New brewery revives old traditions
Mount Angel Abbey's long awaited Benedictine Brewery and St. Michael Taproom is built and the beer is ready to flow.
Mount Angel Abbey's Procurator Father Martin Grassel showed members of the media around the brewery last week. The taproom is wood framed, built from timber harvested from the Abbey's own hilltop tree farm, and named for its patron saint, the Archangel Michael. The brewery is a five barrel system; meaning it can produce five barrels worth of beer per batch, about 155 gallons. Hops for the beer are locally sourced from hop growers renting out farm land owned by the Abbey.
Currently Father Grassel and Father Jacob Stronach, who is training to be head brewer, are focused on producing traditional Belgian style ales, scotch ales, and lagers. The brewery's design, like the beer, is focused on simplicity and quality.
"I want us to be established on traditional beer, to master the fundamentals and establish our identity on that," Grassel said,
Monastic orders in Europe have brewed beer for hundreds of years. The tradition dates back to the Benedictine Order's own patron saint, Benedict of Nursia, who wrote a list of rules for monastic life in the sixth century which included a directive that monks should earn their own keep. As a result monasteries began producing goods to sell, including cheese, honey, wine, and beer.
"Hospitality is a feature of monastic life," Grassel said.
Grassel even found an old diary entry from Mount Angel's founder Father Adelhelm Odermatt describing a brewery built by the first monks at the Abbey. Now Grassel and Stronach are carrying on their predecessors ancient tradition. They have been interning at Seven Brides Brewery in Silverton, and have had help setting up the brewery from a consultant from Oregon City Brewery.
As Procurator Grassel handles the Abbey's finances; he was looking for a new revenue source when the idea of building a brewery came up, sparked by a small home brewing project Grassel had started. The idea gained support from his fellow monks.
Until a few years ago, however, Grassel said he didn't even know that good beer existed.
"It took me most of my life to figure out there was good beer," Grassel said.
That all changed one evening after Vespers, when Grassel tasted a Black Butte Porter by Deschutes brewing. He was floored by the taste, and had he soon tried several of Deschute's beers. Then a couple who are visitors and friends of the Abbey offered Grassel some old brewing equipment. He initially said no, but the offer stuck in his mind, much like the calling to join the clergy had stuck in his mind years before.
"I recognized this pattern, I couldn't get beer out of my mind," Grassel said.
A month later he was brewing his first batch, and when it was done his fellow monks said it was good.
"I hadn't made anything since my engineering days 20 years ago," Grassel said.
Grassel was an engineer before joining theBenedictine Order, and said he was attracted to brewing by the challenge of mastering the complex series of processes and problem solving necessary to produce good beer.
"When people like what you make, when it makes them happy, when you master something so detailed, that's rewarding," Grassel said.
The St. Michael Taproom will be open for limited hours during Oktoberfest, from noon to 5 p.m. September 13 to 16. The brewery's grand opening celebration will be from noon to 8 p.m. September 22 to 23.