Originally Posted at The Beer Nut
The ‘Abby’ in our name is in honor of Jack’s wife, Abby. However, it is also meant to represent the long history of beer being brewed in monasteries.
When most people think of abbey beer they refer to the Belgian tradition. In fact, many people after hearing about our name have asked us when we will be making a Belgian-style beer. While these are great beers, it is not what we had in mind when we came up with our name.
We are more interested in the equally rich tradition of German monastic brewing. We feel that it is an area that has been somewhat forgotten by American craft brewers. German monasteries have left a lasting impression on the art of making beer from standardizing production methods, to spreading the use of hops and introducing lagers to the world.
The history of German monastic brewing dates back to the 6th century with the spread of Christianity through the region. As the German monasteries were being founded, feudalism was also becoming the way of life. Wealth and power were consolidated by the new lords, who gave the monasteries special privileges and financial support. These advantages gave the monasteries the unique opportunity to become centers of learning. Part of the knowledge they accumulated related to brewing, which they applied to their own breweries.
While this trend was not unique to Germany, there were several major developments that were. When Charlemagne was in power in the 8th century, he created many guidelines for breweries that helped standardize brewing practices. This push prompted German monasteries to hone their craft to ensure that if Charlemagne passed through, they would pass the inevitable inspection.
Another major breakthrough by German monasteries was the use of hops as a replacement for gruit, an herb mixture that had been used for flavoring beer. There are records of hops being cultivated by German monks as early as 736, however, the first records of hops being used in the brewing process are from the 11th century. From there, the use of hops spread rapidly and soon overtook the entire brewing world.
While no one at the time really understood the role of yeast in fermentation, it was the practices of German monks and nuns that lead to the creation of lagers. This is because lagers use a different strain of yeast than ales, a strain that is better suited to the conditions present in German monasteries. While it is unknown exactly when lager yeast strains formed, it was the brewing practices at the monasteries that provided them the environment they needed to flourish.
The German monastic tradition has endured. Currently two German monastic breweries are able to argue over which is the oldest brewery in the world. Weltenburg Abbey and Weihenstephan Abbey, which are still brewing to this day, were both founded in the 11th century. There are many other monastic breweries that have been shaping the brewing world for hundreds of years as well.
While we are not brewing strictly traditional German beers at Jack’s Abby, they still serve as important inspiration for our own distinctive lagers.