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)

Beerchaser Miscellany – What’s up in Bars, Breweries, Etc.?

The Benedictine Brewery

After over five years of planning and months of construction, the monks at the Benedictine Brewery are close to fulfilling the vision at the Mount Angel Abbey.  I’ve worked as a volunteer on this wonderful project  for the last two years. It will be one of only two breweries west of the Mississippi in which the monks are the owners and operators – the other being that located near Albuquerque, at the Christ in the Desert Benedictine Monastery.

Fr. Martin Grassel

Father Martin Grassel, will be the General Manager and Fr. Jacob Stronach, the Head Brewer.   The Grand Opening of the St. Michael Taproom will occur on September 22nd, shortly after the Mt. Angel Oktoberfest and you should plan to visit and raise a mug of their flagship beer – Black HabitOr if you are not a fan of dark beer, try the superb Benedictine Farmhouse Pale Ale.  Fr. Martin was Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter in July, 2017. 

The picture above shows the facility as it draws closer to completion.  It has evolved from the remarkable Community Timber Raising ceremony in November at which over 100 monks, seminarians and community members helped erect the frame of the building from what started out as only the concrete foundation.  Some amazing videos of the event are included in the post below:

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

Benedictine Brewery hardware ready to go….

The Dynamic World of Bars and Breweries.

The world of bars and breweries is ever changing.  Fortunately, when we hear about bars closing, one will concurrently learn about new establishments – usually breweries, opening either in the former location as was the case with former Oregon Duck football star Joey Harrington’s Pearl Tavern (see below).

Backwoods – thriving in Carson and now in the Pearl

Successful enterpreneurs, Steve and Tom Waters, the owners and operators of the Backwoods Brewery and Taproom in Carson, Washington since 2012, will launch their new Pearl District pub in the vacated quarters at NW Everett and 11th.  The Waters are both University of Portland grads and great people.  Check out the new operation.

A loss to Portland is one of the first three bars I visited when I started Thebeerchaser Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs in August 2011 – the Ash Street Saloon.   A Willamette Week article entitled, “From Ashes to Ash Street,” describes the unique place this bar played in the Portland music scene before its December 2017 closing:

Gone but not Forgotten

“When tales are told of the downtown ‘rock blocks’ that once cultivated a burgeoning music scene, the Ash Street Saloon often doesn’t take center stage…..But soldiering on for decades with genre’ spanning live acts 365 days a year served a function just as vital – and one we suspect, far harder to replace.” 

The Copper Penny – a dive but with an interesting history

Other closures in the last eighteen months or so include the Lompoc Hedge House, BTU Brasserie, the Commons and the historic Copper Penny in Lents – now a high rise surrounded by new development.

But new locations of existing breweries such as Sasquatch, Migration, Storm Breaker, Baerlic and Great Notion ensure that Portlanders will never lack for great locations to drink good beer.

And there are creative bars such as Fido’s, which according to Willamette Week purports to be the “world’s first dog tap house.” It opened last February in Tigard and “is part 40-tap beer bar and part dog rescue shelter with a playroom filled with six adoptable dogs…”

This brings back memories of Thebeerchaser’s 2014 visit to Sniff Cafe in NW Portland in which I reported:

If you stop in for a glass of beer or wine during Happy Hour….you get a $1 discount on beer and wine plus your pooch gets a free romp in the pet indoor play area – even getting occasional personal attention by one of their attendants.  You also get to view not only your pooch, but the other dogs cavorting in this puppy plan pen.”  

And while I am not generally a fan of retail establishments such as sports shop and especially Starbucks, ill-fated effort to substitute for the traditional neighborhood watering hole, I think two Portland establishments with this model deserve a visit.

From Music Millenium Facebook page

One is Portland icon, Music Millennium – the oldest record store in the Pacific NW, operating since 1969 and after having some challenges with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, added beer and wine in 2015 to its amazing collection of recordings sold in all formats in their Burnside store.

And after a quick call, I was pleased to talk to an amiable chap on a Sunday evening, who told me that they currently had three beers on tap – all of them excellent from three outstanding Oregon breweries – Barley Brown’s, Boneyard and Pfriem.

So if you want to pick up (or sell) an historic or fabled music item such as the two in my collection of ’78’s and ’33 RPM albums (see pictures) check them out and have a micro-brew while you’re there.

A classic Big Band 78 RPM collection

The second retail establishment that looks interesting is also music-related –  Strum.  This is not the brewery in Ontario, California, but the vintage guitar shop and wine/beer bar on SE Stark Str.

As a Willamette Week article stated shortly after their opening earlier this summer, “If a guitar is the vehicle for rock music, then beer is the fuel.”  (It has four micro-brew taps.)

Now these niche-type establishments have a place and deserve support, but Thebeerchaser harkens back to the neighborhood pub or dive bar for true ambiance.  (Recent Beerchaser examples include The Standard, Mock Crest Tavern,  or T.C. O’Leary’s or Gil’s Speakeasy just to name a few in Portland.

The Mock Crest in North Portland

Of course, then you have the Old Oregon Saloon or The Sportsman Pub and Grub on the coast or Lumpy’s Landing in Dundee.  But don’t forget … I could go on and on….!!  (Click on the name of the establishment above to see Thebeerchaser’s review.)

A Dundee classic!

An April, 2018 Willamette Week article entitled, “Bubble Bobble – After a Record Year of Closures, Craft Breweries are Rethinking Some Things”  sums up the trend well:

“…beer geeks (are) wondering if the craft bubble has finally burst…..The answer might be to freshen up your direct-to-consumer roots, like all the local beer bars that have recently remodeled….. 

One of such establishments that has done it right is Old Town Brewing – in its brewery and pub on NE Martin Luther King Blvd.

Old Town Brewing in N.E. Portland – sparkling, but feels like home.. Stay tuned for the review….

“Rather than expanding distribution, younger breweries…..are opening new locations to meet customers in person and compete as local watering holes…..Why shouldn’t breweries be more like coffee shops and local taverns instead of cold manufacturing spaces?”   

The Portland BrewBarge

Thebeerchaser’s first experience on a mobile bar (as contrasted to the similar sensation in college described as the “Blind Whirley’s”…) was in 2014 on the Portland Pedalounge. Lloyd, the owner and “driver” took us on a great trip through the streets of SE Portland, stopping for brewskis at several bars and breweries along the way.   

The crew with our fearless leader, Lloyd…

My friends and I really enjoyed this trip – and Lloyd was a kick.  All of us would recommend it.

The second “bar in motion” experience was last week on the Portland BrewBarge.   Unlike the Pedalounge or this company’s equivalent BrewCycle where you drink at stops along the way, you can enjoy a beer while “pedaling” the boat or just relaxing on your leisurely 90-minute cruise up and then back down the Willamette River – either with your own beer or what you purchase from them.

All Aboard!

My son-in-law, Ryan Keene and I joined two of my favorite lawyers – Brien Flanagan and Carson BowlerEnvironmental Law partners at Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt, where I worked for twenty-five years before retiring.

Ryan and Thebeerchaser

The BrewBarge was an outing for Summer Associates (law school students who clerk at the firm) and a few graduates who had finished the Oregon Bar Exam that afternoon and were understandably ready to slake their thirst.

Captain Eric in yellow shirt) brief his crew..

Note:  It was nice to be floating on the surface of the beautiful Willamette and Brien, Carson and I did not talk about the DEQ, the EPA or the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services.   I also took comfort in a recent article I read in an OPB post (6/17/18) which based on their research with the aforementioned agencies asserted:

“A person would have to spend a very long time in the river – like hundreds of years – or be exposed to much high concentrations of heavy metals, industrial compounds, flame retardants, agriculture chemicals and pharmaceuticals to reach the level of exposure health officials worry about.”

Contemplating the hazards of PBR

(Carson opined that the likelihood of me having an adverse reaction was more probable based on drinking PBR than exposure to the aforementioned toxins…)

Captain Eric, a Wilson High School alum, and Eric Johnson, who was the deckhand, after advising us on safety procedures (given the number of lawyers on board, I assume this was more extensive than their standard spiel.)  headed north and the young guys and gals peddled while downing beer which was mostly bottled IPA’s.

Good view of the bridges with Eric Johnson and Brien in the foreground

I sat on the far aft bench with my two friends and downed two canned PBRs – it doesn’t get any better, especially since Brien – who got his law degree at prestigious Georgetown Law after graduating from Notre Dame – reminded me in light of Oregon State’s recent ignominious football record, how the Beavs cleaned the Irish’s clock 41 to 9 in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl.

Captain Eric had worked there since the inception three years ago and business has been good for the owners who started the Portland venture after a successful run of the concept in Savannah Georgia.

Great view of the USS Blueback – SS 581 – at OMSI

It’s quite reasonable and the cost is only $35 per person unless you take the 90-minute sail on Friday or Saturday when its $40.  Bring your own beer to save on expense and enjoy the great views of the Willamette.

A Trusted Resource Goes Wrong at least for Thebeerchaser…

Speaking of local watering holes that feel like home (NOT!) my usually trusted resource Willamette Week hit it wrong on a recent recommendation.

The Happy Fortune on Barbur Blvd. had shifted its focus from dining to drinking and I checked it out with a friend.   WW asserted that:

“….Happy Fortune juggles an oddly congenial hotpot of upscale transients, Lewis & Clark undergrads, amiable suburbanites drinking through the commute, and an enviable corps of die-hard regulars.”

Well perhaps that’s true and to be fair, we only made one, rather than the customary two or more visits, but I will not return.  

The selection of beers was not great, (I had a bottled Tsingtao) but the weekday afternoon, we were there, had no ambiance – either in the environment, staff or regulars and just did not hit the mark in my opinion.  It seemed like an old and worn restaurant turned bar.  My fortune that day was not a happy one!