Call it Plan B.
You might remember when two New Mexico monasteries were supposed to build a brewery near Pecos, N.M. Didn’t happen. That was five years ago. Today the building pictured above is going up at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, which is located almost 100 miles from Pecos.
It’s small, not anywhere near the size once envisioned for the second American monastery brewery ever, but will be a brewery. In the immediate future the building will house a 20-gallon pilot system first purchased to use in the Pecos. But it was built with the idea of installing a three- or five-barrel system (93 or 155 gallons), and was designed with expansion in mind.
This makes Monks’ Ale seem more like a monastery product, even though the beer that’s become available a lot more places including parts of Pennsylvania and soon other states — continues to be brewed under contract by Sierra Blanca Brewing east of Albuquerque. Today, by the way, Sierra Blanca brewed the first production-size batch of Monks’ Wit.
Just to make sure you understand: Monks’ Ale is owned by Abbey Beverage Company, which began as a partnership between Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey and Christ in the Desert. Christ of the Desert bought out the Pecos monastery last spring.
At first, Brad Kraus the brewmaster at Blue Corn Cafe & Brewery in Santa Fe — will brew mostly pilot batches on the 20-gallon system, with a little bit making its way into the marketplace.
Longer term, several members of the community have indicated they’d like to become involved in brewing.
Christ in the Desert (that’s the monastery chapel to the right) is not exactly a perfect spot for a brewery. Plenty of water, but high in bicarbonate. Off the grid, so powered by the sun (backed up by propane generators). This is Georgia O’Keeffe country.
And then there’s the 13-mile-long dirt-and-gravel road leading to and from the brewery. Hard to guess how many bottles might break during the slow drive to a hard road. So if Kraus and the monks do start producing small batches of specialty beers several barrels at a time expect the beer to be available only in kegs.
There are a lot of “ifs” remaining. As Berkeley Merchant, business manager for Abbey Beverage company and the monastery, points out the monks “think in terms of the next hundred years.”
Last week, Abbot Philip and Brother Christian looked out toward fields where monks once tended to their own vegetables now cheaper to buy in a store — and considered the first hops crop they harvested six weeks before. “Having the hops is a wonderful gift,” Brother Christian said. “Having the fields with crops again.”
These are “wild” varieties native to New Mexico, grown from rhizomes acquired from Todd Bates’ and Stiv Johnson’s Tucker Farms in Embudo (south of Taos). The monks harvested the hops by hand. The next step will to get them analyzed, then to use them in brewing to see what flavors they add to beer.
Will the hops end up in beers brewed elsewhere in the country? In New Mexico beers? Only in beers carrying the Monks’ Ale label?
There’s plenty of time to decide those things.