewing Monasteries?
If you know about any Monasteries that are commercially making beer, please let me know via the Contact Me link here or at the top of the page. (As I find more, I’ll add them into the series). Even if the beer is only available at the monastery’s taproom, I’d like to know about it. The goal of this project is to catalog and highlight any monastery that’s brewing beer for sale to the outside public.
Great Beers of Belgium by Michael Jackson, (Brewers Publications, 2008)
brew like a monk by Stan Hieronymus, (Brewers Publications, 2005)
The Oxford Companion to Beer edited by Garret Oliver, (Oxford University Press, 2012)