Field Trips: St. Benedict's Beer Works
All photos by Kevin Gibson. Tucked away in southern Indiana is a little brewery in an unusual environment. Whereas many breweries have taken up residence in former church buildings, St. Benedict’s Brew Works brews in a small building on the property of a monastery. A mid-19th century chapel sits on a hill overlooking the brewery, and just across an access road is the Monastery of the Immaculate Conception, topped with a gorgeous dome. The monastery is home to the Sisters of St. Benedict, whose mantra is “Seek. Pray. Share.”
The monastery dates to 1867, and around the chapel is a garden area with stone walkway markers depicting the Stations of the Cross, walkways and a small wooded area that overlooks the monastery, which is known to locals as "the Castle on the Hill" because of its position overlooking the town of Ferdinand.
Spending an afternoon walking around the grounds can make a person thirsty, which is where St. Bendedict’s Brew Works comes in. The quaint little space is set in what looks to have once been a basic out building, reminiscent of an old church basement or activities building.
When you enter, you’re greeted by a foyer of sorts, with a couple of tables for spill over from the taproom. Next to the entrance are photo-ready cutouts of a nun and monk holding mugs of beer – and that’s pretty much all you need to know about the fun approach this brewery takes to its beer. Echoing the convent’s motto, the brewery uses the mantra “Brew. Work. Pray.” – yes, it’s a social media hashtag – and sells t-shirts with slogans like, “Beer is good, God is great” and “Ale Mary.”
The taproom itself is like a church meeting room, with concrete floors and cinder block walls, and aside from a handful of stools near the bar, seating is communal, with long tables set along each wall. It encourages conversation as you imbibe. A wooden cross and hanging lights suspended from the ceiling serves as a chandelier, with the beer list and food menu on chalkboards. One board offers up the 11th Commandment, which is: “Thou shalt not spill beer.”
(This proved ironic when one group of inebriated and blustering women came in. After they ordered and took over one of the tables, one promptly spilled her beer, breaking perhaps the most important commandment when you’re in a brewery set inside a monastery.)
At one end is the bar, with all of four taps that rotate often with house-brewed beers that have names like Sanctimonious Stout, Sister Farmhouse, the Abbess and Sister Mary Kolsch. The beer list is referred to as The Daily Missal. Food is in the form of pizza, soft pretzels or snacks, and visitors are encouraged to play one of the games available in a shelf on one wall, from Jenga to Sorry!.
I sampled all four of the beers the day I visited, which included Sister Farmhouse, a Belgian wheat, Sister Mary Rose (an Irish red), and the aforementioned stout. My favorite was Sister Farmhouse, a sold rendition of the style, with a crisp, light body, an aroma that hints at pears, and a fruity, smooth flavor and feel that ends with just a touch of tartness. It’s one of those beers you can drink all day.
The Belgian wheat was a classic hazy yellow beer with notes of banana and bubble gum, easy on the hops and a focus on sweetness. The stout is a lighter, carbonated version of a classic stout. What it lacked in body – I get so used to nitrogenated stouts that it’s sometimes odd to drink one that’s carbonated – it made up for with a nice, rich finish and general drinkability. My least favorite of the four was the Irish red, which came up short in the aroma and flavor departments, leaving plenty to be desired on the palate. Still, it was quaffable and a fine enough sipper.
To be honest, even if you don’t go for the beer, it’s worth it for the novelty and the cause. You don’t even have to be Catholic to enjoy yourself – you just have to like beer and have a sense of humor. You could do far worse if you’re traveling across the country and looking for a place to whet your whistle.
For more on churches transformed into breweries, please read here.