The monkish roots of brew


With the season of Oktoberfest already upon us, I thought this week I’d take a bit of a deep dive into that topical vat of beer. My subject choice this week also was prompted by some recent deliveries of a monthly Christmas present by my nephew, Joey, and his bride, Quinn, who got me some deliveries of 12 bottles of the frothy elixir, which, for my taste, is a whole lot better than that jelly-of-the-month club gift Clark Griswald got from his boss in that National Lampoon Christmas movie.

The shipments were craft beers from various small breweries around the country. While unpacking each delivery, I read the labels to check the brewery location and also took note of the bottles’ distinctive names. I’d see an entry from Bent River Brewery named Uncommon Stout with a label featuring a grinning demoniac figure surrounded by flames. From Uinta Brewing, there was a Bristlecone Brown Ale, and from Evil Genius Beer, there was a Stacy’s Mom (I’m guessing an homage to the creator’s significant other and her mom) Citra India Pale Ale and a #1 Canteven Watermelon Beer, although I have to wonder how a watermelon got mixed up in the beer business.

Over the past decade and a half there has indeed been a dramatic rise in the number of craft beer brewing operations. According to the website, while there were just 370 such brewers in 2005, by the year 2020, the number of microbreweries had jumped to 1,854.

When it comes to gastropubs that often feature a certain locale’s breweries’ products, the unique selling proposition for the pub often isn’t so much the type of food it serves or type of live music it offers, but instead the number and variety of craft beers on tap.

In our area, we’re fortunate to have Marc and Carissa Reinicke’s Vino Bellissimo, which offers microbrews in several separate categories such as seltzer, fruity, light, hoppy, sour and dark, in addition to seasonal beers, especially around Christmas. The over 30 different craft selections typically on tap bear distinctive names such as Timber Trail Brown Ale, Vicious Hook Fruit Punch Sour, Mudpuppy Porter and Dragon’s Milk Reserve.

The online reviews for Marc and Carissa’s place are consistently over the top, and the same can be said for Nick Moeller’s place over in Maria Stein. Nick paired his own microbrewery with a gastro-pub he eponymously named Moeller Brew Barn, which draws microbrew lovers from larger regional markets in all four compass-point directions both to its Maria Stein location and its second location in Troy.

As a pretty dedicated quaffer of brews, I’ve been intrigued by the recent explosion of microbreweries. However, I’m not as much a devotee of the crafts as one of my pals, Roger Scott. He has an app on his phone that keeps a log of all the various craft beers he’s sampled. Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m certainly not opposed to the microbrews. That’s especially true when I travel and like to eat and drink like the locals.

Really, I thought the monks pretty much got it right in Czechoslovakia back in the 5th century when it comes to this beer business. Having spent some vacation time in Prague, in what is now known as the Czech Republic, I know when it comes to beer, few places in this whole world can match the quality of this region’s brews. According to Prague’s Pub and Beer Guide, in the earliest of beer days, European monasteries numbered over 600, and pretty much all of them were brewing their own beer.

It was the Cistercians, known for their belief in hard labor, who used an almost military precision in their brewing and began keeping written records of the recipes they tested. They felt any effort less than their best would be an affront to God. The money-ball ingredient that finally elevated their product to its plateau was hops, which both balanced the sweetness of the malt and also served as a preservative.

The product was both sold, which provided a valuable revenue stream to sustain the monastery’s operations, and also, pun very much intended, religiously used by the monks. The monks, according to the Prague’s Pub and Beer Guide, each day drank an average of four liters, in other words, 136 ounces of the frothy concoction. The modern equivalent of that would be just a couple swigs less than a 12-pack a day. These early beer pioneers were indeed serious practitioners of libation.

So, here’s to those early beer aficionados and also to our current folks who carry on those Cistercian traditions. During these Oktoberfest times, some sampling of some craft beers is probably appropriate although I think it best to stop before you get to the four-liter mark! After all, those monks were pros!

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected].

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