Within the last few weeks I have been two seemingly unusual beer fests held on grounds of Indiana religious institutions: Monastery Beer Fest on Sept. 16, and the Irvington Brew Fest on Sept. 23. There were several similarities between the two, beyond the obvious. Both included a small number of brewers, both attracted many local neighbors, both included tables with ample opportunity to chat. Suddenly, “Beer at the Church” became appealing!
Maybe this simply takes me back to one of my first New Years Eve celebrations with my wife. We were invited by friends to a party at their church. I was a little suspicious as church parties had been okay in my youth but not where I’d think of spending NYE. But wait, this was a Catholic Church on the Indianapolis South side where the entry cost included a bottle of whiskey! I was cautious but I learned those people were there to party.
The Monastery Brew Fest on the grounds of Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand, IN, had its first year as organized by St. Benedict’s Brew works, also on the monastery grounds. This Monastery Brew Fest was truly unique and very enjoyable. I’ve been with trappist monks within Belgian breweries, but I’ve not had the pleasure of consuming beer with a monk on premise in the U.S. Don’t misunderstand. St. Benedict’s Brew works is NOT monks brewing beer; it is a few regular guys as brewers. Yet, two of the beers served at this fest were a collaboration with monks from the nearby Saint Meinrad Archabbey, who are basically home brewers. This was a rare treat to have the near equivalent of a U.S. abbey beer.
The Monastery Brew Fest likely had fewer attendees than organizers wanted, which meant virtually no lines and a very relaxed opportunity to chat with brewery people and also with those attending. I met a veterinarian from Evansville, a nice family from Louisville, and many from Jasper or Ferdinand who stopped by. There were few, maybe no, young ‘drink all you can’ types. It was great to see Taxman Brewing of Bargersville, Tin Man of Evansville, Schnitz from Jasper, Carsons of Evansville, and Tell City from (oh, you know!), plus, of course, Saint Benedict’s Brew Works. In addition to those five, several distributors had provided beer in keg and in bottles making ample beer to try and especially Belgian Trappist beers! It is rare to find
Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, or Wetmalle at a festival (although Fest-of-Ale, New Albany, always offers Belgian beers).
St. Benedict’s Brew Works, as host, offered 6 beers: a Belgian Dubbel, a Belgian Tripel, A Belgian Quad, a Farmhouse ale, and the collaborations with the monks: an IPA (4.5%) and Monastic Midnight Stout (7%). Neither of those collaborations were to be on sale regularly and were specifically brewed as abbey beers for the brewfest! Brother Jean, a young Benedictine monk, told us he and several others had been ‘home brewing’ 5 gallon batches on a stove using that experience to help St. Benedict’s Brew Works with these 2 offerings. The IPA was similar to a Northeast (often called New England) IPA because it was lower alcohol, delivered citrus flavor being more fruity than bitter. This IPA contained Mosaic and Citra hops along with Centennial and Cascade. The stout had a great deal of deep roast with chocolate notes.
St. Benedict’s is the project of Vince Luecke and Andy Hedinger who were both present at this fest with the blessing, literally, of the sisters. Vince was very helpful getting me information in advance and acting as host for all while Andy handled the booth and general issues. On a normal day, you follow directions to the Monastery Immaculate Conception, the home of the Sisters of St. Benedict, an imposing structure on the hill east of Ferdinand, IN, where guided tours are offered Tuesday through Friday at 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and 2:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. plus you can join them for prayers or mass. Sisters Tour Hours and info click here! But back to the brewery!
Once on the monastery grounds continue past the monastery to the buildings furthest away where the brewery is on the left and the gift shop for the monastery is on the right with a small garden in between just off the parking lot. None of the beers offered at the Monastery Brew Works sampling seem to be a regular offering from St. Benedict’s and they have brewed many styles in the 2 years they have been open. On a typical day you may find a pale, an IPA, a hefeweizen, a kolsch, or other variety! Hours are Thursday/Friday, 5pm-10pm; Saturday, 10am-10pm; & Sunday, 12pm-8pm. http://www.saintbenedictsbrewworks.com
The Irvington Brew Fest was an East side get-together on the grounds of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, an staple of the community since 1909. The fest featured six breweries, one cidery, and a few hundred local citizens, enough that the festival had to be announced full and sold out about 30 minutes from the start. I had talked to the organizer, Amy Petrone, earlier to ask why this fest was different than all of the others. The answer can be summed in a sense of community. While there were many lines to get beer, there were also people sitting and chatting. Like the Monastery Beer Fest, there did not seem to be those intent on drinking as much as possible with a goal to get tipsy or more. There were a variety of over-21 ages which seemed to include adult families. It was very clear by listening to those getting their beer that many were learning about beer styles and about the breweries nearby.
There were seasonal beers from most of the 5 breweries as well as staple brews: Saint Joseph, St. Joeberfest (a delicious Oktoberfest style Marzen) and Cornerstone Kolsch — both fitting for fest at a church! Metazoa, Kinkajou (honey weiss) and Nap in the Hammock (cream ale); Fountain Square Cinnamon Girl (spiced ale) and Saison Du Jour; Black Acre, Oktoberfest and Saucy Intruder (a bold Rye IPA, at 7%); Bier Brewery Brewery Pumpkin Ale and flagship Weizengoot (hefeweizen); and Sun King Bitter Druid (ESB, British style) and Fistful of Hops (IPA). Black Acre Brewery is literally 0.4 miles from the grounds in Irvington, and all of the remaining breweries are about 10 minutes away from the church and school, except Bier Brewery which is clearly east-side, and almost straight up Emerson Avenue, but might be 15 minutes by car! This year Ash & Elm Cider, located about 7 minutes by car down Washington St, joined the Fest with a Dry cider and a spiced pumpkin cider.
ONE MAJOR difference with this fest is that attendees get not only a taster glass and also a pint glass. While they are allowed unlimited small samples, they are encouraged to buy a pint for $5 of one of their favorite beverages. Since there are 10 beers and 2 ciders, it is rather easy to decide what you may want to drink with friends! Participants got a small ‘swag bag’ with a passport describing the beers, and a sticker or coaster. Proceeds after expenses from the Irvington BrewFest go to support the school on the church grounds. Amy Petrone has been running the event since 2012. She told us she really wants that neighborhood feel, that gathering of family and friends as it has been since the beginning. We noted many locals going for the food from La Mexi-Gringa, which is a small tamale and taco joint about a mile further east on Washington Street. There was also the NY Slice pizza truck! Tables were arranged under the big tent and there were “high top” standing tables on the church lawn. A duo called Audio Diner provided music from a small stage.
Look for this fest next year about the fourth weekend of September! Amy will be waiting for you!