They say Jesus turned water into wine, but a group of Catholic monks in Italy are turning water into beer. Before you get ahead of yourself, these monks aren’t creating beer through miracles (other than the miracle of brewing). They are, however, making a Belgian Blonde Ale and a Belgian Dark Ale with a back story that few breweries can match.
The brewery, which goes by the name Birra Nursia, is located in the Monastery of St. Benedict in Norcia, Italy. A painting of the Virgin Mary sitting atop barley hangs over the thick wooden doors. Inside, monastery men with shaved heads and beards — St. Benedict style — brew, bottle and package the beer. Many of the men are from America, coming from Texas, South Carolina and Connecticut.
There you have it: American Catholic monks brewing Belgian beer in Italy. It’s a set-up as good as any “walks into a bar” joke, but it’s real, and you can get on a waiting list via the Birra Nursia website to try the beer for yourself.
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“It is a drink which isn’t really necessary, but it brings a bit of joy to the hearts of those who drink it,” Father Benedict Nivakoff, one of the monastery men and brewers, told Catholic News Agency. “We take as our motto a line from Psalm 106: ‘ut laetificat cor,’ that the heart might be gladdened.”
Belgian-style beers have been brewed in monasteries for centuries. Initially, the beer from Birra Nursia served as a supplement for the monks while they fasted during Lent, when the monks only eat one meal a day. Drinking down the good stuff gives the monks a dose of protein, B vitamins, potassium and antioxidants. Oh yeah, and a healthy buzz — the blonde is 6 percent alcohol and the dark is around 10. There aren’t enough nutrients to completely replace food, but it they doesn’t hurt and takes some of the edge off of eating so little.
The monastery opened in 2000 and the monks started selling beer to outsiders three years ago. The brewery, which was inaugurated by the Catholic Church in a public ceremony, can make 10 barrels of beer at a time. Each batch makes around 3,000 bottles, which are filled with 25 ounces of blonde or dark ale.
“We’ve sold out our inventory pretty much since day one,” Nivakoff told CNA. “We had to expand our plant after a year.”
Since March, Americans have been able to order online and have the beer shipped to them. There’s even a club, cunningly called the “Brewmonks’ Club,” where you can pledge to buy a six-pack of bottles every month. Each Brewmonks member also gets insider knowledge via newsletter about brewing life in the monastery.
Brew on brew monks. A good drink with a solid backstory is something we can all raise a glass to.