This is a special edition of The Brewing Monks. When you run across an interesting story that needs more than the cursory entry into the series’s list of brewing monasteries, you should give it the special attention it deserves. The story of Kloster Mallersdorf‘s brewmaster is one such story. Sister Doris Engelhard occupies a truly rare position in the world of brewing. She’s one of the few active members of a cloistered order that actively works in their own abbey’s brewery. In today’s world, most of the day-to-day labor of brewing is done by laypeople with the monks only participating in a supervisory role. What makes Sister Doris that much more special is that she’s the world’s only brewing nun.
Kloster Mallersdorf, located south of Regensburg in central Bavaria, started its life as a Benedictine monastery in the 12th Century CE until it was closed during Napoleon’s secularization in 1803. It lay dormant until the Sisters of the Order of the Poor Clare, a Franciscan order of Nuns, purchased the land in 1869 and began the work of reviving the abbey. Twelve years later they opened their brewery to provide a “pure and nutritious drink” for the sisters and those who lived around the abbey. The brewing of beer has provided both a beverage for the inhabitants and an extra income stream for 135 years. And during all that time, the nuns of Mallersdorf brewed that beer.
There are a maybe a handful of monks and nuns around the world who have the training and inclination to work in a modern brewery. As the number of monks and nuns dwindle, almost none of them are brewers or interested in seeking the training to run the brewery in a hands-on way. Today’s modern monastic brewery is much like any brewery anywhere in the world: a modern operation with up-to-date equipment brewing on a regular schedule. With few monks and even fewer young monks, it’s simply easier to allow the operation of the brewery to be handled by secular brewers. The monks control the business and direction of the brewery, but all the operations are handled by employees of the abbey. This allows the brewery to operate with a sense of continuity that grants the monks time to spend in their contemplations and other duties instead of the day-to-day backbreaking labor of brewing.
Sister Doris Engelhard is one of those rare exceptions. Her brewing career started when she was selected by Brauschwester (Brewsister) Lisana to lead the brewery after her. Sister Doris was sent off to brewing school. Initially she’d wanted to study agriculture to work on the lands of the abbey. She’d never even drank beer prior to enrolling in school. After the first less than enjoyable taste, she quickly came to love beer. “There’s nothing better,” she says to interviewer Christopher Renzikowski¹ when asked about the aroma of hops and malt.
Klosterbrau Mallersdorf produces 3,000 hectoliters of beer annually with 18% of production going directly to the sisters and their employees. The rest is sold in their Beirgarten or in shops and cafes around Regensburg and the abbey. She brews with the quality of the beer first and foremost as a goal. After 6 weeks of aging, longer than most breweries undertake, the beer is packaged with pasteurization of any sort. This leads to a product of ultimate freshness with limited shelf-life. If you want to drink Sister Doris’s beer, you’ll have to travel to central Bavaria to do it. This year, 2016, marked the 500th Anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot & Sister Doris’s 67th birthday. She’s still not ready to retire, despite German federally mandatory retirement ages, but she’s hoping to find a successor to carry on her legacy and keep her abbey a Monastic Brewery.
“Everyone wants a monastic beer, but they won’t enter a monastery.¹”
- ¹ – Quote from this article with corrections from the translation for understandability