The beer-brewing brother at Belmont Abbey
BELMONT — Crafting of homemade beers within monastery walls dates back to the Middle Ages. Monks drank the filling, grain-based beverage
with their meals to make up for limited amounts of food or to ease their hunger pangs during fasting.
Today the ancient tradition continues at Belmont Abbey, where Brother Tobiah, a Benedictine monk, crafts and bottles limited quantities of the brew in the monastery’s basement or kitchen late into the evenings.
Brother Tobiah began brewing beer in 1987 after talking with his uncle, who had brewed in the 1970s: “The passion continued – it’s a passionate art,” he says.
Some monasteries have brewed beer for commercial purposes, but the main purpose has been for the monks’ own consumption. The Rule of St. Benedict, which consists of the precepts for St. Benedict’s monks including those at Belmont Abbey, lays out the appropriate amount of beer to drink, while reminding the monks “to drink moderately, and not to the point of excess.”
Brother Tobiah is a quiet, down-to-earth South Carolinian with a quick wit. When asked about his life before he entered the monastery, he responds: “I could sum it all up in one paragraph.”
He came to the Catholic faith and his monastic calling at a late age. For years he served in the U.S. Coast Guard and lived in Alaska, New York, Japan and Hawaii. He grew up Baptist, yet he was drawn to the Lutheran Church as an adult because of its more liturgical feel. Within a few years, however, he began looking for something different because, he says, “it was nice, but something was missing.” He looked into Catholicism, and he entered the Catholic Church in 2002. Within three years after that, he became a monk at Belmont Abbey.
Brother Tobiah briefly left the monastery with the intent of finding, perhaps, a more contemplative monastery. He visited the Abbey of Gethsemani, a Trappist monastery in Kentucky. He then “had, you might say, a mid-life crisis,” and drove across the country to Las Vegas for a Coast Guard reunion. Upon his return to South Carolina, he began working 10-hour shifts on the BMW assembly line in Greenville. But he could not forget his former home at Belmont Abbey, and he soon returned.
The principle external work of the monks is Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic liberal arts institution. Brother Tobiah, however, tends to focus on the monks’ primary vocation: praying and working together according to the teachings of the Gospel and the wisdom of St. Benedict. He has taken temporary vows and recognizes that he is still discerning his vocation.
Brother Tobiah makes about two batches of beer a year, and his brews range from pale ales to porters. However, he brews only ales since lagers require a maintained temperature of 55 degrees during fermentation. Lagers are more difficult to make, he says, but he may attempt to make a batch of it in the future. A taste of his beer is assurance that he takes his beer-making seriously. Still, when asked to describe the taste of one of his beers, he simply says, “It tastes like beer.”
Besides brewing, Brother Tobiah enjoys photography, caring for the monastery’s bushes, plants and trees, and “sitting on the porch of the monastery’s lake house, watching the waves come in.”
Some monks, like those of Scourmont Abbey (the brewers of Chimay beer) produce their beverages commercially. Unfortunately, though, Brother Tobiah’s beer cannot be purchased. If you are looking to get a taste, your best bet is to make this monk your friend.
-- Christopher Lux, intern
FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy