Make that the oldest brewery still standing (and producing) in the world, never mind that the oldest brewery is actually a smashed clay pot [no pun intended] someplace yet to be dug up by an intrepid and curious archaeologist.
Given my deep interest in fermentation, as well as the impact of monks and monasteries on the foods and beverages of Europe, plus the fact that I just adore European beer, imagine my delight yesterday when I looked at all the delicious-looking beers lined up in the local mega-Kroger that sprouted up over the last six months. [The good thing is that Kroger now offers much, much more in the way of cheeses, wines, and all the other delicacies so associated in my mind with Europe. The bad thing is that with their offerings of monastery beers, Kroger threatens the livelihood of the nearby independent wine and beer cellar.] I usually don’t pluck monastery beers off the shelf, given their prohibitive prices. However, as a culinary historian, how could I not pass up a beer claiming to come from barrels at the oldest brewery in the world???
Let the Weihenstephan brewers tell their history in their own words:
The year 725 was a decisive turning point for Weihenstephan: in that year, Saint Corbinian together with twelve companions, founded a Benedictine monastery on Nährberg Hill and, consciously or unconsciously, also founded the art of brewing at Weihenstephan.
The first historical reference to hops at Weihenstephan was in the year 768. At that time there was a hop garden in the vicinity of the Weihenstephan Monastery, whose owner was obligated to pay a tithe of 10 per cent to the monastery. It is an obvious conclusion that these hops were brewed in the monastery.
In 1040 beer brewing officially began at Weihenstephan. That year Abbot Arnold succeeded in obtaining from the City of Freising a licence to brew and sell beer. That hour marked the birth of the Weihenstephan Monastery Brewery.
And of course, there’s a little humor involved, as witness the following anecdote taken from the Weihenstephaner site:
The pope wanted to know why the Bavarian monks liked to drink so much strong beer during Lent. He ordered a sample. By the time the beer arrived in Rome after a long and difficult trip over the Alps, it had become so unpalatable that the pope, full of respect for the Bavarian monks, continued to allow them to enjoy their strong beer.
© 2009 C. Bertelsen