We’re a little more than halfway through Lent. Monks typically fasted during Lent. Some people give up sweets, or social media, or alcohol. If you’re fasting, consider adding beer as your beverage of choice!
Monks have been producing beer for 1,500 years, and in that time, they have revolutionized and perfected the beer-making process. The history of monks and beer begins early in the sixth century with a template for monastic life called The Rule written by Benedict of Nursia. One of Benedict’s directives was that monks should earn their own keep and donate to the poor. Since then, monks have produced goods to sell, including cheese, honey, and, of course, beer.
The monks recorded their beer recipes, documenting every batch. As monks left one monastery to establish another, they would bring their beer recipes with them.
It was the monks who discovered that adding hops acted as a preservative, allowing the monasteries to keep their beer in kegs and ship it to other communities.
Beer was used to show hospitality to travelers and pilgrims. Beer was safer to drink in medieval times than water contaminated by sewage, and therefore was served to visitors. There are generally four kinds of monk beer, with each denoting the strength of the brew: enkel (single), dubbel (double), tripel (triple) and quadrupel (Yep, you got it). Some of those 17th Century monks brewed another kind of beer, one that was much stronger than the other this drink was an “unusually strong” monk beer that provided the carbohydrates and nutrients grown men needed to make it through a long workday of prayer and drinking more beer. Not only that, it kept faith with their belief that “liquid bread wouldn’t break the fast.”
So, if you love beer, you can thank a monk for modern day brews, but it must be said during Women’s History Month, that we all need to thank women for the very first beers. More than 7 millennium ago in Mesopotamia, women mixed grains with water and herbs, cooked them, and that mash fermented naturally and became the first beer. This thick liquid was not only nutritious, but lifted spirits. The addition of hops as a preservative was thought to be first documented in Physica, a collection of books written by Hildegard of Bingen (a Benedictine Abbess) that described the medicinal and scientific properties of plants, animals, and even stones.