Taste and Believe!


The history of beer is as robust as an imperial stout and has religious roots.  These generally date back to the sixth century when the monks at the Benedictine Brewery in Monte Cassino started brewing beer in the monastery founded by Benedict of Nursia.  Saint Benedict is also the originator of the Rule of St. Benedict.

Benedict of Nursia

As stated in a Jesuit Press article entitled  How Monks Revolutionized Beer and Evangelization,: 

“If you love beer, thank a monk.  Monks have been producing beer for 1,500 years, and in that time, they have revolutionized and perfected the beer making process.”

The Benedictine saints Bonifatius, Gregorius the Great, Adelbertus of Egmond and priest Jeroen van Noordwijk (Circa 1529-30)

Well, after more than five years of planning, constructing, training and testing,  Oregonians now have an opportunity to reap the fruits of that legacy in their own backyard.

The Benedictine Brewery is now brewing on site across from the hop fields on Mount Angel Abbey property in the City of Mt. Angel .

Abbot Jeremy Driscoll

The Brewery and the St. Michael Taproom were blessed by Abbot Jeremy Driscoll, OSB, in an inspirational ceremony on the afternoon of August 8th attended by monks, priests, seminarians, Abbey Hilltop employees and special guests.

Abbot Jeremy, an Idaho native was professed a monk in 1974, ordained as a priest in 1981 and elected the 12th Abbot of the Abbey in 2016.  The Abbey Monastery was founded in 1882 and the Seminary in 1889.

The ceremony commenced with Fr. Martin Grassel, OSB, who will be the General Manager of the Brewery and whose vision was the motivating force stated:

“Father Abbot, we ask a blessing on this building constructed for brewing beer, so we may live by the work of our hands bringing forth from nature and art, a drink we pray, will gladden hearts, bring friends together and lend them to the thankful praise of God.”

Abbot Jeremy and Fr. Martin at the Blessing Ceremony

The Timber Raising

Although planning for the Brewery commenced over five years ago and the monks have been brewing on a contract basis with Seven Brides Brewing of Silverton, the primary construction phase was marked by an old-fashioned barn or timber-raising last November. On that cloudy day, over one-hundred monks, seminarians and members of the Mt. Angel community gathered in the early morning.  

What began the day as a foundation and concrete pad ended up as a structural fame with six bents (two-dimensional transverse rigid frames and the building blocks that define the overall shape of a structure) using 14,000 board feet of Douglas Fir timber harvested from the Abbey tree farm.

To see pictures, video and read about that event see Thebeerchaser post:

https://thebeerchaser.com/2017/11/21/the-benedictine-brewery-beam-me-up/

The following video is one example of those shown in the aforementioned post.

 

The first prayer ceremony in the brewery.

Workers broke at noon for the first prayer service in the brewery, rather than the standard service in the beautiful Abbey Chapel.

Fr. Vincent Trujillo, OSB, led the service – which was “uplifting”– very consistent with the theme that day! The monks sang and were joined by the other participants.

Scrumptuous even without pigs stomarch…

We were rejuvenated by a delicious spread of barbecued chicken, baked beans, potato salad, fruit and green salad.  Missing from the traditional feast of historic barn raising in Amish and Mennonite communities was the standard main course – pig stomach!

What a wonderful collaborative effort that day.

 

Who Should Come to the Brewery and Taproom and Why?

With over 260 breweries in Oregon, most with taprooms, why should you visit the Benedictine?  That question is answered more thoroughly below, but one reason is that it is one of only three in the US in which monks are the owners and operators of the brewery. You have to travel to the wild Chama Canyon near Abiquiu, New Mexico for the closest to Mount Angel Abbey – that of Christ in the Desert Monastery.

Fr. Martin Grassel –

Fr. Martin as General Manager and Fr. Jacob Stronach, the Head Brewer will be guiding other monks who will assist in the brewing, bottling and maintenance of the equipment.  The beer will use locally sourced hops grown on Abbey land and water from the monks’ well.

Fr. Jacob briefing his colleagues on the brewing process

Fr. Martin is a University of North Dakota graduate in Computer Science who started his career in Phoenix as a software engineer for Honeywell Corporation before he got the call and made the trip to Mount Angel for seminary in 1995.

“Once I stepped across the threshold at Mount Angel, I knew I was home,”   His fascinating story can be viewed at

https://thebeerchaser.com/2017/07/26/father-martin-grassel-beerchaser-of-the-quarter/

The Environment

The brewery and taproom are in rural setting at the lower edge of the Abbey grounds and across from the hop fields.  A friend who is a noted NW architect and saw pictures of the taproom interior (not quite finished) and external shell responded with the following comment:

“The building looks splendid – adhering to the Benedictine principle of elegance through simplicity.  What a splendid project with which to be engaged – one in which rewards will precede heaven.”

Taproom as it nears completion

The interior of the taproom has a great Northwest ambiance – attractive wooden beams, community tables and benches.  There is a patio on the south end with picnic tables looking over the hop fields with the imposing steeple of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in downtown Mt. Angel in the background.

The magnificent steeple of St. Mary’s Catholic Church

And only a mile away, the Abbey Hilltop, overlooking Marion County farmland has an inspiring campus with the splendid chapel as the focus,

 

Besides the Chapel, there is a bookstore, museum which integrates art with natural history, a retreat center (guest house), seminary classrooms and dorms and a noted library:

“Housed in a world-renowned building …..the Mount Angel Abbey Library provides …. access to a large collection of books and other library material in a wide range of subjects including medieval manuscripts and rare materials from the Civil War.” (Abbey web site)

Library mezzanine

 

 

 

 

“It is one of only two buildings in the United States (the other is at MIT) designed by Alvar Aalto – one of the early giants of modern architecture. Completed in 1970, the library received the 2014 World Monuments Fund Award. Recently, Oregon architects voted it the second most iconic building in the state, after Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood.”  (Mount Angel Letter – Summer 2018)

The People

You and your family (including children) will find when you visit both the St. Michael Taproom and the Hilltop, that the Abbey Community including monks, seminarians and employees are a diverse, interesting and hospitable group.   And the people in the City of Mt. Angel are enthusiastic about this project and we expect them to be regular visitors to the taproom.

The Glockenspiel Restaurant will provide the food at the taproom ranging from chili, to pretzels to fondue and cheeses. As Fr. Martin said, “With Oktoberfest and a German heritage, this is a beer-loving town.”  (The St. Michael Taproom will be open to the public during Mt. Angel Oktoberfest, September 13 to 16, for tastings and tours and the Grand Opening will be September 22-3.)

The Mt. Angel Octoberfest Board at a Taproom preview event on the patio.

Br. Andre Love

The monks have come to the Monastery from all over the world with amazing backgrounds.   We already talked about Fr. Martin, but meet Br. Andre Love who is standing by the sign that he made which will hang on the outside of the brewery.

He is the Curator of the Abbey Museum, an artist who once owned a tattoo parlor and a talented designer who was a key figure in designing the Taproom.

Or you might raise a mug with Br. Bede Ramos who hails from the Philippines and  had a background in international human resources before he came to the Seminary.

Br. Bede with a bottle of Black Habit

And if you want to hear a marvelous southern drawl, just order a mug from the new Taproom Manager, Jennie Baxley, a Texas native who just drove across the country in her move from North Carolina to launch St. Michael.

She has a background in education and the hospitality industry and is shown in the picture below with Fr. Liem who is originally from Viet Nam – a monk for twenty-nine years.

The Beer

Initially, the number of beers will be limited to a certain extent as the Brewery ramps up production.  Taps will feature Belgian beers with NW hops including Black Habit – a smooth dark beer which has received an enthusiastic reception fom the brewing community and beer lovers. 

In addition, St. Benedict Farmhouse Ale and Haustus Pale Ale and Fr. Martin’s Helles Lager are some of the beers in the tap list still under development.  Cider (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and wine and root beer from Mount Angel will also be served.

The beer will be crafted in the brewing tradition that recognizes Saint Arnold of Metz, a Benedictine Monk who is known as the “Patron Saint of Brewers.”

“In medieval times, beer was an essential, as many places did not have access to clean drinking water. Arnold gladly brewed the beer for the local peasants and encouraged them to drink it instead of water”

St. Arnold of Soissons – Patron Saint…

He once said, “From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world.”

The People!!

This factor is worth restating as it will differentiate the Benedictine Brewery from others and also begs the question:

Is this a taproom where one has to be Catholic or have a religious bent to enjoy it and feel welcome.   Let’s look at the Brewery Guiding Principles authored by Fr. Martin:

“To say it should be a place of hospitality and welcome and family-friendliness would be too shallow. It should be a place where people are more than just welcome.

A place where they will feel blessed, where they will feel the peace of the Abbey, where they will encounter faith in an inviting and non-threatening way, where they will want to come back because of the spiritual atmosphere.” 

So how is that “blessing” imparted?  Fr. Martin goes on to state it is the feeling one will encounter there and leave with as exemplified: 

“By the greeting you receive.  The respect people are shown, the simplicity and the values encountered.  The presence of monks, priests and seminarians.  The peace of the Hilltop.  

The contemplative view of the hop fields.  The blessing of the taproom when it opens daily.  Having your personal items blessed if you make that request.”

You might even meet Abbey Jeremy, shown in the picture below toasting with Br. Anselm, from Bakersfield, California, who is one of four novices who one year ago made their simple vows (stability, conversion of life and obedience – essentially becoming junior monks).

And consider having Abbot Jeremy autograph one of the books he has written including The Monks Alphabet  – my absolute favorite and a wonderful read.

It’s a series of short essays with the Abbot’s own reflections on topics ranging from serious theology including his years spent teaching in Rome, to thoughts on literature to keenly observed moments in nature, to his unique experiences as a youngster.

The latter includes his adventures when he was nineteen – he and three friends had jobs as cowboys in New Mexico.  Fortunately, by then he had learned some lessons in life including how to avoid accidents:  “When I was five-years old, my brother and I burned our garage down.  It was a big accident.” 

So this fall, if you are taking a trip to nearby Silver Falls State Park, the Oregon Garden or just want to have an interesting and peaceful afternoon on the Abbey Hilltop, “tap” off your trip with a tour of the Benedictine Brewery and have a glass of Black Habit or one of the other Benedictine Beers.

Whether you meet Taproom Manager, Jennie Baxley, Fr. Martin, a resident of the Mt. Angel community, Br. Bede or someone who has traveled from Sacramento to see the wonders of Oregon, you will enjoy the fellowship and the beer.

(The video below is the Hilltop on the day of the St. Benedict Festival in July)

The Benedictine Brewery – “Beam” Me Up

The slab at the start of the day

On Saturday morning, November 11th, the future Benedictine Brewery and Taproom started as a concrete slab adjacent to the Mount Angel Abbey Hilltop, which is also the home of the Mount Angel Seminary.

By the end of the day, there was a structural frame with six bents ( two-dimensional transverse rigid frames and the building blocks that define the overall shape and character of a structure) using 14,000 board feet of Douglas Fir timber harvested from the Abbey tree farm.  And the next monumental step for this project – in the planning stages since 2012 – was taken.

Project Manager and Director of Enterprises, Chris Jones

Chris Jones, on the Abbey staff and a key player in the planning and construction, arrived at the site before the sun rose at 5:00 A.M. to contemplate what lay ahead for the almost one hundred volunteers.  They worked under the direction of the professionals from New Energy Works and participated in the modern-day equivalent of an old-fashioned barn raising. As Chris stated that day:

“This raising is a ton of right in a wrong-way world. Yeah, it fits right in with the mission of the brewery (support the Abbey, local charities and local economics), but it’s a lot more than that. It feels like making a change for good and right – one community step at a time.”  

A little over one-half mile away, the monks were participating in their first of five prayer services that day, before many of them would join the seminarians and residents of the City of Mt. Angel when the work started at 9:00 AM.  (The monks have “divine office” five times per day plus the Eucharist).

The beautiful chapel on the Abbey Hilltop

 

 

 

As inspiration, workers could see the impressive spire of the beautiful St. Mary’s Catholic Church visible through the Abbey’s adjacent hop fields.  (And Fr. Philip Waibel, OSB, pastor of the church was among those at the Timber Raising that day.)  The 350 acres of hops owned by the Abbey will be a source of the ingredients used in brewing Benedictine beer.

The steeple at St. Marys Catholic Church

 

The timber was milled through Hull-Oakes Lumber Company from Monroe – a family business founded in 1937 that specializes in cutting big timbers.

Another important firm which made the structure possible is Withers Lumber from Brooks – a family owned full service local lumber company with ties to Woodburn, Silverton and Mount Angel among other Oregon communities.

John Gooley, represented Withers (he’s worked there for forty-two years) that day and was a wealth of information.

A team effort by volunteers

To see the first bent raised by the group, check out the video I took below.  Remarkable!

John told me that there were 305 pieces of wood that were joined for the structure.  Besides the 14,000 for the structural components, another 11,000 board feet of lumber was used for the siding  and the tongue and grove boards for the top of the structure.  It will also be used for the actual bar in the Taproom.  It took seven truckloads of logs for the Brewery and Taproom and additional load that went in exchange to the plywood mill.  

Besides the source of the wood, there was another unusual aspect of the construction process:

“The timber was harvested, cut, dried, milled using mortise and tenon joinery, which is secured with wooden pegs — an age-old traditional craft — and prepared for a seamless, no-hammer, no-saw construction.”  http://www.capitalpress.com/Orchards/20171113/unique-brewery-raising-at-abbey

Mallets rather than hammers and nails….

The volunteers that day know that there labor will be “captured” in the structure for its duration based on the fact that all were encouraged by John Gooley to sign the pegs that secured the bents before they were put in place.  Thebeerchaser eagerly participated.

Thebeerchaser signing a peg

When completed in the spring of 2018, the 3,000 square foot Brewery and Taproom will house a five-barrel brewing system including boil kettles, burners, a heat exchanger, fermenters, chillers, bottle conditioners and related equipment such as siphons, pumps and hoses.

The building’s architect is Henry Fitzgibbon of Soderstrom, a leading Portland firm founded in 1984 and which has done work for many faith-based communities and educational institutions.  Henry donated many hours on the Brewery project and is one of the many skilled professionals without whose contributions this venture would not have been possible.  https://sdra.com/henry-fitzgibbon-2/

Henry Fitizgibbon

Conceptual drawing of finished Brewery and Taproom

In fact, Fitzgibbon’s most recent project has been designing a basilica for the tiny village of Kibeho, in southern Rwanda, after being approached by author Immaculee Ilibagiza; who saw work he had performed in Mount Angel at the Abbey.  http://sdra.com/interview-with-henry-fitzgibbon/

This blog has previously featured the remarkable story of Father Martin Grassel, O.S.B., the Head Brewer at Benedictine and under whose vision this project has come to fruition.  Father Martin, who is also Procurator (essentially the Chief Financial Officer) at the Abbey was featured as the most recent Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter.

Father Martin with his current on-site brewing equipment at the historic Abbey “fort.”

He is a remarkable man with a unique story and background as a software engineer before his journey of faith and service brought him to the Mount Angel Abbey

https://thebeerchaser.com/2017/07/26/father-martin-grassel

Notwithstanding the almost continuous showers during the previous week the sun shone brightly in the morning as the work started.  And the video below shows the remarkable process for raising each bent.  (It may also be one of the few times you see monks wearing hard hats and jeans rather than their traditional black habits,) 

New Energy Works, which has offices or shops in McMinnville, Portland and two locations in New York, conducts these public raisings all over the country – from private residences to barns to larger commercial buildings and they usually draw a crowd. And what a dynamic and environmentally conscious company it is.

They co-designed the building and designed the first layout and timber frame.

Father Martin – right – with the Jonathan Orpin from New Energy

As you will see from the video below in which the largest timber section – 80 feet in length, requiring forty workers  was raised, Jonathan Orpin, the President of New Energy was the equivalent of land-based coxswain for his “crew” team.  His enthusiasm and energy was inspiring to all present.

 

New Energy even supplied a drone to memorialize the action that day.  You should check out the video below for a “start-to-finish aerial view. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psEJsPahTfM&t=130s

Cab Construction of Mt. Angel was the general contractor and Chris Bischoff, the owner, was at the raising all day working both on the ground and in the rafters…..

Cab Construction – the general contractor

That day was also the occasion of the first prayer in the Benedictine Brewery and Taproom – held at noon before we ate and in lieu of the standard noon-day prayer in the wonderful Abbey chapel.  Fr. Vincent Trujillo, O.S.B., the Prior of the Abbey,  led the service which was “uplifting” – very consistent with the theme that day!   The monks sang and were joined by the other participants.  See the video below:

 

At noon, in the tradition of historic barn raisings, there was a feast for the workers and attendees, prepared under the direction of the Abbey’s Chef Paul Lieggi.  His spread of delicious barbecued chicken, baked beans, potato salad and green salad boosted the energy and spirits of the workers.

Chef Paul prepares…but not pig stomach…..

Research on the menu for historic barn raisings revealed that the traditional menu was often slightly different than ours that day, most notably for the main course.  In Amish and Mennonite communities Pig Stomach was often the main course at these events.  In case you want to try this yourself: 

“Remove the inner lining of the stomach and discard. Wash stomach well and than soak in salt water several hours. Drain and fill stomach with stuffing. Sew securely.

Use recipe for filling……Place stuffed stomach in a large roasting pan and bake at 350 for 3 hours. Serve with gravy made by adding flour and water to drippings in roasting pan.”  http://oldfashionedliving.com/barnraising.html

Although there are goats and sheep raised on Abbey property, fortunately pigs are not part of the livestock……

Beer expert and volunteer, Jeff Alworth

There were a number of print and social media reps and there covering the event.  One of them is a well-known Northwest beer expert and writer, Portland’s Jeff Alworth, who first wrote about plans for the Benedictine Brewery back in 2014 in his excellent blog – Beervana.  Jeff was there for the entire day with a hard hat on and actively participating.

His books include The Secret of Master Brewers and his award-winning comprehensive guide to beer, The Beer Bible. Jeff also writes a weekly column for All About Beer Magazine and co-hosts the Beervana Podcast, where he and Oregon State University economics professor Patrick Emerson discuss beer and the economics of beer.

The Benedictine saints Bonifatius, Gregorius the Great, Adelbertus of Egmond and priest Jeroen van Noordwijk (Circa 1529-30)

The legacy of Benedictine beer goes back to the Middle Ages:

““….when local water supplies were rife with disease, monks brewed beer as a way to sanitize the water and also produce a libation to serve guests who sought refuge….Beer was an important part of their diets, particularly because it could be consumed as a source of nourishment during Lenten feasts.”  (Catholic Sentinel 2/21/14)

The Benedictine Brewery at Mount Angel will be the first monastery west of the Mississippi, and one of only two or three in the US, that does its development, major production, and taproom service on-site, with monks doing the brewing and running their own operation.

And the vision for this venture transcends the goal of making quality beer.  As Father Martin eloquently wrote in a recent missive:

” To say it should be a place of hospitality and welcome and family-friendliness would be too shallow.  I want it to be a place where people are more than just welcome:  I want a place where they will feel blessed, where they will feel the peace of the Abbey, where they will encounter faith in an inviting and non-threatening way, where they will want to come back because of the spiritual atmosphere.” 

Although the on-site brewery will not be completed until March, the Benedictine Brewery already has a record of producing great beer although much of it is done on a contract basis through nearby Seven Brides Brewery in Silverton.  (Some of us chuckle at the irony of monks brewing at Seven Brides)!

The flagship beer is appropriately named “Black Habit”, and has sold out multiple times at the Mount Angel Octoberfest.  Another of the beers garnering good reviews is the St. Benedictine Farmhouse Ale.  Black Habit was first brewed with the help of the Oregon State University Fermentation Program.  (Go Beavs!)

It is hoped that people traveling to the Taproom to taste the Benedictine Beer will also visit the Abbey Hilltop – a place of beauty and hospitality founded in 1882 and with a noted museum, expansive library and great bookstore.  

And for a memorial experience, attend Vespers – almost every day of the year at 5:15 where you will be inspired by hearing the monks sing.  Thebeerchaser is not of the Catholic faith, but has valued each time I sit in the beautiful chapel for this service.

And until the Taproom opens next spring, don’t hesitate to stop by the Bookstore and pick up a case of Black Habit or one of the other Benedictine beers on sale.  It will bring new meaning to the Brewery’s slogan –  “Taste and Believe.”

Thebeerchaser’s Note:   As followers of this blog know, I started Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs in August 2011, (with the blessing of my spouse of 38 years, Janet) after retiring as the Chief Operating Officer at the Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt firm where I worked for twenty-five years of my career.

 

 

 

 

I became involved with the Benedictine Brewery about eighteen months ago as a member of the Brewery Advisory Committee at the invitation of its chair, Stephen Zimmer.

After getting to know the people in the Abbey and its Foundation and given the unique story and mission of the Brewery, I decided to take a more active volunteer role in helping to set up the business operations until a general manager is hired in four to six months.   This project is the epitome of a collaborative effort of individuals, companies and the Mt. Angel community.I chuckle at some of the similarities between the law firm and the monastery.   Both are wonderful organizations, filled with intelligent, passionate individuals devoted to their profession and both organizations are consensus-based in making decisions.   The primary difference is that lawyers do not wear habits and don’t get up at 5:00 AM and pray in church six times each day!

 

Father Martin Grassel Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter

Father Martin Grassel, O.S.B., is a monk who lives at Mount Angel Abbey, his residence for the last eighteen years.   He is the Abbey’s Procurator – the equivalent of the Chief Financial Officer and has responsibilities for technology, human resources, food services, facilities and financial management of the monastery and seminary located on a beautiful hilltop setting about twelve miles from Salem, Oregon.

But this man of faith with a quiet charisma has additional responsibilities which occupy his day – he is the lead brewer for the Benedictine Brewery, a small five-barrel operation starting up at the Abbey and for which there are exciting plans In the near future (see below).

The monks at  Mount Angel start their day with a 5:20 A.M. prayer service – one of six they attend throughout the day.  But Father Martin typically awakens between 2:00 and 3:00 A.M.

The monastery was founded in 1882 and its seminary in 1889.   Mount Angel is the oldest and largest seminary west of the Mississippi and the only such institution to have both a college and graduate school with a 2017 graduating class of 62. 

On this day, Father Martin is checking on his latest batch of English Pale Ale.  He checks the fermentation temperature and carbonation level to ensure the quality he demands and measures the specific gravity of the wort (or finished beer) with a hydrometer, while also making sure the fittings and hoses of the brewing equipment in one of the Abbey buildings are in good order. 

The attention to detail that yields a consistent and high quality beer and his appreciation for math and science are the same attributes that made this 1985 Computer Science graduate from the University of North Dakota, a skilled software developer for Honeywell Corporation in Phoenix when he was in his twenties.  Instead of technical brewery metrics, he was then working with flow charts, data modeling, embedded systems programming and gap analysis.

Father Martin is this blog’s second 2017 Beerchaser-of-the Quarter and the “honor” is richly deserved.  He joins the “elite”  list started on this blog five years ago which now includes writers, military heroes, academicians and even the crew of the USS Constitution for their “legendary” war cruise in 1798.

Although this is a blog about bars and beer, a number of these individuals have nothing to do with my favorite beverage – they are just interesting individuals who have made worthwhile contributions to society and have a good story which should be told.  Father Martin fits both categories.

The late Brian Doyle at the Fulton Pub

Past recipients include authors such as Portland’s own Brian Doyle (Mink River and The Plover), Princeton Professor Emeritus, Dr. Harry Frankfurt (On Bullshit), athletes such as former All-coast and then NFL tackle, Craig “The Dude” Hanneman and Viet Nam veterans and heroes, Jud Blakely, Doug Bomarito and Steve Lawrence.

(To see the narratives for this distinguished group, go up to the blog header and click on the tab entitled “Beerchaser-of -the-Month or Quarter.”)

The Chapel at the Abbey

Father Martin comes from a North Dakota family of four-children that was not a church-attending group.  He became involved in his parish in Phoenix after college graduation.   Although he tried to ignore the inclination, the divine pull to the ministry persisted – he considers Psalm Sunday in 1992 as his “faith anniversary,” and he enrolled at the Mt. Angel Seminary in 1995.

His intent was to return to Phoenix once he completed his formation for the priesthood.  That plan changed, however.  During his time in the seminary he felt attracted to the monastery.  “Once I stepped across the threshold at Mount Angel, I knew I was home,” says the mild mannered and friendly monk who made his final vows in 2003 and was ordained as a priest the next year.

Home……looking out over the beautiful countryside from the Abbey grounds

So what piqued his interest in beer and what’s in store for the Benedictine Brewery in the future?

“I was not a fan of beer in college or afterwards,” says Father Martin.  He did not drink soda or wine either.  

The monks occasionally have refreshments and appetizers before the main meal) and at a 2006 Haustus gathering of the monks (Haustus comes from the Latin verb meaning “to draw up” or “drink.” ) he tried Deschutes Black Butte Porter.  He liked it and later acquired a taste for other Deschutes Brewery beers.

He took an interest in the chemistry and production of beer.   “Beer stuck in my mind.  I’m an engineer.  What goes into making good beer and do I have the skills to accomplish that?” 

After all, brewing is a tradition with monks that goes back to eighth century in Europe:

The Benedictine saints Bonifatius, Gregorius the Great, Adelbertus of Egmond and priest Jeroen van Noordwijk (Circa 1529-30)

 “….when local water supplies were rife with disease, monks brewed beer as a way to sanitize the water and also produce a libation to serve guests who sought refuge….Beer was an important part of their diets, particularly because it could be consumed as a source of nourishment during Lenten feasts.”  (Catholic Sentinel 2/21/14)

There was no thought of “home” brewing, or I guess we should say “Abbey brewing.”  Then about five years ago, a friend of the Abbey offered to donate some beer equipment to the monks to which the initial answer was “No thanks.”

Father Martin adjusting the hoses

But after some reconsideration, the donated beer equipment became Father Martin’s experiment.   He read the book, How to Brew:  Everything You Need to Know to Brew Beer Right the First Time, and made his first batch in the kitchen of a friend’s house.

He started brewing at the Abbey and there were many mistakes – “Once the hoses blew off the chiller and there was beer spraying all over the room.”  However, he persevered and made a batch of Pale Ale and “The monks liked it!”

In his role as Procurator, Father Martin and the leaders of the Abbey had been contemplating additional revenue sources to supplement the Abbey’s income.  A tree farm, press and saw mill which had been part of the Abbey’s revenue stream were all declining or gone.  And there had been some, albeit not unanimous prior interest by the monks in furthering the monastic tradition of brewing.

After all, hops have been grown on the  Abbey owned acreage adjacent to the monastery since the 1880s.   A long list of potential revenue sources was developed to present during a community meeting.  Father Martin’s new hobby was last on the list.  “That was one thing I was sure would not fly,” Father Martin said.  (Catholic Sentinel – 2/21/2014)

Soon afterward, a stainless steel ten-barrel system was donated to the Abbey and the Benedictine Brewery became a reality with Father Martin as the lead brewer.  Initially, much of the brewing was done through contracts with Seven Brides and Upright Breweries with assistance from the Oregon State University Fermentation Science Program.   Father Martin was impressed and pleased with the collegiality of the brewing community.

Contract brewing at Seven Brides

Consistent with his education and training, Father Martin employs the scientific approach to brewing which is necessary to have the consistency for producing quality beer.

He remembers his early days at seminary when the students critiqued their colleagues’ sermons and he stated, “Beer is like learning to preach.  You either like a homily or you don’t.   What about the beer do you like and why?  Make that determination and then pay attention to what you like.”

Two bottled beers (Black Habit – dark and St. Benedict – light) were developed and tested and have become popular and garnered good reviews from sales in the Mount Angel book store. The Mt. Angel Octoberfest requested Black Habit, where it has sold out the last two years.

The Benedictine Brewery and Taproom seating about fifty will open in early 2018.  It will be located adjacent to the Abbey next to the hop fields and be the site of regular events involving the Mt. Angel community and those who travel to the Abbey to visit the beautiful grounds on which the seminary is located.

The Brewery’s motto is appropriate – “Taste and Believe.”  Father Martin reflects, “This started as a revenue project, but it has become an evangelization project……..(It) has been inspired by God.”  (Catholic Sentinel)

Don’t be surprised to see some home-grown artwork displayed in the taproom.  This man of many talents has another avocation — mosaic work.  He was inspired by the mosaics he found in Italian churches when he studied in Rome, and now he enjoys the detailed work required.

Thirty mosaics have been produced by the Procurator and a number have been sold in the Abbey book store and they also decorate Father Martin’s office.  Those you see here are two of his favorites.

Cecelia – a companion of fourteen years

And if you see Father Martin walking the Abbey grounds, you might also notice his companion of fourteen years – his cat, Cecelia:

“There are a lot of feral cats in Rome and I took comfort feeding some of them.  I was the only one they would approach.  Feral or abandoned cats roam our grounds, too, one of which was Cecelia.  I started feeding her and she adopted me.”  

I was privileged recently, to hear Father Martin make a presentation on Benedictine Spirituality – essentially analyzing the concepts of prayer and asceticism – a disciplined effort to live for God.   The purpose of humanity is to seek God and what sets the monk apart is seeking the vision of God in this life rather than waiting until heaven.

The training and lifestyle of monks is to promote sanctification – reading and meditation inspires a personal dialogue with God and then contemplation, which helps one discern a lot about himself and who God is.  Ascetic practices include celibacy, work, personal poverty and moderation in speech, eating and sleep.

His lecture evidenced his great dry sense of humor.  “Some observing the Liturgy of the Hours may conclude, ‘This is just a bunch of guys in funny robes with mediocre voices trying to be a choir,’ but it’s truly the body of Christ glorifying God.”

I am pleased and honored to be a member of the Benedictine Brewery Advisory Committee and look forward to the opening of the Brewery and tap room.   (The other committee members, besides Father Martin and me, are Stephen Zimmer – chair, John Limb, Les Fahey, and Chris Brown and Jodi Kilcup of the Abbey staff as ex-officio members).

As our newest Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter so aptly states, “The Brewery has inspired us.  God wants us to use the gifts he has given.”  

A tapestry at the Abbey

Stay tuned for updates on this project and if you want to try Black Habit (or buy a great looking t-shirt) contact the Mount Angel Abbey bookstore.  Or come and visit the Abbey, which has a marvelous museum and library besides being located in a beautiful and idyllic setting.

Mount Angel Abbey Bookstore and Coffee Shop  

503-845-3345