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Brewery Rowe: Search for U.S.-made monastery-brewed beer is short on suds



By my count — thank you,! — the Good Book contains fewer than 10 references to beer but more than 200 mentions of wine.

It seems odd, then, that Christian monks have brewed beer for since the Middle Ages. A few monasteries also operate wineries, yes, but none have become as renowned as monastic breweries. Among cognoscenti, some of the world’s most sought-after beers are crafted behind monastery walls: Westvleteren, Westmalle, Chimay, Orval and others.

Those are all monasteries of the Trappist order, and all are steeped — you might say robed — in centuries-old tradition. They share another characteristic: all are located in Europe. North America, alas, has a dearth of beer-producing abbeys.

In 2013, St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Mass., brewed and sold a blonde ale, Spencer. St. Joseph’s became the first certified Trappist brewery in the U.S., a great honor — while it lasted. The brewery closed in 2022.

The States, though, are not entirely lacking in this area. At least two Benedictine monasteries in the U.S. operate breweries. Oregon’s Mount Angel Abbey is home to the Benedictine Brewery, whose motto is “Taste & Believe.” The Monastery of Christ in the Desert, found in Abiquiu, N.M., has the Abbey Brewery.

But what about the Benedictine monastery in Oceanside? What are the odds that Prince of Peace Abbey might open a brewery?

“Not too good,” said the Rev. Charles Wright, the abbot emeritus.

The abbey once had a few monks who were home brewers, Wright noted: “And we did get one or two bottles. Not bad.”

But not good enough to inspire a brewery?

“Well,” said Wright, clearly a man of faith, charity and hope, “who knows?”

Quick Sips

Weltenburger Kloster Asam Bock beer.

(Courtesy of Peter Rowe)

Beer: Weltenburger Kloster Asam Bock

From: Klosterbrauerei Weltenburg, Germany

ABV: 7.3 percent

Style: Doppelbock

Drink or dump: Drink. Doppelbock is a traditional Lenten beer, and the version made by Klosterbrauerei Weltenburg long ago earned a divine reputation. After all, KW claims to be the world’s oldest monastery brewery, dating back to 1050. Despite this ancient pedigree, Asam Bock tastes fresh, its rich dark malts leading to a smooth, sweet finish that smacks of raisins and plums.

The Spanish beer 1906 Reservas Especial.

The Spanish beer 1906 Reservas Especial.

(Courtesy of Peter Rowe)

Beer: 1906 Reservas Especial

From: Hijos de Rivera, Spain

ABV: 6.5 percent

Style: Helles bock

Drink or dump: Drink. A lighter shade of bock, 1906 Reservas Especial glows with the color of an early summer tan. Lightly caramelized malts, lightly spiced, this Spanish lager gives you a hint of cream before its smooth finish.

Litehouse beer from San Diego's Embolden brewery.

Litehouse beer from San Diego’s Embolden brewery.

(Courtesy of Peter Rowe)

Beer: Litehouse

From: Embolden, San Diego

ABV: 5 percent

Style: Blonde ale

Drink or dump: Drink. A beer made for quaffing, Litehouse makes a bold entrance, pouring out with a massive head that caps a straw-yellow body sparkling with pinprick bubbles. Gently toasted malts, restrained hops, a clean finish with a slightly prickly aftertaste – blonde ales are often overlooked by craft beer snobs like myself, but seriously, what’s not to like?

Road Trip

This month, the population of local brewers may temporarily shrink, as a fair number will decamp for Sacramento. The California Craft Beer Summit, an annual trade show/convention/hops-heavy-hootenanny, will roll into our state capital March 19-22.

Among the highlights of this gathering are talks from many of the state’s leading craft beer creators. As you might expect, several of these pros are from San Diego. The featured locals include:

  • Douglas Constantiner, CEO and co-founder of Societe Brewing.
  • Chad Heath, Chief Operating Officer/Beer Division at Karl Strauss Brewing Co.
  • Chris White, CEO of White Labs.

All this high-powered insight doesn’t come cheap. You can register for the summit at, where the fees range from $99 to $599.

The Next Round

Sunday: Beginner brewing class, noon to 3 p.m., Home Brew Mart, 5401 Linda Vista Road, Suite 406, San Diego. $35.

Sunday: Fresh Starts beer dinner, 5:30 to 10 p.m., Harland South Park, 2953 Beech St., San Diego. New dishes from three featured chefs. $125.

March 8: International Women’s Day beer dinner, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens — Liberty Station, 2816 Historic Decatur Road, San Diego. Four beers, three courses and a “welcome bite.” $70.

March 17: Sham Rock, the St. Patrick’s Day music and beer festival, captures the Gaslamp Quarter’s streets from 4 until 11 p.m. $49, include access to three live music stages. Beer and food is extra.

Rowe is a freelance writer.

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