There are approximately 650 breweries producing 4,000 beers in the German state of Bavaria, but only one of those beers is made by a nun. That nun is 72-year-old Sister Doris Engelhard, who has been the master brewer at Mallersdorf Abbey (Kloster Mallersdorf in Deutsch) for 50 years. NPR reports that, according to Engelhard, she is the world’s only living nun brewmeister; though her claim hasn’t been confirmed, it’s probably true, because God wouldn’t look too kindly on lying.
Mallersdorf Abbey was founded in the 12th century and is currently home to 399 other nuns (who perhaps don’t know the first thing about brewing beer). For its first 700 years of existence, the abbey focused on general nun stuff, like caring for those who are poor and in need and reminding people about the horrors that await their immortal souls in the pits of Hell. (As a recovering post-Second Vatican Council Catholic, I’m 99.99% confident on this point.) Then, in 1881, the nuns decided to open a brewery to help fund the cloister and its various charitable missions. Klosterbräu Mallersdorf is only sold directly from the abbey, but in beer-crazy Bavaria, that’s been more than enough to keep the lights on.
Sister Doris only brews two styles of beer: a robust bock and a light helles-style lager. When NPR reporter Rob Schmitz asked her about brewing other styles of beer, she was having none of it, replying, “I only brew beer that I drink myself, so if the other sisters want to drink a wheat beer, they’ll have to buy it themselves.”
On average, Sister Doris believes she drinks about half a liter of beer a day, but noted that if she’s entertaining, she’ll knock off an entire liter on her own. She explained to Schmitz that Bavarian-style beers are only around 5% alcohol, so she considers it a low-calorie beverage that—in her words—“makes you thinner.” Again, nuns don’t lie, so this is probably true.
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“Beer is part of the Bavarian soul. If you’re not happy with yourself, you won’t be happy in a cloister,” said Sister Doris in response to the haters who like their nuns sober. “And eating and drinking are part of that life. It’s not about being pious. All I need to do is believe in a higher power that accepts me as I am.”
To hear the audio interview, and to check out endearing photos of the world’s last beer-brewing nun, head on over NPR’s website.