Celibate men swaddled in black, floor-length robes don't immediately bring to mind beer, a beverage often consumed joyously and recklessly. Of course, Belgian monks have been brewing beer for over five centuries to sanitize their water, fund the church and provide liquid caloric sustenance during Lenten fasting.
Brewing is common to Trappists, but also part of the Benedictine tradition—which is the order that occupies the Mount Angel Abbey, a monastery secluded on a wooded butte above the small farm town of Mount Angel. The 350-acre monastery, which opened in 1884, feels more like a university campus than a church. There is a grassy courtyard surrounded by symmetrical brick buildings, a bell tower that chimes on the hour and a modest library designed by notable Finnish modernist Alvar Aalto.
Mount Angel Abbey is now brewing beer as part of a six-year project helmed by Father Martin and his understudy, Father Jacob, with guidance from famed writers Jeff Alworth and Stan Hieronymus. The monks are currently making two beers in a style they call "Northwest Belgian," working out of Seven Brides Brewing in Silverton. We tried "Black Habit," a dark 7.5% ale that's sweet and fluffy, like oatmeal with a hint of maple syrup.
The beers are currently only sold by the case (12 bottles for $55) at the bookstore on the abbey grounds. Next year, they're slated to finally open their own brewery and tasting room, which is currently being constructed down the hill from the abbey, across the road from a hops field owned by the monastery and tended by local farmers.