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Nun Beer: an interpretive history

By Jasmine · March 10th, 2009 · 1 Comment

I’ve always wondered why Monks get to have all the fun in making beer–what about the nuns? They have the same resources, time-frame, and spacious stone religious settings that the men do, so why don’t they make any beer? It turns out, they do. Well, they used to.

For my birthday some friends gave me a bottle of Klosterbrauerei Reutberger dunkel beer from Germany. Either my Google skills are failing entirely, or no one really knows much about this brewery. It seems everyone knows it was started by nuns sometime in the 1600s. A newsletter from the Colorado Wine Company claims “In 1924, farmers formed a co-op and have been brewing the beer ever since”. Most of the rest of the information is in German.

Between my German 101 skills and the help of a free translation program, what I have pieced together from the brewery’s website is this: In 1617, the Countess Anna Von Pienzenau took a vow to set up the Reutberg Cloisters. She realized that after working hard out in the fields, the nuns would need more than water to drink with their dinner, and thus the tradition of a cold one after work was started for that particular convent. (What, no cows were available for a tall glass of milk? Oh right, these are Germans.)

In 1677 they were allowed to start brewing their own beer. A layman from a Franciscan monastery came on over to teach them how. In order to brew as cheaply as possible, they decided to grow their own hops and barley too–there is still a hop garden there today.

Apparently around 1786 there was a huge influx of Bavarian travelers and discharged soldiers, all of whom expected hospitality from the nuns. Instead of expensive wine, they were, of course, given the house beer. Shenanigans ensued, either because other breweries in the area resented the competition, or because the villagers resented the drunken soldiers staggering around. Possibly both. Because of this, production ceased.

In 1835, King Maximilian the 1st reestablished Reutberg as a secular institution and granted them another brewing license–however, I can’t tell if it was men or women who reinhabited it. I suspect men, since after this the inhabitants are always referred to as “Franziskanerinnen”–the plural of Franciscan Monks. Apparently, though, the beer was so good that people were getting drunk in “the so-called carousing and farmer room enthusiastically.” The archbishop, in order to make more money and keep the rowdiness away from the nuns and/or monks, built a tavern outside the gates.

By 1904, their equipment was so outdated that the monks considered stopping production, but the villagers revolted, threatening to burn down the monastery (seriously) and gathering signatures. Not necessarily in that order.

So in 1906 they renovated, and business went up. Until, of course, WWI ramped up. Most of the brewing specialists and (even worse) the brew drinkers went off to war.

It closed in 1924 and stayed closed for 8 months until a man named Alois Daisenberger established a brewers union to save all of the area’s breweries. They reopened Reutberg to great success, and after WWII were even able to buy another brewery. So you see, despite everyone’s jokes about the taste of sexual frustration, this is no longer brewed by nuns and hasn’t been for some time–if anyone knows of a Klosterbrauerei still run by women, please let me know! Still, these people turn out a darn good beer, “to the joy in the pure beer enjoyment and to the love at our Bavarian homeland.”

Kloster Reutberg dunkel beer

Ah, the beer. You thought I forgot, didn’t you? This is a true dunkel. Slightly malty, very nutty, light on the palate and endlessly drinkable. Not overly sweet or carmelized either. A dark brown color, darker than you would expect for the taste. A nice solid layer of head, but not too frothy. I hate when it’s TOO frothy. Definitely recommended.

ETA: Of course, as soon as I finished all that, I managed to find the story of Kloster Reutberg on their distributor’s website. Oh well. My version is more entertaining to read anyways. Check it out for yourself and see how I did.

Tags: Tastings · Women in Beer

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 What about the Nuns!?!?! « A Hoppy Pipper // Jul 29, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    [...] brews.  While I was googling around for an answer to nuns and brewing I came across several other blogs that are asking the same [...]