A Taste of Heaven

BY VIVIAN MCINERNY

Craft beer comes to Mount Angel.

0914 reboot MG 0062BY VIVIAN MCINERNY | PHOTO BY JESSE BROWN

Reverend Martin Grassel crosses the grounds of the monastery wearing a long, black, hooded monk’s habit and a baseball cap. Embroidered above the brim in fancy script are the words “Benedictine Brewery.” That’s the brand name of the craft beer the Catholic monk and his 50-plus band of brothers living at Mount Angel Abbey aim to produce and sell for revenue.

“Expenses are like weeds,” says Grassel, the abbey’s procurator. “Revenue, you have to cultivate.”

Benedictine monasteries maintain a tradition of self-sufficiency dating back to the first century. The Oregon abbey established in 1882 has supported itself through an ever-evolving combination of endeavors that have included a dairy, a printing press, the seminary college, leasing land, and farming trees.

A couple years back, Grassel proposed several new revenue-generating ideas to the monks for consideration. The notions of a columbarium, vineyards and conservation easements were quickly nixed. Grassel hesitated to suggest the brewery proposal. The monks had recently dissolved a business partnership that had essentially licensed their names to a big beer maker.

“That experience,” says Grassel, “left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths.” But this time was different. This time they would not simply be devout mascots for a big corporation but would establish and operate their own independent craft brewery. The monks would provide labor. The abbey well could provide pure water. Hops, already cultivated on abbey lands, would provide an essential ingredient. The idea was immediately and almost unanimously embraced by the group.

“This felt genuine,” says Grassel. “It had authenticity.”

Most importantly, it felt in keeping with the spirit of reasonableness and moderation established by St. Benedict as rules for monastic life. But these modern monks weren’t about to launch a business based on a wing and a prayer.


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