june 2012

monks ale
'From man's work and God's goodness, beer came into the world.'-- Saint Arnold (580-640)

Let There Be Libation

A fine couple of brews from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert and a brief history of monk-brewed ales to boot

By a Monk of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert

Christian monks have been brewing ales, often called "liquid bread," for over a thousand years. As a vital part of their diet, nutritious in vitamins of the B-family, ale was considered important in ages past for keeping monks and their guests healthy. With red meat not normally part of the monastic diet, especially during Lent, ale also provided needed protein.

Since water was generally unsafe to drink, ales were the preferred beverage for monks and virtually everyone in Europe in order to stay well. Brewing ale with hops probably became the norm for monastic brewers by the 8th century.

As a health-promoting plant, hops were initially used for quenching bitterness in ales, giving an appealing aroma and preventing bacterial infection. Saint Hildegard of Bingen from the Rhine valley of Germany, makes reference in her writings to her nuns brewing with hops in the 11th century. Today the Benedictine nuns of Bingen, Hildegard's spiritual descendants, still produce fine wines.

Review of Monk's Ale posted at YouTube by Professor Sudz. The Prof judges it a B+.

Review of Monk's Wit posted at YouTube by Professor Sudz. The Prof judges it a B+.

The earliest surviving layout or blueprint of a monastic brewhouse comes from the Swiss abbey of Saint Gall, founded in 613 AD. History indicates that the monks there brewed ale for their own consumption, made another type for their guests and a third for distribution as a source of income, or as a form of barter, for payment of tolls, rents and debts. As might be expected, amounts of ale consumed were and are controlled in monasteries in order to avoid over-indulgence.

Saint Benedict in his Rule from around 500 AD makes mention of the consumption of wine, which generally was and is produced and consumed south of the Alps, while beer is most often the product north of the Alps. Moderation and balance are important Benedictine traits and still promoted in all things, including the drinking of wine and beer.

Brother Christian Leisy (center) holds a bottle of Monk's Wit, which he and fellow monks brew in a monastery just north of Santa Fe, NM. This photo was taken in November 2011, when Brother Christian was crisscrossing Texas to promote the Monk's Ale and Monk's wit with Berkley Merchant (left) and Tyler Stucky (right), of the Abbey Beverage Company. See the full story of Brother Christian's promo tour at the Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller.com site. (Photo: Steven Alford, Caller-Times)

Since 2005 our Monastery of Christ in the Desert has been actively involved in the production of beer. Our two quality products, Monks' Ale and Monks' Wit, are now available in eight states. We are humbly proud of our products and appreciate the positive feedback from those who sell and consume the ales.

In addition to constructing a small pilot brewery at the monastery, we are also growing hops on our property. The two harvests so far, in the fall of 2010 and 2011, have been occasions for the brethren to work closely together on an essential ingredient going in to our ales.

Monks' Ale and Monks' Wit are produced as a source of income to help sustain our life of prayer and hospitality in the Chama canyon wilderness. Besides growing and harvesting hops, we are involved in the actual production of the ales as well as the marketing and distribution of the product.

It is a work that suits our life well. As one of the patrons of beer, Saint Arnold (580-640) expressed it: "From man's work and God's goodness, beer came into the world."

desert monks
For more information, visit the website of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert at www.christdesert.org.

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