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World's Last Nun Brewmeister

Updated: Sep 15, 2021

It seems that every town in the southern German state of Bavaria - no matter how small - has a brewery, and beer is brewed by all sorts of people.

With Germany's famous Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich (also in Bavaria) coming up in, well, October, OGN thought it would be interesting to learn a bit more about lesser known beer traditions, particularly of the ecclesiastic kind.

Meet Sister Doris Engelhard. She's a 72-year-old Franciscan nun and claims to be the world's last nun brewmeister. She also has strident opinions about her beer and when people should drink it. In short: Always, especially during the 40-day penance period leading up to Easter. "During Lent, fasting is difficult for me," she says. "Eating one meal a day is tough. But beer is liquid - it doesn't count as food when you fast. A strong beer gives me strength!"

This statement clearly references the an oft-repeated phrase from these parts: "Beer is Bavarian bread."

For 50 years, Sister Doris has been master brewer at the Mallersdorf Abbey brewery. The cloisters were founded in the 12th century and are home to 400 nuns. In the late 19th century, the nuns were caring for hundreds of poor children and they decided to open the brewery to raise money to help fund their mission.

She brews two types of beer: bock, a stronger kind of lager, and a lighter lager known as helles. When asked about other varieties, she waves the idea away with a flick of her hand as if she's heard this question before. "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," she says. Sister Doris reckons she drinks about half a litre every day; more if she has company.

She sounds a bit like the legendary Lily Bollinger (who wasn't a nun) of the famous Bollinger Champagne House, who said: “I drink Champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty.”

Sister Doris waves away questions about the intersection of her faith and her beer. "Beer is part of the Bavarian soul. If you're not happy with yourself, you won't be happy in a cloister," she says. "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."


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