Holy Spirits: Monks as Brewmasters around the World
Hoppier Than Thou
Brewmasters who make their own beer pursue their passion to craft original blends of hops, wheat, barley or other grains. Although any part of the globe with a beermaking tradition is bound of have its share of dedicated brewers, for a handful of breweries around the world, the craft of making beer truly is part of a higher calling. You see, the brewmasters to which I am referring are not simply doing their life's work, but rather God's work by crafting beer.
A Taste for Invention
A monastery might not seem like a natural fit for a brewery, but monks have all the traits of a successful craft brewer: patience, dedication and care. Many orders have centuries-old traditions of making beer, wine and other spirits. In fact, monks were responsible for the inventing champagne. (That’s right: The drink most often associated with high society was in fact first craft by a humble monk.) Monks are also credited with developed Bénédictine, a liqueur similar to brandy created by the Benedictine order at Fécamp Abbey in Normandy, France.
Brewing a Better Beer
Monastic breweries had their heyday during the medieval era, when hundreds of breweries across Europe. In many ways, monks are responsible for creating the tradition of crafting flavorful and pleasant-tasting beers. Prior to their appearance, beermaking was primarily the task of bakers and homemakers who were working with the same grains to craft bread as they would beer.
Meet the Trappists
Not every monastery is a brewery of course, but those that do create their own beers have earned a reputation for excellence. The most famous religious celebrated for their beers is the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, better known as the Trappists. For over 400 years, Trappist monks have been perfecting their craft.
Although they have around 170 locations around the globe, seven abbeys in Belgium and the Netherlands are the most well known given their on-site breweries. Visitors are welcome to sample the beverages, though they should be aware that the monks have taken a vow of silence that discourages language and laughter. In other words, even though travelers can expect to taste some of finest craft beers in the world, these abbeys are by no means bars or casual hang-outs. And you might also want to take it slow: Trappist brews can have twice as much alcohol content as typical brews.
A Higher Calling
Trappist monks are not only skilled brewers but also shrewd businessmen. To protect their name against brewers who might try to trade under the Trappist reputation, the monks formed a professional association to protect their brand. The International Trappist Association, which is composed of 16 monasteries according to the organization's website, even developed a logo that's a kind of seal of approval for their products.
The Trappists aren't the only group of monks with a talent for making beer. The Benedictine order certainly didn’t stop with inventing new kinds of alcohol but also has several monasteries still brewing beer today. At the Andechs Abbey in Germany, monks are behind not only the beer but also the food served to travelers, common German fare including sauerkraut, giant pretzels and an assortment of meats.
Try This at Home
Not everyone, however, can hop on a plane simply for a beer, however. For those of us who won’t be making that trip, these monasteries make their brews available for purchase in stores around the world.