Unique ‘brewery-raising’ at abbey

Volunteers raise the frame of the Benedictine Brewery on the Mount Angel Abbey grounds. No nails were used in the construction of the frame. The brewery is expected to help the monks achieve self-sufficiency.

MT. ANGEL, Ore. — Saturday morning 100 workers — the majority of them monks and seminarians — assembled near Mount Angel Abbey for a barn-raising.

Or, more accurately, a brewery-raising.

They raised the frame of the abbey’s new Benedictine Brewery. The job was finished by 5 p.m.

The 3,000-square-foot brewery and tap room will consist almost solely of logs harvested on abbey property.

The abbey was established in 1882 by Swiss monks, who settled on 300 pastoral acres atop a butte just east of Mt. Angel in the Willamette Valley.

They built a community and purchased 600 acres of farmland in the Cascade Foothills, where they planted Douglas fir trees 100 years ago.

“They were 200 feet tall,” volunteer John Gooley said. “The first 160 feet there were no limbs, so we got a lot of clear wood.”

Eight truckloads, to be exact. With others, Gooley began calling contacts made over a 42-year career with Withers Lumber. Hull-Oakes Lumber Co. in Monroe, Ore., cut the entire order in exchange for one truckload. Freres Lumber in Lyons transported a full semi-load of wood.

Universal Forest Products, New Energy Works Timber Frame Homes and others also became involved.

The timber was harvested, cut, dried, milled using mortise and tenon joinery, which is secured with wooden pegs — an age-old traditional craft — and prepared for a seamless, no-hammer, no-saw construction. This saved the abbey as much as $100,000.

“It was really awesome,” Gooley said. “We ended up with about 26,000 board-feet of lumber; there were even logs left over. We cut all of their siding, too.”

Construction should be complete in March or April, at which time Benedictine Brewery will begin hosting guests and expanding their beer repertoire. Until now it has consisted of Black Habit, a dark beer, and Saint Benedict, which is pale, brewed at Seven Brides Brewing in nearby Silverton.

Abbey procurator and brew master Father Martin Grassel has worked closely with Abbey Enterprises Manager Chris Jones on the brewery. It will be run by Grassel and Father Jacob Stronach, an intern at Seven Brides and Benedictine breweries. Their new custom-made 5-barrel system has been waiting in the wings for two years.

Benedictine monks in Europe have been brewing beer for more than 1,000 years. In the Middle Ages they supplied beer to the locals because the water was often undrinkable, and breweries became part of the character of European monasteries.

“There’s a vision forming for what we want here,” Grassel said. “We hope people come to our taproom to seek and enjoy good beer, but we also want them to experience something of who we are. … It’s all for the kingdom of God and our brewery must be oriented to that.

“Everybody’s got a brand; everybody’s got a unique character, and ours has to be consistent with who we are as monks,” he said.

Part of that is self-sufficiency through work, and if they didn’t think the brewery was going to be profitable they wouldn’t be doing it, he said.

“We don’t want another operation you have to raise money for,” Grassel said. “Libraries and schools don’t make money and we expect the brewery to help support us — or at least break even.”

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