"Like Gregorian Chant for your tastebuds."
By Carrie Gress
Our family has a deep affection for the Monks in Nursia, Italy. Prior to our meeting, my husband spent four years as a monk helping to found the monastery at the birthplace of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica. As his simple vows came to a close, he knew that his vocation was elsewhere. Where exactly remained unclear for four more years.
N.B. The town of Nursia is known as Norcia in Italian. Hence their website: The Monks Norcia.
After we met, but before we were engaged, we went to Nursia to visit the monks and see the monastery. Friends traveled with us to the charming hillside town, not far from Assisi as the crow flies. This fuzzy photo was snapped of us during that visit prior to the church's renovation. Tragically, this church and much of the monastery was destroyed in a series of earthquakes in 2016.
The earthquakes destroyed all the churches in the area. The previous site of the monastery is being rebuilt for diocesan use to give local churches a home until others can be rebuilt
Acting in faith, the monks recognized that the earthquakes can serve as a deeper call to holiness. Their website explains: "The International community of monks ... understand this otherwise tragic moment in history as a call from God to deepen their vocation as men of prayer, conversion, study and manual labor, and to prefer nothing to the love of Christ."
The monks, meanwhile, are working diligently to rebuild, although at a different property up higher in the hills, which to hear my husband tell it, might be more conducive to monastic life because of the silence but also because of their stringent fasts. The town of Nursia itself is renown for serving wild boar and the smell of it and other fare made their way into the monastery where meat is only eaten three days of the year. San Benedetto in Monte, or St. Benedict in the Mountains, is the name of the new monastery. Despite the devastation the community has endured, they continue to draw new vocations and become an integral part of the town's fabric, both culturally and spiritually.
While utter devastation hit the church, the rest of the monastery, and the town, one thing that was not damaged beyond repair was the monastery's brewery. Deo Gratias. Started in 2012, the brewery is a part of the monks' long term plan to become self-sustaining. Eventually, the brewing facilities will be moved up to the new monastery, but in the meantime, the monks continue to brew in town, giving a portion of the profits to help the local people rebuild their city that is so dependent upon tourism.
While I am not much of a beer drinker, I know people who are. Last week, we invited our parish priests and some other friends to dinner to enjoy an Indian food feast and to sample the Birra Nursia. The Irish-blooded Fr. Michael Kelly quickly concluded that Birra Nursia qualified for second in his list of the best beers ever.
Fr. John Mosimann said, "I love the Trappist beers of Belgium, and now this Benedictine interloper is pushing her way into serious contention for ‘best beer ever.’" Birra Nursia, he added, "reminds me of why I first loved beer: encountering beer backed by centuries of monks praying and working over the recipe."
Another imbiber described the beer as, "Full bodied, smooth, and slightly sweet. Like Gregorian chant for your tastebuds."
I don't think there was a disappointed man in the bunch - other than the non-beer drinker, who was equally impressed with our brand of limoncello (also made in Italy, but not by monks). We also sent them home with a personal "chalice" from Birra Nursia. Not the typical chalice they are used to, but still fun.
The monks have done an amazing job branding their products (in addition to the care of the liquid product.) Even the beer opener is delightful. Made in house, it is up-cycled wood, and comes complete with illustrated directions for use (of course, it is simple, but different than your standard opener).
If you can't make the trip to Nursia, the monks have found a way to bring Birra Nursia to the U.S. market, via their website -- which is where I ordered it. Other than making a direct donation, buying their beer is also a great way to support the monks. (It isn't every day one reads that it is an act of charity to buy remarkable beer - so don't miss this opportunity!)
The monks report that Birra Nursia goes well with turkey. On their blog, Prior Benedict Nivakoff explained:
"Thanksgiving is one of the three times a year the monks eat meat (the others are Christmas and Easter). Each monk prepares a dish, and by long-standing tradition, Prior Emeritus Cassian Folsom prepares the locally farmed turkey and gravy. Cranberries and sweet potatoes are sent by friends and family as they are more difficult to find in Italy."
I am happy to report that Birra Nursia also pairs well with Rogan Josh and Butter Chicken.