Since the early days of monasticism, both monasteries and abbeys have always made their own beer. The reason is not hard to understand: considering the risks of drinking dirty, swampy, marshy water (let us remember most streams were used as sewers, wherever an aqueduct was not at hand) beer was always a much healthier alternative. In fact, in the sixth century, a beer could easily be the cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast for kids, a nursing mothers, the sick and the elderly. Basically, starting the day with a thick oatmeal stout was affordable, healthy and reasonable.
But when these beers went from being a commonly homemade drink (moms would most often be the brewers of the household) into being produced in larger quantities, monks and nuns became master brewers. Their production wouldn’t then be restricted to the monastic community, but offered also to pilgrims, guests and residents of the nearby villages.
Doris Engelhard is a nun, heir to this tradition. She might be the last of her kind. Back in 1961, still a child, she moved to Mallersdorf, being a young student in a school run by the abbey. Engelhard’s mother was ill, and the nuns raised and educated her. Around 1969 she had also learned how to brew beer, under the tutelage of another sister, who had been the master brewer of the abbey since 1931. That same year (1969) Doris took her vows and the habit and joined the monastic community, where she has lived ever since, responsible for producing, annually, 80,000 gallons of beer.
In a relatively recent interview with The Atlantic, Sister Doris explained her everyday life as a master brewer in the abbey: “There are 490 sisters in the abbey. Some are teachers in schools, some work in orphanages, some in nursing homes. There are also cooks, pig breeders, farmers, bakers. We do everything ourselves,” strictly following the rule of St. Benedict, which states that monasteries should always be self-sustainable. “I really love my job, and I love the smell when I’m making beer. I love working with living things: yeast, barley, and the people who enjoy beer (…) Beer, actually, is the purest of all alcoholic beverages, and it is really very healthy, as long as you do not pour it down senselessly.”