Friday, October 3, 2014

Sister Brewmaster

The Atlantic:
Sister Doris Engelhard begins most days with mandatory choral prayer at 5:30 a.m., along with the other Franciscan sisters of Mallersdorf Abbey in Germany. But on Sundays she is excused, and instead rises at 3 a.m. to craft beer—nearly 80,000 gallons annually.
For 45 years, Sister Doris, 65, has dedicated her life to God and beer. She is now the last nun in Europe who is an active brewmaster, but she was not always alone in her profession. “There is one other sister who is also a master brewer in Ursberg, not far from Augsburg,” she says over email through a translator. That nun no longer runs a brewery, however. “She is a bit older,” says Sister Doris, “and this brewery now employs another master brewer.”
There was also a nun-run brewery in Schönbrunn, close to Dachau, but it closed down about 30 years ago. The sister who had been the brewmaster there, according to Sister Doris, now spends her days caring for the elderly.
Sister Doris started on her own path into the tiny sorority of brewmaster nuns when she came to Mallersdorf—a remote Bavarian village—in 1961 as a student in a school run by the abbey. Her mother was ill, and the nuns took care of her. “The sisters made a real impression on me. And I knew early on that I wanted a religious life,” she explains.
Mallersdorf has been a site for brewing beer since the 12th century. It was originally a monastery housing Benedictine monks, who began producing beer as a safe alternative to drinking unclean water for themselves and for the pilgrims who visited them. The monastery was converted to the current Franciscan convent in 1869, and brewing resumed in 1881.
The abbey now houses a modern brewery with two large copper boilers, cooling pans, and a storage cellar. Sister Doris began her apprenticeship in 1966, under the careful watch of another sister who had been brewing beer there since 1931. By 1969, Sister Doris had completed a course in brewing beer at a nearby vocational school. “I had become a master brewer,” she says. “Then I decided that I wanted to join the convent, and I took my vows.”
Brewing is her service to the convent—her assigned profession. “There are 490 sisters in the abbey,” she says, “and some work as teachers in schools, in children’s homes, nursing homes. We also have cooks and pig farmers and a baker. We do everything for ourselves.” Of her own job, Sister Doris says: “I love the work, and I love the smell when I’m making beer. And I love working with living things—with yeast, barley, and with the people who enjoy the beer.”
I got the link to this story off of Facebook, and it recommended two more stories that were related. First, the first Trappist brewery in America is being established at a monastery in Massachusetts, and also a brewery is planned for a monastery in Southern Indiana.  Sounds like it might be time for a pilgrimage. Prosit!

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