On Monks and Beer – a Long History

It Appears that People are Taking the Motto “Taste and Believe” Seriously

Followers of this blog know that I was involved in the latter stages of planning for the Benedictine Brewery and St. Michael Taproom on the beautiful grounds of the Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary near Salem, Oregon. 

It opened in the fall of 2018 and Fr. Martin Grassel – a former Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter, as the Head Brewer, has built a strong reputation for his beers, which expanded from the original flagship, Black Habit, and now number nine on tap and have a loyal following.

Notwithstanding the lockdowns when the Taproom was closed for months in 2020, the Brewery has done extremely well and has become a popular regional destination brewery 

Fr. Martin recently brewed his first IPA – “Hairshirt.”  I had the pleasure of sharing a pint of this with him and Fr. Timothy Kalange at the Taproom.  Fr. Timothy is enjoying a pint of Hairshirt IPA below. (7.1 ABV – 56 IBU).  It has now become my favorite Benedictine beer – beautiful appearance, inviting aroma and a nice slightly bitter, fruity taste.

The Taproom is impressive and inviting and on some occasions, a chance to interact with seminarians and monks over a mug.   The Brewery recently expanded its covered patio in the beautiful setting overlooking the Abbey’s hop fields.  Plan a visit.  This is the only location at which you can purchase Benedictine Beer, besides the Abbey Book Store

Of course, the entire Abbey Hilltop is worth spending an afternoon visiting.  Its Library – not only known for its distinctive design by noted Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, but as the repository for many original manuscripts from the Abbey’s collection of rare books and art, is fascinating.

The Romanesque-style Abbey Church is a thing of beauty and the renovated Guesthouse and Retreat Center welcomes people of all faiths to come and spend time in prayer and quiet reflection.  For a better idea of what can be seen, check out this Hilltop Walking Tour link.

Speaking of Taste and Believe…..

I’ve recently read some of the works of St. Augustine and was fascinated by the story of this remarkable Catholic theologian who lived from 354 to 430 AD.   He was brilliant even in his youth, although a wayward boy and young adult. 

During this period he was enamored by the carnal and intoxicating pleasures in life including alcohol and mistresses.   His conversion story is fascinating and  he went on to become one of history’s great theologians.

“For thirty four years, he lived in this monastic community (one that he founded in Africa).  He wrote a vast number of books and became known for his eloquence, logic and spirit.  These three combined to make Augustine one of the most significant thinkers in the history of the Christian Church.  (Page 52 –Devotional Classics

Intrigued by the account of his doctrinal contributions and the manner in which his life changed, I did some supplemental research and found that he was also known as a Patron Saint of Brewers.

I mentioned this in an e-mail to Fr. Martin and that based on this information, wondered if would consider naming one of his new beers “St. Augustine.”   (Since I’m Protestant, I didn’t think he would seriously consider my other suggestion of “Reformation Red Ale.”)

Fr. Martin, is an incredibly wise and learned man on everything from theology to brewing, to financial analysis (he is the Procurator (CFO) for the monastery and seminary, to engineering (a 1985 graduate in Computer Science from the University of North Dakota). He replied:

Fr. Martin lecturing on the Rule of St. Benedict

“Don, yes St. Augustine is a patron of brewers.  There are lots of saints with that patronage.  St. Luke, the evangelist is another one, rather surprisingly.  Augustine is a patron because of his lifestyle in his youth….Others like the two St. Arnolds, actually had something to do with brewing.”

And Fr. Martin is correct based on the following article “Meet the Many Catholic Patron Saints of Beer.”  But the saint he referenced who intrigued me the most and also demonstrated why Fr. Martin is loved for his great sense of humor, was his last tongue-in-cheek sentence:

“St.  Brigid is said to have turned bathwater to beer for clergy.  I guess that will get anyone canonized, whether they acted like a saint or not….!” 

The article referenced above states the following about St. Brigid:

“There was a 5th Century Saint Brigid of Ireland (apparently a good friend of Saint Patrick, about whom we still cherish many misconceptions every March 17th.)  Brigid is a patron saint of several things, including dairymaids, cattle, midwives, and newborns. But there’s also evidence of an equal passion for beer.

Brigid worked for a time in a leper colony, and when the lepers she nursed implored her for beer, and there was none to be had, she changed the water, which was used for the bath, into an excellent beer, by the sheer strength of her blessing and dealt it out to the thirsty in plenty.’

And there are also attributed to her these lines, which later inspired both poem and song: ‘I should like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings. I should like the angels of Heaven to be drinking it through time eternal.’

In heaven, bear in mind, there are no hangovers.”

St. Brigid of Ireland – A Passion for Beer *4

This brought back memories of an article I saw last year about a public entity with an innovative approach to making beer in the Willamette Week 2/12/20 article entitled, “Washington County is Recycling Wastewater and Using It to Make Beer”:

Waste water eventually converted to beer! *5

“The county’s Clean Water Services utility treats nearly 60 million gallons of wastewater at its facility in Tigard each day. But engaging the public on sustainable water practices can only go so far if you mostly use it to irrigate golf courses.

‘If you want people to talk about water,’ Art Larrance, owner of Cascade Brewing, told the committee in 2015, ‘you’ve got to make beer’……

Now the program is expanding – at this year’s Oregon Brewers Festival, it will provide the highly purified water to eight participating breweries.  But while the process results in ‘the world’s most sustainable beer,’ the result flavor-wise is negligible to the untrained palate.”

Perhaps St. Brigid was just many years ahead of her time and didn’t have the benefit of modern brewing technology.

In conclusion, that’s something to make one flush with excitement…..!

Cheers

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Photo Attribution

*1 Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustine_of_Hippo#/media/File:Sandro_Botticelli_-_St_Augustin_dans_son_cabinet_de_travail.jpg by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510).

*2. Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustine_of_Hippo#/media/File:Triunfo_.jpgThe triumph of Saint Augustine” by Claudio Coello (1642-1693).

*3.  Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Olaf_Simony-Jensen_-_K%C3%A6lderinteri%C3%B8r_med_munke_i_festligt_lag_-_1904.png

*4.  Wikimedia Commons – Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic. Author: Wolfgang Sauber – 21 July 2011.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigid_of_Kildare#/media/File:Saint_Non’s_Chapel_-_Fenster_3_St.Bride.jpg

*5.  Washinton County Clean Water Services https://cleanwaterservices.org/about-us/one-water/resource-recovery/water-reuse/